William Ash (writer)

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For other people of the same name, see William Ash (disambiguation).

William Franklin Ash MBE (30 November 1917 – 26 April 2014) was an American-born British writer and Marxist who served as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born into a lower-middle-class family in Dallas, Texas, Ash was a migrant worker during the U.S Great Depression and graduated from the University of Texas with a BA degree, writing privileged pupils' essays in order to gain money and also for his personal development as an author. Around this time the Spanish Civil War broke out, and the largely apolitical Ash, driven by a hatred of bullies and fascism, decided that if the war was still going when he was old enough to fight (aged 21), he would join the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

World War II[edit]

In 1939, at the start of World War II, he went to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He became a fighter pilot, reaching the UK shortly after the end of the Battle of Britain. For the next year and a half, he flew Spitfires in many defensive and offensive missions, including an attack on the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. In 1942, he flew in "big wing" fighter sweeps over France. On one of these, in March 1942, he was shot down. He evaded capture for a while, but was caught by the Gestapo, and was twice sentenced to death as a spy. He was "rescued" by the Luftwaffe, becoming a POW, and was sent to Stalag Luft III.

He was later moved to Oflag XXI-B, and escaped through the latrine tunnel with Harry Day and Peter Stevens. Escaping became his prime preoccupation for the rest of the war. In 1946, he was appointed MBE for his escaping activities.[2] He ended the war as a flight lieutenant.

In Britain[edit]

Demobilised back in England at war's end, he discovered that the act of "taking the King's shilling" in 1939 had robbed him of his U.S. citizenship and that he was now a stateless person. He became a naturalised Briton and went to Balliol College, Oxford to read for another degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, before gaining a job in the BBC's overseas service and being posted as the Corporation's official representative to the Indian sub-continent.

Returning to England some four years later, and still on the staff of the BBC's External Services, he began to take an active part in left-wing "Gutter Politics", frequently to the embarrassment of his employers. He soon found himself out of a job in the late 1950s because the BBC finally had enough of his emerging far-left politics.[3] Later, he was able to work as a freelance for the BBC's radio drama department as a script reader.[3]

In the late 1960s, the Communist Party of Great Britain refused him membership. Instead, with Reg Birch he and others formed the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist–Leninist).[4]

He died at the age of 96 on 26 April 2014.[3]


In addition to numerous articles in Marxist journals, William Ash is the author of the following books:


  • The Lotus in the Sky (1961) London, Hutchinson.
  • Choice of Arms (1962) London, Hutchinson.
  • The Longest Way Round (1963) London. Hutchinson.
  • Ride a Paper Tiger (1969) New York, Walker.
  • Take-Off (1970) New York, Walker.


  • Marxism and Moral Concepts (1964) New York, Monthly Review Press.
  • Pickaxe and Rifle : the Story of the Albanian People (1974) London; H. Baker ISBN 0-7030-0039-X
  • Morals and Politics : the Ethics of Revolution (1977) London; Boston, Routledge & K. Paul ISBN 0-7100-8558-3.
  • A Red Square, The Autobiography of an Unconventional Revolutionary (1978) London, Howard Baker, ISBN 0-7030-0157-4
  • Under the Wire (with Brendan Foley) (2005) Bantam Press, ISBN 0-593-05408-3
  • Workers' Politics, the ethics of socialism (2007) Aakar Books, India, 978-9350020371

About William Ash's Novels.

  • Class Writer, An Introduction to the Novels of William Ash by Doug Nicholls (2002) Coventry, Bread Books, ISBN 0-9542112-1-9

External links[edit]