b. 04/10/1887 Colombo, Ceylon. d. 21/03/1918 Moyenneville, France.
Basil Arthur Horsfall (1887-1918) was born in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) on 4th October 1887. He was the youngest of four sons born to Mr and Mrs Charles W. F. Horsfall, who had a total of eight children. Charles Horsfall had travelled to Ceylon in the 1860s and became one of the pioneers of the island’s tea and coffee industry. By the time of his retirement, he was a very wealthy man.
Basil was educated firstly in Ceylon, before being sent to England to boarding school at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Marlow, Buckinghamshire. He was a sports all-rounder and excelled at cricket. He returned to Ceylon after school and worked variously as a rubber planter, an accountant and a civil servant in the Public Works Department.
He was a member of the Ceylon Engineers, a locally-raised force of European expatriates largely drawn from the Public Works Department which was mobilised for the duration of World War I. He requested leave in order to travel to England and was released from his civil appointment but not allowed to leave the Ceylon Engineers, who were carrying out important work.
In July 1916, aged 28, having finally got permission, he returned to Britain where he was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, on 19 December 1916. He travelled to France in the spring of 1917 and was wounded on 11th May 1917 while serving with the 1st Battalion and after recovery and convalescence in England was attached to the 11th (Service)Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (the Accrington Pals) on 24th October 1917. Two of his three brothers were also wounded on the same day as Basil.
On 21st March 1918, between Moyenneville and Ablainzevelle, France, when the enemy attacked Second Lieutenant Horsfall's centre platoon, his three forward sections were driven back and he was wounded in the head by enemy fire. Ignoring the wound, he immediately reorganised what remained of his troops and counterattacked to regain his original position. Despite the severity of his head wound, he refused to go to the dressing station, as the three other officers in his company had been killed. Later, he made another counterattack, but was ordered to withdraw. The last to leave his position, he was shot soon afterwards.
Horsfall’s body was never recovered, and he was commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. His VC, in its leather case, was presented to his parents at a very grand military parade on the Galle Face in Colombo on 16th August 1918. The Governor of Ceylon also presented a letter from King George V to his parents. In March 1982, his medals, accompanied by a wealth of documents, were offered for sale at Spink’s with a catalogue price of £9,750. They were obtained by the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, but the medals are now owned by the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment Museum, Preston, Lancashire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: QUEENS LANCASHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, PRESTON.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE - ON ARRAS MEMORIAL, FRANCE. BAY 6.
NationaL Memorial Arboretum - Thomas Stewart
Sir William Borlase Grammar School, Marlow
The image of Basil Horsfall's VC is with kind permission of the Lancashire Infantry Museum, Fulwood Barracks, Preston.