By Andy Brooks
Under the Wire: William Ash, Bantam Press, London 2005. Hbk, 292pp, illus.£16.99
Bill Ash, the Marxist writer, is well known to many of our readers for his novels based on the working class struggles in 1970s Britain. Some may know he gave up his American citizenship to fight the Nazis in 1940 when the United States was still neutral and then went on to become a successful script-writer after the war.
But what most of us didn’t know was why this young Texan chose to enter the fray by joining the Royal Canadian Air Force or what happened after his Spitfire was shot-down in 1942 over occupied France.
What followed is told in this gripping narrative of life evading the Gestapo and ending up as a reluctant POW in the camps. Bill’s courage never flagged. At every camp he plunged himself into work of the escape committees. Though their plans often ended in tears – Bill made over a dozen break-outs only to be recaptured – the efforts of the POWs tied down thousands of Nazi troops that would otherwise been sent to the front.
In telling his story Bill opens up the world of the RAF during the air-war with the Luftwaffe. He salutes his comrades in the skies, the resistance and in the camps who refused to accept that “for them the war was over”. And he does it with the wit and humour that runs through all his writings. Through his eyes we see the reality of fascist brutality and through his words we begin to understand the sacrifices that his generation made to rid the world of Hitler and Hirohito.
Producing this book for the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War was the brain-child of Brendan Foley, who first met Bill in the 1980s and wrote a screenplay of Bill’s wartime adventures. Bill says “most of the events in this book took place between sixty and seventy years ago, so I hope readers will forgive Brendan and me if we have tried to capture the spirit of the time, rather than the letter of it”.
Well there can be no doubt about that. Though the number of war-time memoirs must be legion Under the Wire stands out as a remarkable tribute to the men and women who gave their all to defeat the Axis. Well worth reading it can be bought from any high street bookseller or obtained from your local library.