The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3/3706) Corporal John Berkley Ashe 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Korean War.

Places
Accession Number AWM2018.1.1.149
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 29 May 2018
Access Open
Conflict Korea, 1950-1953
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use
Description

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Chris Widenbar, the story for this day was on (3/3706) Corporal John Berkley Ashe 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Korean War.

Speech transcript

3/3706 Corporal John Berkley Ashe 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment
Presumed dead 28th May 1953
Story delivered 29 May 2018

Today we remember and pay tribute to Corporal John Berkley Ashe.

John Ashe was born on 29 November 1929 in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, one of five children born to Guy and Mary Ellen Ashe. John grew up in Brighton, but after the Second World War began, his father, Guy, left the family and joined the AIF, leaving Mary Ellen nearly destitute.

To keep her children fed and clothed, Mary Ellen had to work, so John and one of his brothers were put into an orphanage. Ashe hated the orphanage and escaped at his earliest opportunity and made his way home. He had been unable to take his brother with him, but did manage to return to the orphanage to visit.

When his mother moved to Benalla to work on various properties, Ashe went too. He enjoyed the farming life and was known as a good horseman and an excellent shot with a rifle.

He attended school until the end of 8th grade, when he left to begin work. His pastimes included playing Australian Rules Football, and he was an avid Collingwood supporter. He also enjoyed swimming and judo.

By 1944, Ashe, now 14 years old, had returned to Melbourne. In September that year he attended the City Baths where he saved a young lady, Florence, from drowning. To ensure she was alright, Ashe escorted her home. From that day on, Ashe and Florence began a relationship.

Ashe was remembered as being a very restless person and every six months or so, he would “go bush” and work on various properties as a roustabout.

Each time he returned to Melbourne, he would meet with Florence’s parents and grandmother. He would take Florence, who was also a Collingwood supporter, to the football, and they both enjoyed time walking, attending dances, trips to the beach, and picnics.

After returning from one of his trips to the bush in 1949, he proposed to Florence in the middle of Collins Street. They married a month later at the St Mary’s Star of the Sea Church at West Melbourne. Their son John was born in May 1950. Sadly, Ashe and Florence separated not long after, but they remained the best of friends.

Ashe had difficulty in finding a job that appealed to him in the city. He was working as an electrical goods salesman Highett Radio Service, when he decided to join the army.

He enlisted for service in the Australian Regular Army on 15 November 1951 and in February the following year, after his initial training, he was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, where he joined 10 Platoon, D Company. Ashe found purpose in the army life and never once regretted his decision to enlist.

Soon after joining the battalion, Ashe was placed on courses for promotion. He successfully completed these on 14 August and was promoted to temporary corporal the following day.

By this time the battalion was preparing to deploy to Korea. On 5 March 1953, 2RAR embarked from Melbourne aboard the SS New Australia. The men disembarked at Pusan 12 days later. Ashe was promoted to corporal a week after arriving in Korea.

The battalion went into the front line on the night of 3-4 May, relieving the Royal Fusiliers. It would be a busy time for the men of 2RAR and patrols were sent out each night.

In the evening of 27 May, Ashe was in charge of a three man lying up patrol that had been tasked to go into no-man’s land and observe Chinese movements.

In the pre-dawn hours of the next morning, the group was ambushed by Chinese troops near the Australians’ defensive minefield. In the initial exchange of fire, Ashe was wounded in the left thigh by a grenade fragment, but was able to continue. The two other members of the patrol were also wounded, and continued to engage the Chinese.

Another Australian patrol engaged the Chinese which allowed Ashe and his men to begin withdrawing. Due to the intensity of the firefight, the men were separated. Ashe inadvertently tripped a mine and was seriously wounded. One of his patrol mates made his way over to Ashe who said “stuff off” as he had “had it”. He then said “go, and that’s an order” leaving his mate no choice but to withdraw, leaving Ashe behind.

In the aftermath of the firefight a search was conducted to locate Ashe, but no trace of him could be found. Two more members of 2RAR were wounded after triggering a mine during the search. Ashe was listed as missing, presumed killed. He was 23 years old.

Back in Australia, Florence, who was working as a tram conductor, picked up a newspaper which had been left behind on a seat. As she started to read, she noticed the print “Corporal John Ashe – missing, presumed dead” and fainted in shock. It took much time and some persuasion by friends and family, but Florence eventually remarried and would have two more sons.

Today Ashe is commemorated on the memorial to the missing in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery at Busan in Korea.

His name is listed here on the Roll of Honour on your right, among the 340 soldiers, sailors and airmen who died during the Korean War.

This is but one of the many stories of courage and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Corporal John Berkley Ashe, and all of those Australians who have given their lives in service of our nation.

Michael Kelly
Historian, Military History Section

  • Video of The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (3/3706) Corporal John Berkley Ashe 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, Korean War. (video)