It was wonderful to receive a parcel containing Company Sergeant Major William Henry Askew’s medal group, including a rare Distinguished Conduct Medal, awarded for his actions in Norway in April 1940.
The parcel came from Lynne and Tony Howard from Melbourne. CSM Askew was Tony’s mother’s first husband. Knowing the medals had travelled all the way from Australia somehow made it extra special, and the fact it’s Norway’s National Day gives us all the more reason to share their story today! Richmond, where our museum is based, is twinned with Vinstra in Norway.
The 1st Battalion had been sent to Norway to try to stop the Germans shipping iron ore out of the Norwegian port of Narvik.
Their activity there lasted only a few days, from 25 April to 3 May, at which point they had to withdraw – hence the relative rarity of medals from that period.
Then a Platoon Sergeant Major, William Askew (pictured in 1939/40 middle row, 4th from left) was awarded his DCM for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Otta on 28th April 1940.
This W.O was acting as Company Sergeant Major of Y Company. His Company was astride the river with one platoon detached to the eastern bank. Early in the day his Company commander had gone to the detached platoon and was unable to get back. PSM Askew was left in command of the remainder of the Company. He fought his Company throughout the whole day with skill and determination and great courage inflicting considerable losses on the enemy and showing complete disregard for his own personal danger. On being ordered to withdraw he affected the withdrawal of his Company from close contact with the enemy in perfect order and without losses. Throughout the action he showed a splendid example to all ranks. (William Askew’s DCM citation.)
CSM Askew died whilst serving with the 1st Battalion on 6 August 1943, during the taking of the village of Belpasso in Sicily; one of 48 casualties sustained during the attack.
He is buried in Catania War Cemetery.
CSM Askew’s widow, Josephine, appeared to cut all contact with anyone from her former life when she married Tony’s father in 1946 and arrived in Australia. However, she kept William’s medals (the DCM is on the left) which have made their way to her son; leaving him intrigued about this important man in his mother’s life, but one with whom he had no real connection.
Lynne looked at researching the family, and William’s service record, which led to an email to us here at the museum. We helped fill in some of the gaps. Then came the couple’s kind offer of entrusting the medals to us.
“We had many people tell us to auction the medal and letter but at the end of the day it is not ours to keep, nor for some random person to buy and say, ‘look what I have’, so we are so pleased to have found the proper and right place for his last belongings,” says Lynne.
The only family who may still be alive are the children of his sister, but I’ve been unable to trace them. Maybe one day one of them will want to look into his life and appreciate his bravery. We feel overwhelmed knowing Mr Askew’s belongings are in the right place now, forever.”
Find out more about all our marvellous medals at our Open Case Afternoon in June.