Robert Frederic Ashby 1916 – 2019

Robert Frederic Ashby, who died on Friday 20th December aged 103, was the Librarian and Curator of Hitchin Library and Museum from 1938 to 1940 and from 1946 to 1950,  his time at Hitchin being interrupted by his remarkable war service as a Horsa glider pilot. He was one of the very few such pilots to survive all three of the major European airborne landings, namely D-Day (where he landed at Pegasus Bridge in the early hours with a bulldozer to clear the landing grounds for later landings), Arnhem (one of the last to be evacuated across the Rhine), and Operation Varsity, where airborne forces landed behind enemy lines across the Rhine on the last push into Germany. Throughout this time he also acted as an unofficial war-correspondent, sending personal reports back to a local Hitchin newspaper.

He was born on 3rd June 1916 and married a Hitchin girl Jeanne Sells who was brought up in West Hill, and they were married between D-day and Arnhem. He was a great friend of Reginald Hine with whom he shared many literary interests, and devoted his life to books as librarian, author, collector, and as a skilled bookbinder.

In 1950 he moved to Kettering, then to Surrey, culminating in his appointment as the County Librarian of Surrey, a position he held with distinction for many years.

In October 2007  Robert Ashby contributed an article to our Hitchin Journal (Vol. 17 no. 2) about the early days of the library and museum. His second child, Michael, who was born in Bancroft in 1946, has kindly supplied this obituary for any of the few left in Hitchin who might be old enough to remember his father, a very private, self-effacing man, and thought some might be interested in hearing of his passing after a very long and interesting life.

Robert Ashby is survived by his widow, four children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. His funeral took place in Chichester on 20th January 2020.