b. 18/11/1922 Stoke on Trent. d. 20/09/1944 Oosterbeek, Holland.
John Daniel “Jack” Baskeyfield (1922-1944) was born on 18th November 1922 in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, England, the son of Daniel and Minnie Baskeyfield. He trained and worked as a butcher during the early years of the Second World War, until he received his call up papers in February 1942 at the age of 19. Baskeyfield joined the South Staffordshire Regiment and served with the 2nd Battalion's anti-tank platoon. The 2nd Battalion was part of 1st Airlanding Brigade, itself part of the 1st Airborne Division and Baskeyfield accompanied them to North Africa, from where they took part in Operation Ladbroke, the glider borne element of the Invasion of Sicily in 1943. The division then landed in Italy as part of Operation Slapstick and spent some weeks fighting their way through the country before sailing back to England.
The Battle of Arnhem was part of Operation Market Garden, an attempt to secure a string of bridges through the Netherlands. At Arnhem the British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were tasked with securing bridges across the Lower Rhine, the final objectives of the operation. However, the airborne forces that dropped on 17th September 1944 were not aware that the 9th SS and 10th SS Panzer divisions were also near Arnhem for rest and refit. Their presence added a substantial number of Panzergrenadiers, tanks and self-propelled guns to the German defences and the Allies suffered heavily in the ensuing battle.
Only a small force managed to hold one end of the Arnhem road bridge before being overrun on 21st September. The rest of the division became trapped in a small pocket west of the bridge and had to be evacuated on 25th September in Operation Berlin. The Allies failed to cross the Rhine, which remained under German control until Allied offensives in March 1945.
On 20th 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.
Baskeyfield was awarded a posthumous VC on 23rd November 1944. Sadly, his body was not recovered after the battle, and there is some debate on his final resting place. Some believe he is buried as an unknown in Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery, but this has not been proven. His name is also inscribed on the Groesbeek Memorial which commemorates all those Allied servicemen killed between August 1944 and the end of the conflict who have no known grave. Four more VCs were awarded after the battle, including one for Major Robert Cain, commander of B Company, 2nd Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment. The 2nd Battalion thus became the only British battalion to receive two VCs during one engagement in the Second World War.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Staffordshire Regiment Museum in Whittington, Staffordshire. A twice life size memorial statue of him was erected in 1990 at Festival Heights in Stoke-on-Trent, by sculptors Steven Whyte and Michael Talbot. The John Baskeyfield V.C. Church of England Primary School in Burslem was named after him but was renamed Saint Nathaniel's Academy on 1st March 2014. The artist Terence Cuneo made a painting of Baskeyfield's action, and in 1969 a Staffordshire filmmaker spent three years making a short film about his role in the battle, entitled Baskeyfield VC. A tree on the site of Baskeyfield's second gun, on the corner of Benedendorpsweg and Acacialaan, has been named the Jack Baskeyfield Tree.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, LICHFIELD.
BURIAL PLACE: ARNHEM OOSTERBEEK WAR CEMETERY, HOLLAND. (UNCONFIRMED)
John Baskeyfield's medals including VC on display at Staffordshire Regimental Museum, Lichfield, Staffordshire (August 2014)
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Baskeyfield Statue in Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire.