b. 26/05/1989 Munster, West Germany. d. 13/06/2012 Nahr-e-Saraj, Helmand, Afghanistan.
James Thomas Duane Ashworth (1989-2012) was one of five children, three boys and two girls, born to Duane and Kerry Ashworth. He was born in Munster British Military Hospital on 26th May 1989, where his father was serving with the Grenadier Guards. James grew up in Corby, Northamptonshire and attended Lodge Park Technology College. A keen sportsman, he represented his school at both football and basketball. James would continue his football when in the Army for his regiment and for a local team when at home. He was a keen supporter of Tottenham Hotspur FC.
In 2006, aged 17, Ashworth joined the British Army following his father who had previously served in the Grenadier Guards. Ashworth trained at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick before being posted to Nijmegen Company Grenadier Guards, which is focused on public duties and state ceremonial events in London.
He was identified as being capable of becoming a paratrooper and was assigned to the Guards’ Parachute Platoon, which is part of 3rd Battalion, Parachute Regiment. In his three years in the platoon, he took part in Operation Herrick 8 and was deployed to exercises overseas on three occasions. He was deployed to Canada before joining the Reconnaissance Platoon for Operation Herrick 16.
Lance Corporal Ashworth was serving with a reconnaissance platoon in the Nahr-e-Saraj district on the 13th June 2012 where his platoon was fighting a series of battles inside enemy compounds with Taliban insurgents when he was killed by the enemy. They had been given the task of neutralising a insurgent sniper team, when they came under immediate fire on landing.
Lance Corporal Ashworth immediately ran 300 metres into the heart of the insurgent-held village with his fire team. Two insurgents were killed and two sniper rifles recovered during this initial assault, but an Afghan Local Police follow-up attack stalled when a patrolman was shot and killed by the fleeing enemy.
Lance Corporal Ashworth insisted on moving to the front of his fire team as they continued their advance on the enemy held compound within the village. Stepping over the body of the dead patrolman he threw a grenade and surged forward into the compound quickly driving the insurgent back to an out-building from where he launched his tenacious last stand. The village was now under fire from several positions by insurgents desperate to protect their sniper team. The platoon needed to detain or kill the final sniper, who had been pinned down by the lead fire team, and extract as soon as possible.
Needing to break the stalemate Lance Corporal Ashworth dropped to the floor and began to crawl behind a knee-high wall that ran parallel to the front of the outbuilding. The wall provided just enough cover to conceal his body as he inched forward with his last grenade to be within five metres of the insurgent’s position. To ensure his last grenade landed accurately, Lance Corporal Ashworth deliberately crawled out from behind the low wall and its limited protection to get a better angle for the throw. Now in full view of the enemy just five metres away, rounds started to tear up the ground around him. Undeterred, he was about to throw the grenade when he was fatally hit by enemy fire.
Captain Michael Dobbin, commander of the platoon, who was awarded the Military Cross for repeated courage throughout the operational tour, said about Ashworth, “His professionalism under pressure and ability to remain calm in what was a chaotic situation is testament to his character. L/Cpl Ashworth was a pleasure to command and I will sorely miss his calming influence on the battlefield. Softly spoken, he stepped up to every task thrown in his direction.” After his death, his body was taken to Camp Bastion and was then repatriated to the United Kingdom. He was then buried in Shire Lodge Cemetery, Corby with full military honours.
On 16th March 2013, British media reported that Ashworth was to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery and this was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence on 18th March 2013. His citation was read out at the Grenadier Guard barracks in Aldershot. He was only the second person to be awarded the medal during the Taliban insurgency, after Bryan Budd for his actions in 2006. Ashworth is the 14th person to be awarded the Victoria Cross since the end of the Second World War.
On 22nd May 2013, Kerry and Duane Ashworth, the parents of Lance Corporal James Ashworth, accompanied by James’s brother Coran and sister Caroline, received their son’s Victoria Cross at a private audience with the Queen held at Buckingham Palace. The VC was then lodged with the Grenadier Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London. In tribute to his son, Duane Ashworth became a patron of the Victoria Cross Trust believing that the restoration of the graves of the recipients of the highest award for gallantry is vital work and wouldn’t want James’ grave to become in a similar state of disrepair in the next 80-100 years.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: SHIRE LODGE CEMETERY, CORBY, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE.
Alastair Kennedy-Rose – images of James Ashworth VC’s grave and the Ashworth Square road sign in Corby.
Thomas Stewart – image of James Ashworth’s medals at the Imperial War Museum, London.
Duane Ashworth – father of James Ashworth for several personal family photographs