In September 1944, at the age of 19, Frank Ashleigh was the youngest airman to take part in Operation Market Garden.
Frank Ashleigh from Kingsbury, who served in WWII with the Glider Pilot Regiment, died on 18 June 2023 after a short stay in hospital - he was 98. Frank is survived by his wife Mavis and two sons, Paul and Philip, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Frank volunteered in December 1942 at the age of 18. He had been a welder in civilian life and was assigned the role of a regimental policeman. When there was an appeal for glider pilots, Frank immediately volunteered and was sent to the RAF for evaluation.
Having passed the flying aptitude tests, he was posted to Salisbury Plain for six weeks intensive training and was accepted as a Glider Pilot. He learnt to fly in a Tiger Moth biplane, before learning to fly a glider and then being taught how to fly a Horsa, which with its 80ft wingspan could carry a hefty load.
Frank was involved in 16 planned and subsequently cancelled operations before, in September 1944 at the age of 19, he flew into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. Frank was the youngest airman of the operation and successfully landed his glider carrying a jeep, two trailers and four men in the landing zone at Wolfheze.
That first night, they slept in the basement of a café near the landing zone before making their way to Hotel Hartenstein (now the Hartenstein Museum) where they began digging a slit trench. Always the first to volunteer, Frank then found himself leaving the safety of the trench on an assignment to find out where the German troops were.
After spending four days picking off Germans, hidden from the enemy in a church tower with two other soldiers, Frank was captured, interrogated and held in Stalag Luft III, made famous as the POW camp in The Great Escape. In 1945, he one of the thousands of allies who took part in the Long March where temperatures fell to -20 degrees and there was virtually nothing to eat for days.
Frans Ammerlaan, Taxi Charity ambassador and founder of the Market Garden Foundation, said: "Frank was a proud man who always wanted to remain as independent as possible and was insistent that no one tried to help him get out of the taxis that took him on trips to join us in the Netherlands for commemorations. On the Glider Pilot Monument in Wolfheze, there is a quote which reads ‘The Glider Pilots were without doubt the finest body of men anybody could meet. The Lord must have chosen them carefully.’ I could not say it better myself."
Ronnie Weijers, director of the Airborne Hartenstein Museum in Oosterbeek, said: "I was very sad to hear of Frank’s death. He was the first veteran I had contact with after I started my role at the Hartenstein when I received a very friendly email to wish me good luck in my new role and to say he was looking forward to meeting me after COVID was over. I will never forget that. I feel sad we never did meet, but of course I’m even more saddened by his death. I wish his friends and relatives comfort and strength."
Dick Goodwin, honorary secretary of the Taxi Charity, said: "Frank was a true gentleman with the most beautiful voice with which he so eloquently shared his stories from the war. It was a pleasure to take him on our trips especially to the Netherlands for the Market Garden commemorations. Frank loved the people of the Netherlands and he considered the country to be his second home. We will miss him very much."
Final farewells will be said to Frank at a private family funeral on 21 June 2023.
On the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, BFBS Forces Radio interviewed Frank while he was in Netherlands on a trip with the Taxi Charity: www.taxicharity.org/post/war-veteran-frank-ashleigh-interviewed-by-forces-radio
In the summer of 2021, the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans spoke with WWII veteran Frank Ashleigh about Operation Market Garden: