A Second World War trench, Ooosterbeek
One Staffordshire soldier's bravery in the Second World War was rewarded with the Victoria Cross. So why do few people know about John Baskeyfield? Phil Bowers tells the story of one local unsung hero...
The statue erected in Festival Park in Stoke on Trent in honour of John, or Jack Baskeyfield, as he's better known has often been said to be in the wrong place...
For a man who fought valiantly for his country during the Second World War, it seems a little unbecoming to place his memorial at the rear of a shopping centre, especially a man whose bravery earned him a Victoria Cross.
Whatever its location though, Baskeyfield’s statue is a testament to a man whose bravery should be better known by the people of Stoke-on-Trent.
His actions during the War gained him a reputation that garnered him the respect of his peers until his death in September of 1944.
Baskeyfield was born in Burslem, one of the Six Towns, in November 1922, not far from where his statue now stands. Initially becoming a butcher, he enjoyed a conventional career until February of 1942, when he received his call up papers to enter the conflict that had raged across Europe over the previous three years.
Serving with the 2nd South Staffs Regiment in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, Baskeyfield commanded two anti-tank guns at Arnhem, and was involved in heavy fighting that followed the stand of the Lonsdale Force near Oosterbeek, Holland in September 1944.
A fierce confrontation resulted in most of the regiment being forced back after a sustained an consistent drive through parachute battalions an holding troops by German forces.
The Last Confrontation
Baskeyfield’s section took it upon themselves to mount a serious defence of the Allied positions. Digging in near a road junction, the small contingent of British troops destroyed an armoured car and two Tiger tanks, making sure each shot counted by allowing the German armour to come within the perilously close distance of 100 yards.
His companions were all killed, while Baskeyfield himself was badly wounded in the leg. What followed next is a feat of sheer bravery that cost him his life.
Dragging himself to an antitank gun, Baskeyfield held off the entire German troop long enough to try and attract the attention of nearby Allied soldiers.
However, when no help arrived, the Germans renewed their onslaught, advancing on Baskeyfield’s position with heavy armour and sustained mortar bombardment.
Alone, he continued to repel the attacking forces by himself, knocking out several German vehicles before his gun was destroyed. Baskeyfield, though, had done enough to ensure that the tank attack had been foiled.
The Germans sent forth a third wave, but Baskeyfield again was unwilling to concede defeat, crawling to another gun and continuing to hold of the attackers.
He destroyed another armoured car and was preparing to take aim at a half-track, when, sadly, a German tank destroyed his position with a single shot, killing Baskeyfield in the process.
His body was never found.
He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after the war in recognition of his actions at Oosterbeek, and the statue was erected shortly after the construction of Festival Park in 1990.
While many people would like to see his memorial moved, it can not be disputed that the statue itself is a glowing tribute to one of the bravest men in the history of Staffordshire.
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Other Victoria Cross winners/born or served /staffordshire
My father Lance/Sgt Walter Linton served with JD Baskeyfield in Sicily, North Africa & Arnhem. My father says he was the bravest man he ever saw. As an exPara myself, I hope his memory lives on.
last updated: 10/12/2008 at 08:56