John Baskeyfield, VC, defended the Oosterbeek perimeter – School’s Renaming Opposed

The change in name of John Baskeyfield VC Primary School has been widely contested by parents as well as many with no relation to the school ever since the decision was made. Now, a group of former servicemen who fought alongside the eponymous war hero have thrown their hats in the ring and voiced their opposition. They oppose what is now Saint Nathaniel’s Academy for what they consider a betrayal of the deceased John Baskeyfield.

The young hero was awarded the Victoria Cross for his sacrifice at the Battle of Arnhem, and he is one of the only local heroes of Burslem. The school had been put in special measures, and have formerly stated that they changed the name to protect the legacy of John Baskeyfield by ceasing their association of his name with their poor grades. This change also provided something of a new beginning for the school as they received academy status and moved forward with the intentions of bettering their levels of success.

The explanations given by the school did not appease the majority of the public, and as such a petition was passed around which so far has received over two hundred signatures. The name change has been especially offensive to veterans who once served with John Baskeyfield in the Staffordshire Regiment, and they are beginning to become increasingly vocal on the subject. One of them bitterly pointed out that forsaking the name of a local hero will not to anything to assure that the school will maintain decent marks in academics, The Sentinal reports.

The young man became a hero when he defended against multiple German tanks, and some believe that retaining his name on the marquee would actually do more to serve the school’s efforts at reform than to hurt them. They believe that John Baskeyfield should serve as an inspiration, rather than allowing his name to simply act as a reminder that the school has not always achieved par performance. In an act of protest, gathering veterans showed up without their decorations, the message being that their awards are meaningless if the school will not honor the recipient of the Victoria Cross.

A 6 pounder anti–tank gun of the Border Regiment engages enemy armour on the western perimeter of Oosterbeek, on the same day as Baskeyfield’s action.

Those honoring John Baskeyfield have demonstrated a great degree of reverence for the fallen young man, and do not understand why the school seems so set against doing the same thing. The school’s executive principal, Chris Brislen, has stated that he will no longer address the issue of the name change. Given the great deal of support that has been given to maintaining the name of John Baskeyfield, Brislen’s decision seems to be ill-advised. Nonetheless, he shows no sign of budging on the issue.

John “Jack” Daniel Baskeyfield VC (18 November 1922 – 20 September 1944) was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.

Born in 1922, Baskeyfield initially became a butcher but was called up to the army in 1942. He served with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, an airlanding unit of the 1st Airborne Division, in Sicily and Italy in 1943 before returning to the United Kingdom. The division was next deployed in Operation Market Garden and fought in the subsequent Battle of Arnhem.

While defending the Oosterbeek perimeter three days into the battle, Baskeyfield commanded a pair of anti tank guns that destroyed several enemy tanks before the crews were killed. Baskeyfield subsequently fired the guns alone before he too was killed. His body was not identified after the war and he has no known grave.

The full citation for Baskeyfield’s Victoria Cross appeared in a supplement to the London Gazette on 23 November 1944, reading:

War Office, 23rd November, 1944.

The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to: –

No. 5057916 Lance-Sergeant John Daniel Baskeyfield, The South Staffordshire- Regiment (1st Airborne Division) (Stoke-on-Trent).

On 20 September 1944, during the battle of Arnhem, Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield was the N.C.O. in charge of a 6-pounder anti-tank gun at Oosterbeek. The enemy developed a major attack on this sector with infantry, tanks and self-propelled guns with the obvious intent to break into and overrun the Battalion position. During the early stage of the action the crew commanded by this N.C.O. was responsible for the destruction of two Tiger tanks and at least one self propelled gun, thanks to the coolness and daring of this N.C.O., who, with complete disregard for his own safety, allowed each tank to come well within 100 yards of his gun 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 the brief respite after this 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 enemy attacks were launched and driven off. Finally, when his gun was knocked out, Lance Sergeant Baskeyfield crawled under intense enemy fire to another 6-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 across the open ground to assist him but was killed almost at once. Lance-Sergeant Baskeyfield succeeded in firing two rounds at the self propelled gun, scoring one direct hit which rendered it ineffective. Whilst preparing to fire a third shot, however, he was killed by a shell from a supporting enemy tank.

The superb gallantry of this N.C.O. 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.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE