The Last Man Standing: Herb Ashby and the Battle of El Alamein
'Where was the rest of the company? Why is no one else firing? A quick look behind revealed the shocking truth. Herb was alone. No one was following there was no one able to follow. He was the last man standing.'
The Australians played a crucial role in the Allied victory in the Battle of El Alamein, one of the turning points of the Second World War. Rommel said after the battle, I could have won North Africa with a division of Australians under my command'. Yet victory came at a heavy price, with more than a thousand Australians lost in the battle.
Peter Dornan tells the story of the Battle of El Alamein through the eyes of Herb Ashby of the 2/48th Battalion, who at eighteen years of age left his home in Mount Gambier to fight a war on the other side of the world. Herb Ashby was wounded in the Siege of Tobruk and was decorated for his services in the Battle of El Alamein. With three Victoria Crosses awarded posthumously to his battalion during the campaign, including two to his platoon, Herb assisted the 2/48th to become the most highly decorated Australian battalion in the war.
Peter Dornan's The Last Man Standing is a vividly recounted story of tragedy and triumph, and tremendous courage in extraordinary times.
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Herb Ashby was a remarkable man. Warm, generous and engaged at the heart of his community until his death. This book is a valuable record from the view of a young digger, written later in his life with decades of wisdom.
Hill of Jesus
Tel el Eisa
Prelude to El Alamein
The First Punch
The Years After
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17 Platoon 2/48th Battalion 26th Brigade 9th Division Afrika Korps Alamein Allied anti-tank guns artillery attack Australian Australian 9th Division battle battlefield bayonet bombers bombs Bren carriers Bren gun British bullets burst Captain carriers Company convoy darkness deadly Desert Air Force desperately dust Eighth Army Eisa El Alamein enemy exploded fighting fire friends front German going grenade ground gunner Gurney Hammer Headquarters helmet Herb knew Herb noticed Herb watched Herb's Hill of Jesus infantry Italian Kibby killed kilometres Lieutenant machine guns mates Mersa Matruh metres minefield minutes Montgomery morning mortar Mount Gambier moved night officer Panzer planes platoon commander Point 24 positions prisoner quickly raced railway line realised Regiment Ridge rifle Robbins Rommel sand sergeant Shammama shells ship smoke soldiers Spandau Stukas tanks Tel el Eisa Tobruk Tommy gun trench Trig 29 troops trucks Valentine tanks vehicles waiting Whaite wounded yelled
Page xv - Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.
Page 145 - Through the din we made out other sounds — the whine of shells overhead, the clatter of the machine-guns . . . and eventually the pipes. Then we saw a sight that will live for ever in our memories — line upon line of steel-helmeted figures with rifles at the high port, bayonets catching in the moonlight, and over all the wailing of the pipes. ... As they passed they gave us the thumbs-up sign, and we watched them plod on towards the enemy lines, which by this time were shrouded in smoke.
Page 202 - It is ... annihilation that the country wants — not merely a splendid victory.
Page 17 - All their food, ammunition and replacement stores would have to come in by ship under the bombs and guns of the Luftwaffe, which controlled the air space over the fortress.
Page 130 - Alexander issued only one order to the Eighth Army's new commander: 'Go down to the desert and defeat Rommel.
Page 16 - Hitler had agreed to prop up the Italian position in North Africa with a fresh formation called 'Afrika Korps
Page 138 - Montgomery's plan was for simultaneous attacks to be staged in the north and south, with the decisive blow to be in the north — the Australian sector.
Page xxiii - After the 2/24th had cleared its front line for 2 kilometres, the 2/48th was to move through the 2/24th and thrust deep into the enemy's second line of defence.
Page 36 - Because of this murderous fire power and the fact that this tenaciously guarded territory was interlaced with earthworks set in minefields studded with anti-personnel mines, there were very few battalion or company attacks from either side.