The Baseley Boys

The BaseleysAlston RoadMorrowVCAlston road is the gateway to the Fairlight, on our guided walks we swing a right out of Smallwood Road and always stop outside Charles Barnes house at No8. We then get caught up in stories about Alfred Quenzer, the Matcham family and William Warman. Unfortunately the Baseley brothers at No18 tend to get overlooked. They lived next to that big bushy hedge on the right of the above photo, facing Worslade Road. But suddenly a light has shined upon them. Through the Ancestry UK website, Marion contacted Nicholas Rowe who very kindly provided information about his Great Uncles along with photographs of them both. Alfred Sylvester Baseley has always been of interest because along with his mates across the road, Messers Warman and Quenzer, he is one of only three members of the Summerstown182 who were in the 13th Wandsworth Service Battalion. That was essentially the local ‘pals’ battalion rounded up by Mayor Archibald Dawnay in 1915 in response to Kitchener’s demand for more manpower. I was surprised there were only three of them and that the 182 represent over fifty different regiments. In 1891 Daniel Alfred and Ellen Mary Baseley lived at 51 Old Town in Clapham. Daniel, who worked as a painter, slater and general labourer, was the son of a cheesemonger from the Old Kent Road. The couple shared their two rooms with three children, Francis being born in 1888. By 1901 the family were living in Brixton, in Mauleverer Road. Alfred Sylvester had arrived in 1894 and there were now six children, three boys and three girls. Ten years later they had made it over to Summerstown and were at 22 Fountain Road, the same street as the hero of the 13th Battalion, Corporal Edward Foster VC, the six foot two dustman known as ‘Tiny Ted’. Two of the younger Baseleys had departed the nest but a seventh child, Connie had appeared. Six of the children were still at home, three of them young adults. Daniel Baseley died in 1912 at the age of 44 but fortunately Francis, now 21 and Alfred 16 were both earning, with jobs as patent tool workers. We haven’t found Francis Baseley’s service record yet so its hard to know when he joined the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Fusilers. I was curious though as to why he’s wearing the uniform of a corporal in the photo when he appeared to have the rank of private. Apparently he overstayed his leave home to spend a little more time with a girlfriend. Unfortunately his amorous inclinations cost him his stripes as when he got back to France he was demoted to the ranks. Let’s hope they didn’t also cost him his marksman’s proficiency badge. In the spring of 1915 the 3rd Battalion were involved in some heavy fighting in the Messines Ridge area and their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Guy du Maurier was killed in March, Daphne’s Uncle no less. Francis Baseley died on 12th April 1915, he has no known grave and his name is on the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. The same day, possibly in the same battle, a Private William Morrow of the Royal Irish Fusiliers was awarded the VC for digging out six solders buried in a trench. He was killed two weeks later. Alfred Baseley’s records do survive so a much clearer picture emerges of his war service. He signed up almost exactly a year to the day after war broke out, on 3rd August 1915 at Wandsworth. He was five foot nine and in good shape. Of course that would all change and his records indicate that he was hospitalised with an ulcer in April 1917, so would consequently have missed the capture of Villers-Plouich. It was here that Tiny Ted won his VC and 18 year old Alfred Quenzer ended up in Fifteen Ravine Cemetery. He returned to the fray for the battle of Cambrai and the capture of Bourlon Wood. In the Spring of 1918 the Germans launched their massive Kaiserschlacht offensive. The battalion were fortunately behind the lines at Wailly on 21st March when the war diary notes ‘Hostile bombardment on Corps front at 5am lasting all morning’. The following days comment noted that the Germans had attacked on a 60 mile front and were rapidly coming towards them. It was time to retreat. On 26th March ‘Enemy seen advancing in large numbers over crests and ridges beyond Mory village.’ It must have been a terrifying prospect for the young man from Alston Road. After an initial skirmish at Ervillers there was a brief respite and it seemed the worst of the onslaught might have been avoided, there was even time for baths at Sailly. On the 6th April they were back in the trenches suffering only light shelling over the next few days. On the 8th it was noted ‘Enemy was exceptionally quiet.’ Famous last words of course. On the 9th April, all hell broke loose. ‘At 415 am, enemy opened intense bombardment on our front and support line. He also heavily shelled back areas. The Battalion immediately ‘stood to’ but the enemy broke through the Portuguese on our right flank and the battalion was surrounded.’ Some managed to fight their way out but later that day, 544 men were listed as killed, missing or wounded. Alfred Sylvester Baseley was one of them. On 10th the diary notes that the remnants of the Battalion moved to Steenwerck at noon. The cemetery there is where Alfred Baseley is buried. His file contains a note from his mother who had to wait until at least December before finding out where he lay. We also had problems finding his grave. On a recent visit to this area, which is very close to the Franco-Belgian border we tried to locate the cemetery. We were relying on good old-fashioned technology, a road-map, street signs and asking the locals for directions. None of this worked and after a fifth circuit of the village we gave up and headed across the border for Messines. Indeed the Baseleys proved entirely elusive that day because we ran out of time at the Menin Gate and couldn’t locate Francis. Anyway, we are indebted to Nicholas Rowe for shedding some light and allowing us to see these photographs. A final thought from Alston Road. Nicholas’ great grandmother passed away in 1934. He had heard that Ellen Mary Baseley would never move away from 18 Alston Road. Because Francis had no known grave, she always had the feeling that her eldest son might return, perhaps having been captured rather than killed.

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