Lionel Arthur Ashfield

Lieutenant Lionel Arthur Ashfield DFC, Royal Air Force, d. 16th July 1918 age 19

Lionel Arthur Ashfield was born at the Manor House in Wootton Bassett (then known as The Lodge) on 1st August 1898 and was christened at St Bartholomew’s on 28th August 1898. He was the second son of Charles Edmund Ashfield, MA, and Ida Lucy nee Hunt. Charles and Ida married in Bedfordshire on 8th August 1885. Some time between 1891 and 1894 they moved to Wootton Bassett. During the Ashfields’ residence at The Lodge their two eldest sons were born. Lionel’s elder brother Reginald Charles Ashfield was born on February 19th 1897, followed by Lionel in 1898.

Lionel’s father Charles was a Marlborough College alumnus and worked as a tutor. He opened a preparatory school for boys at the Lodge, possibly in 1894 as it was advertised in the Herald on November 24th 1894. In 1896 Charles advertised the Lodge, a “modern house”, to let, for six weeks in August and September, presumably coinciding with the school’s summer holiday. In 1899 Charles left Wootton Bassett to become headmaster of Hazelhurst School in Frant, East Sussex, where three more children were born.

Lionel remained in Wiltshire. He attended Marlborough College, (C2 House, Fleur de Lys), from September 1912 to April 1917, like his father and elder brother before him. He represented the school for two years at fives and racquets. He gained extra cricket colours in 1915 and played consistently in the Marlborough College XI during 1916. He played in several inter-college cricket matches between June 1915 and August 1916. He had a batting average of 47. In 1916 he finished a very successful season by making 52 and 129 against Rugby.

Lionel joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 29th April 1917, in the same month that he left Marlborough. He spent 6 weeks training at Crystal Palace. In June 1917 he was stationed at the Eastchurch flying school, on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. He gained his flying certificate and after a brief posting to Cranwell, North Kesteven, Lincolnshire in July he was promoted to Flight Sub Lieutenant on 29th of August 1917. In September 1917 he was posted to Freiston, Lincolnshire, then later that month, to Manston, Kent.

Lionel left England on 11th November 1917, and joined the No. 2 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service in Dunkirk, France on 15th November 1917. After the merger of the Royal Naval Air Service with the Royal Flying Corps on 1 April 1918, he served as a Lieutenant in the No. 202 Squadron of the 61st Wing of the newly formed Royal Air Force. The squadron carried out reconnaissance and bombing missions from bases in Belgium and France. It was disbanded on 22 January 1920, although it has been reformed several times since.

Lionel is credited with shooting down seven enemy aircraft during aerial combat. They include two on 27 February 1918, one on 18 March 1918, one on 18 May 1918 over Bruges in a de Havilland DH.4 (A7868), two on 21 May 1918, and one on 31 May 1918 over Ostend in a de Havilland DH.4 (D8402). On 27 June 1918 his observer Lieutenant N H Jenkins DSM was wounded while Lionel was engaged in aerial combat near Middelkerke in DH.4 (A7868).

Early in July Lionel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation describes Lionel as: “a very capable officer of exceptional judgment and courage. He has carried out sixty-two flights behind the enemy lines with invariable success. During the last few months he has engaged seventeen enemy machines, and has been instrumental in destroying five. On one occasion he attacked five enemy aeroplanes at once, bringing down one in flames.” He was Gazetted posthumously, on 3rd August 1918.

Lionel was returning from Bruges on 16th July 1918 in his usual plane, the Airco de Havilland DH.4 (A7868), accompanied by another aircraft (D8402), when they were attacked by seven German Fokkers, over the village of Zevekote in Belgium. Lionel and his observer, 20 year old Lieutenant Maurice Graham English from Derry, Northern Ireland, were shot down by Vizeflugmeister Hans Goerth, a German flying ace. The loss of Lionel’s plane was the third of seven victories for Hans Goerth.

Lionel and Maurice had been reported missing, but nothing was heard of them for several weeks. Lionel’s name was published in a list of missing men on 6th August 1918. On 29th August it was confirmed that they had been killed in action.

The bodies of Lionel and Maurice were later found buried by the enemy at the German military cemetery at Ghistelles, graves 456 and 457. They were reburied side by side at the Ramscappelle Road Military Cemetery near Nieuwpoort in West Flanders. Lionel’s father provided no additional wording for the headstone at Ramscappelle. However, there is a memorial tablet for Lionel on the east wall of the nave of Saint Alban Church in Frant, East Sussex. The inscription reads: “To the Glory of God and in the dear memory of Lionel Arthur Ashfield, DFC, RAF, Killed in action 16 July 1918, Second son of Charles and Ida Ashfield of Hazelhurst, Frant, aged 19 years. Faithful unto death.”

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