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Under The Wire [Hardcover]

William Ash , Brendan Foley
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 April 2005

Bill Ash is one of a rare breed – an American prepared to sacrifice his citizenship and risk his life to fight the Nazis at a time when the USA was still neutral. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and before long found himself in England and flying Spitfires in combat.

Then, in March 1942, Bill was shot down over the Pas de Calais. He survived the crash-landing and, thanks to the bravery of local civilians, evaded capture for months. It was in Paris that he was betrayed to the Gestapo. Tortured and sentenced to death as a spy, he was saved from the firing squad by the intervention of the Luftwaffe who sent him to the ‘Great Escape’ POW camp, Stalag Luft III. It was from there that Bill - already branded a trouble-maker by his captors - began his extraordinary ‘tour’ of Occupied Europe, breaking out of one camp, being dispatched to the next – in Poland, Germany and Lithuania. Bill became one of only a handful of serial escape artists to attempt more than a dozen break-outs – over the wire, under it in tunnels, through it with cutters or simply strolling out of the camp gates in disguise. These were years of extraordinary hardship, frustration and brutality – each time he was recaptured his punishment was a long spell in solitary. He was a real-life ‘Cooler king’– but through it all he maintained not just remarkable courage, but also an anarchic sense of humour, great humanity and an unstoppable desire for freedom.

From its honest, funny and exciting reflections on life in wartime Britain to the vivid, compelling, sometimes poignant recollections of his time as a POW, UNDER THE WIRE is more than just another memoir. It stands as a tribute to the bravery and resolve, not only of Bill Ash, but of an entire generation.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (1 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0593054083
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593054086
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A story of bravery in the face of brutality, of comradeship, of a never-say-die attitude; and running through it is a sense of humour that cheers up the grimmest situation" (THE TIMES)

"A life of adventure that will inspire and astonish... Ash is a writer who makes his readers feel as if they're right there beside him through it all" (HOMER HICKAM, author of THE ROCKET BOYS)

"A remarkable story... brilliantly told and with all the authentic sights, sounds and smells of the World War 2 prison camp" (TONY RENNELL, author of THE LAST ESCAPE)

"Well written and exciting... in this remarkable book...there are passages...that make the reader want to stand up and cheer" (CHARLES ROLLINGS, author of WIRE AND WALLS)

"An astonishing tale - totally spellbinding. I always knew Bill Ash was a special guy but never realised how special... Perhaps his greatest achievement was to emerge from the horrors of the war with his faith in ordinary people enhanced" (ALAN PLATER) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

The remarkable wartime adventures of an American Spitfire pilot, legendary escape artist and 'Cooler King'...

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralled! 6 Nov 2006
Being ex-forces, and in my 40's, the daring-do books about the SAS and the Gulf Wars have been high on my agenda. I happened to see 'Under the wire' and thought "I'd give it a go". My opinion - absolutely brilliant! I couldn't put it down. A few years ago people applauded 'Chris Ryan' (or whatever his real name is) for his dramatic 'The one that got away'. I'm sorry Mr Ryan, in the hero stakes you're not in the same league as William Ash and his POW colleagues. These guys are the real un-sung heroes, I had no idea about life behind the wire in WWII apart from what I've seen on television (evidently not that accurate). I'd love to know what became of more of the characters in the book (particularly Jimmy 'Dixie' Deans), but most of all I'd love to meet Bill Ash, shake him by the hand, and know I've met one of the most inspirational characters that ever walked this earth.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Under the Wire 24 Mar 2005
I've read a lot of autobiographies and the 'I did this, I did that' factor can be pretty tiresome unless you are totally fascinated by the author. The fact is that I quickly forgot that 'Under the Wire' was an autobiography - it is so much more than 'just' a story about a man who becomes a fighter pilot, gets shot down and tries to escape. But it is story that makes this book so amazing: all at once it manages to be incredibly moving, heart-warming, hilarious, disturbing and inspiring - and it seems incredible (and often an injustice) that all this could have happened to one person. To come out the other side of these experiences with the deep love for people that Bill Ash clearly does have, just goes to show what an amazing human being he must be. You might say that he can only blame himself for the scrapes that he got into - he is clearly healthily obsessive with standing up to bullies (from playgrounds in depression hit America to nazi thugs bullwhipping women refugees), and it makes you wish that you had the guts to be by his side doing the same. Above all, I think that this book should give you hope - no matter how bad times are, the kindness of people will always find a way. Eternal thanks to Bill and our forbears who fought for a free world.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional 1 Jun 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Texan Bill Ash crossed the border into Canada in 1940 to escape a life of poverty as a jobless hobo. Partly out of principle and partly to get enough to eat, he volunteered for the RAF - an action that cost him his citizenship because the US was staunchly neutral at the time. He came to Europe and saw combat as a Spitfire pilot in the RAF.
Shot down in 1942, he spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps where he rubbed shoulders with many of the fifty servicemen who were to be murdered by the Gestapo in the aftermath of the Great Escape. Ash made numerous escape bids of his own, and became so familiar with solitary confinement that he is said by some to be the model for Steve McQueen's "cooler king" character in the film The Great Escape.
This book is another in a crop of memoirs penned by veterans of World War II in their twilight years, but it is exceptional in several ways. Ash is candid about his motives for fighting; he reveals hot-headed fury at those who had started the war, something unusual in a generation of writers who tend to censor the emotional content of their work. Never afraid to reveal his feelings, Ash is always witty and ironic: he has a dry and humorous style, and while this book is thoroughly modern and easy to read, it evokes wartime life as vividly as if it were yesterday.
I recommend this riveting book, which compares favourably with Jeffrey Wellum's recent masterpiece First Light.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, gripping, impossible to put down 14 April 2005
By A Customer
When I began reading UNDER THE WIRE, I expected a story of heroic "derring-do", recalled with a sort of misty, stiff-upper lipped nostalgia by a Grand Lion in the winter of his remarkable life.
Instead, I got so, so much more.
Bill Ash's life is remarkable by anyone's yardstick. From his earliest childhood in Depression-era Texas, he was a hero, ready and eager to take on any bully. While America watched as Europe fell to a maniacal Hitler, he made a decision to personally take on the biggest bully in modern history.
Remarkable? Brave? Courageous? Yes, all of these adjectives describe the heroic life of Bill Ash.
But his life, and his story -- told so extraordinarily well by Ash and his co-writer, Brendan Foley -- is also funny, human and a lesson in living one's life with heart and a true moral compass.
There is as much Huck Finn and Jack Kerouac in Ash's war stories, as there is John Wayne.
Like all great tales of history, UNDER THE WIRE does more than offer adventure after adventure (and WOW, what adventures Bill had!)
The book offers a sense of the times, a sense of the politics, insights into the dangers, the choices, the cat-and-mouse existence of a Prisoner of War.
Bill played cat-and-mouse with the Third Reich, and did it brilliantly.
And I have never read an adventure story with so much genuine humor!
UNDER THE WIRE is a glorious tribute to the sort of person we long for, but never really see anymore: a true hero.
And it's a great, entertaining read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A blockbuster of Escapology 24 Jun 2007
Breathtaking! One of the most exciting books I have read in the last decade. As an escapologist, Mr. Ash, a Texan who gave up his citizenship to join the RCAF in WWII, repeatedly put his life on the line for the cause to which he was committed. Stalag Luft III, made famous by the movie The Great Escape, was one of the many POW camps from which he escaped. Ash was, in fact, in the cooler at Luft III when the great escape actually took place. Riveting, exciting, and spellbinding! Mr. Ash lived it, Mr. Foley brought it alive. Don't begin reading late in the day or you'll lose a whole night of sleep.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Under the wire
Very good value. Good book
Published 14 days ago by Mrs M P Francis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must read for today'd generation
Published 23 days ago by steve walesboyo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 23 days ago by gibson
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful understatement used throughout
I knew Bill Ash in the late 1960's when he was at the BBC.

Bill was kindly, thoughtful & generous to a fault. Read more
Published 1 month ago by David Bill
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping story of wartime exploits of an American fighter pilot in the...
Gripping story of an American fighter pilot in the RAF and his amazing exploits as a persistently escaping POW. Extremely readable and well-written. Highly recommended.
Published 1 month ago by swiftsure00
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling true story of one man's outstanding courage
In the years between 1945 and around 1960 there appeared a swathe of 'What I did in the War' and 'Heroic Event' biographies including many that were turned into successful movies... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Andy_atGC
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book
My husband thoroughly enjoyed this book,it was a birthday pressie, he read it in a day - couldn't put it down !
Published 3 months ago by Margo
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet another excellent read
This book looks at another aspect of the war. This time in Europe. All these books look at POW's. This book is about one mans one thought on being captured and that is escape.
Published 5 months ago by Robert Kirby
5.0 out of 5 stars great escape story of the 2nd world war
William ash has written an incredible account of his live. I only have two chapters left to read, but his account of escapes are fascinating. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mr Gary Hartley
5.0 out of 5 stars Under the Wire.
This is a riveting read, and had me laughing out loud at times, which sounds strange as it is so tragic at times, but he was a real hero. One of the best WW2 books I have read.
Published 11 months ago by D. J. Lay
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