Herbert Hector Ashby

Herbert Hector Ashby DCM, OAM

12th Oct 1921 – 8th Feb 2009

Herb Ashby, a humble war, hero and ‘Rat of Tobruk’, died in Adelaide aged 87.

His life was full and he always had a story to tell.

Herb enlisted in the army in July 1940 aged 18.

The age he gave was 23 which remains on his record. This was because his father refused to sign his enlistment forms. He embarked on the liner ‘He de France’, which had been converted to a troop ship, and arrived in the middle east April 1941.

In Tobruk where Herb joined the 2148th Battalion (Btn), he met other men from south-eastern South Australia and was wounded in action in September 1941. (The 48th Btn saw action in the 1914-18 war and was a South Australian unit.)

After recuperating in Palestine Herb rejoined his unit which was withdrawing from Tobruk. In early 1942 he went to Lebanon for further training.

The 2148th Btn went to El Alamein in June 1942. The first attack was 10 July when the 2148th captured 1500 prisoners.

This battle was the turning point of the war and was the first real victory after years of fighting.

It was here that the 9th Division and the 2148th Btn confirmed their reputation as the finest troops in the western desert.

The 2148th Btn is still the most decorated unit in the Australian army’s history. Four Victoria Crosses were awarded, including Sergeant Tom (Diver) Derrick. Herb was awarded one of the thirteen Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCM) that his unit received.

(I have heard that another soldier approximately one week before showed similar courage to Herb and was awarded the Victoria Cross. Apparently the award system only allowed a certain amount of bravery medals to be allocated in a given period. The same system applied in the Vietnam war.)

Only 110 DCMs were awarded in WWII.

After having traversed northern Africa for nearly two years, Herb’s battalion arrived back in Australia in March 1953.

The battalion then commenced jungle training in the Atherton Tablelands into Queensland, and were commissioned to New Guinea in September 1943.

Herb’s unit was involved with stopping the Japanese in Lae, Finschafen and Sattlenerg and returned to Australia in March 1944.

Herb was discharged from the army in May 1945. After leaving the army, Herb excelled in farming.

He tried different crops and water management when he obtained a soldier settler block at Mingbool.

In 1973, he used his water management expertise to gain a job with the Engineering and Water Supply (W& WS) department until his retirement in 1983.

Herb worked tirelessly with the Returned Service League (RSL) and Legacy, remembering his mates and their families.

He was elected president of the RSL in 1957, awarded life-membership in 1964 and the Meritorious Medal in 1989 for his tireless work in the sub-branch and as a state counsellor for many years.

Herb was also extremely active in pension and welfare work.

Herb was accepted by the Vietnam Veterans group and always had a story and a joke to tell, with a smile. He would then give out raffle books for Legacy or some other cause.

I had the pleasure to call him a friend, a mate and a mentor. It will be difficult to enter the Mount Gambier RSL building and not see his face. No one will ever take his place.

The 10127th Royal South Australian Regiment has dedicated their bar to him. As long as we honour him he will not be forgotten.

Following is a transcription of the bravery recommendation for a Military Medal. London Gazette 24-09-1942. Herb was actually awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

ASHBY SX 10570 Pte Herbert Hector 2148th AIF

For courage, leadership and determination to fight on against great odds for a period of 15hrs although his Section was isolated from the remainder of the Coy.

At Tel el Eisa on 22 Jul 42 Pte ASHBY was in Comd of his Sec. in an attack on strong German psns: The attack was-commenced at 0615 hrs and early in the advance the Coy received heavy casualties from arty and MG fire.
All the Offrs were killed or wounded and Pte ASHBY’s Sec became isolated from the remainder of the Coy.
After assaulting and subduing several enemy MG posts the Sec. was held up by intense fire from the front and flanks. Although at times his psn appeared to be impossible he refused to consider withdrawal and insisted on fighting on. By his alertness and fire control he was able to release from capture a crew of three from a Valentine tank and two members of his Sec. killing or wounding all the enemy who had seized them.

With great personal courage he sniped continuously at enemy nearby and by his leadership and dogged determination inspired his men who inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy during an engagement lasting all day.

(Military Medal Recommended)

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