Honouring a Victoria Cross Recipient
The word ‘hero’ is often thrown about. Some would associate the term with those who partook in great feats, while the majority of Arnhem veterans I have spoken to say “the heroes are the ones who were left behind”. A number of men fit both of these descriptions, including John (Jack) Daniel Baskeyfield VC. Paul Brindley, of C Troop re-enactment group recalls how this hero was honoured with a memorial and how he came to play a rather unique part in its creation.
It came as quite a shock to me when I sat down to write this, as I have just realised that it was 20 years ago this month that I first got involved with the ‘Baskeyfield V.C. Committee’; a committee set up to raise funds and commission a statue of J.D. “Jack” Baskeyfield. Next year on 17th November, the day before what would have been Jacks' 96th birthday, will see the 20th anniversary of the statue’s unveiling at Festival Heights, in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire.
John "Jack" Daniel Baskeyfield VC
Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield was one of five to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for actions during the Battle of Arnhem. He was in charge of a six-pounder anti-tank gun at Oosterbeek. His citation for the VC read:
“The enemy developed a major attack on this sector with infantry, tanks and self-propelled guns with the obvious intention to break into and overrun the battalion position. During the early stage of the action the crew commanded by this NCO was responsible for the destruction of two Tiger tanks and at least one self-propelled gun, thanks to the coolness and daring of this NCO who with complete disregard for his own safety allowed each tank to come well within 100 yards before opening fire. In the course of this preliminary engagement Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield was badly wounded in the leg and the remainder of his crew were either killed or badly wounded. During a brief respite after the engagement, Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield refused to be carried to the Regimental Aid Post and spent his time attending to his gun and shouting encouragement to his comrades in neighbouring trenches. After a short interval the enemy renewed the attack with even greater ferocity than before, under cover of intense mortar and shell fire. Manning his gun quite alone, Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield continued to fire round after round at the enemy until his gun was put out of action. By this time his activity was the main factor in keeping the enemy tanks at bay. The fact that the surviving men in his vicinity were held together and kept in action was undoubtedly due to his magnificent example and outstanding courage. Time after time the enemy attacks were launched and driven off. Finally when his gun was knocked out Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield crawled under intense enemy fire to another six-pounder gun nearby, the crew of which had been killed and proceeded to man it single handed. With this gun he engaged an enemy self-propelled gun which was approaching to attack. Another soldier crawled over open ground to assist him but was killed almost at once. Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield succeeded in firing two rounds at the SP gun, scoring direct hits, which rendered it ineffective. Whilst preparing to fire a third, however, he was killed by a shell from a supporting enemy tank. The superb gallantry of this NCO is beyond praise. During the remaining days at Arnhem, stories of his valour were a constant inspiration to all ranks. He spurned danger, ignored pain and, by his supreme fighting spirit, infected all who witnessed his conduct with the same aggressiveness and dogged devotion to duty, which characterised his actions throughout.”
At the time the committee was formed I was already a former member of the Royal Engineers (TA), a Parachutist, I owned my own Willys Jeep, I was one of the founder members of the local Military Vehicle Group, a member of a cracking reenactment group, and most importantly with regards to this article, a personal friend of the late Les Lockett. Les was a former paratrooper with 156 Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, 4th Parachute Brigade. He himself took part in Operation Market Garden where he was quite badly wounded and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner. I had spoken to Les offering the services of the Military Vehicle Group, the idea being to help to raise money towards the statue. He suggested that I come along to the committee meeting, not realising at the time that I was about to become associated with the statue for a long, long time to come and more so than any of the other committee members.
As soon as I walked through the door I remember two guys instantly leaving their seats, walking towards me and eyeing me up and down; very disconcerting indeed, and they really weren't my type!!! Les, in the meantime, was introducing me to the rest of the committee leaving my two new admirers, doing whatever they were doing, until the very last. These two turned out to be renowned sculptors Steve White and Mike Talbot.
"How would you like to be the model for the statue Paul? You're the right height, right build and there's enough of a resemblance for it to work", said Mike Talbot.
Before the question had even sunk in, my dear friend Les had already answered yes for me.
"That's great", said Steve White. “All we need now is a complete WW2 British Airborne uniform to fit him and we can get started”.
Paul posses for the crafting of the memorial
Again, before I'd had chance to realise what Steve had said, my dear friend Les Lockett had told them that I had everything they needed. I do remember a little chuckle coming from the corner of the room and a voice saying, "Don't worry Paul, I'm sure your “DAD” will let you get a word in edgeways sometime during the meeting". That was my introduction to Bill Townley, who made the "Baskeyfield V.C." film back in the late 1960's, and the start of a friendship that's lasts to this day.
A newspaper article from the time raising awareness of the statue
The launch of the appeal to raise funds was covered by both TV and Radio, it was on that day I met Gladys Jones, Jacks' sister, for the first time. At the time I was dressed in best Battle Dress and fully badged up as South Staffordshire Regiment. Her initial reaction was to burst into tears and run off. I remember turning to Les and Bill and saying that if it didn't meet with Gladys' approval and I was having nothing more to do with it. It actually turned out that Gladys had last seen Jack in late July 1944 and, as far as she could remember, I was wearing exactly what he had been wearing at the time. She told me that the memories had just come flooding back and overwhelmed her a bit.
"He was posted missing after Sicily, Paul, but he came back", she said. "When he was posted missing again, after Arnhem, I was sure he was safe and would come home, but he never did. It broke my parents hearts".
I will never forget her telling me that. After that I had some lovely times at the events that we went to, promoting the statue, and she insisted I accompanied her in uniform at all times.
The statue of JD Baskeyfield standing in Stoke-on-Trent
The statue was unveiled on Sunday, 17th November, 1996. Present were the Baskeyfield family, representatives from both The Parachute Regiment and The Staffordshire Regiment, The Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, The Dutch Military Attaché to the UK, local dignitaries, local people and most importantly, to me, former comrades of Jacks' from the 1st Airborne Division. It was a very emotional day and I was very proud to have been part of it.
One of my lasting impressions was seeing Jacks' medals being displayed on a maroon velvet cushion by a Sergeant of The Staffordshire Regiment. I walked up for a closer look at the medals and found to my surprise that the sergeant was the younger brother of a girl I went to school with.
"Hello Paul. Long time, no see", said Sgt Nick Butler. "How would you like to just take hold of Jacks' medals for me for a while mate, my arms are aching ? Don't let The Colonel see you and don't run off"
"With pleasure Sgt Butler. With absolute pleasure".