A family at war

I’ve already written about George Sidney Bassett (1892-1917) in my book on the Sevenoaks war memorial. George was born in Sevenoaks in the house I now live in, in 1879. He was attached to 10th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and had gone to supervise some wiring that his men were undertaking when he was hit in the face by a bullet from an enemy machine gun. He was carried to a first-aid post and died of his wounds. Second Lieutenant Edgar Hurst wrote to George’s parents, Charles (1861-1935) and Adelaide (1860-1956)

Second Lieutenant George Sidney Bassett

George Sidney Bassett

‘I had learnt to like him very much in the few weeks I had known him. He was my favourite of the officers of our company and I have since heard the men say how they liked him. It is one great crying shame that such good lives should be wasted in such an awful war…’

However, George was not the only member of his family to fight during the war, in fact, several of the men and women of the Bassett family served their country in different ways. George’s uncle, Gilbert Bassett (1879-1935), served with the Royal Flying Corps as Gunner/Observer G BASSETT 60561, 62nd Squadron and the family have photographs of Gilbert, as well as his war diary, which records many of his exploits.

During the war he was apparently shot down behind enemy lines and his belongings were returned to his mother as he was reported missing. He then turned up in a hospital in Folkestone but further details on this incident are scarce.

Gilbert Bassett.3Gilbert Bassett

Extracts from Gilbert’s war diary

TRIP NO.2 – JUNE 11th

We started away from Lympne at 2.30 of the afternoon of June 11th and after an uneventful voyage of 35 minutes, with Lt Shaw as pilot, we landed at Marques and made a very good landing indeed.  After stopping there a few minutes to get all particulars we took off again and headed south and finally landed at a place called Verton after a run of 25 minutes.  He over judged the distance across the aerodrome and before he could turn the machine round he had run into a potato field and if the potatoes had been fit for digging the owners would have had them dug up gratis, but with our 700 horse power engines it got out alright.  We were taken down to the mess to tea and a tender was ready for us afterwards to take us to Boulogne, where we arrived safely after having two burst tyres on the road.  Stopped the night in Boulogne at “Peters” and paid 3 francs for a bed and 1 franc 75c for breakfast then proceeded to the boat at 11.30 and after a very nice voyage arrived back in Blighty safe and sound after a very short journey of two days.

TRIP NO.3 – JUNE 13th
When we arrived back from the previous trip we find there is another HP for us so on the 13th June we stand by that one and at 3.30 we make another move and after 40 minutes run we arrive in Marques.  Again with Lt Shaw as pilot.  It was too late then to catch the boat so stop in Marques the night and as usual sleep on the stage.  Next morning we get a tender to take us to Bologne and the boat leaves at 12.15 and arrive back in Blighty all safe as per usual, but nothing doing in the way of excitement on these short trips worse luck and its getting monotonous.

Grandad Bassett front row 2nd from left 1917

Gilbert Bassett, front row, second left

TRIP NO.4 – JUNE 14th

On the next day June 14th I was detailed for another bus but it did not go so stood by again on the 15th and then the weather turned dud, but eventually we make a start on the 16th with Captain Buck as pilot, but he can`t fly an HP and it is too windy for my liking and he can`t keep her on an even keel.  Anyway we got to Marques all safe in 35 minutes after a hell of a bumpy landing in which he almost threw us out of the bus  When we got there we found two more ready to go to Dunkirk and we all started away together and arrived there in 25 minutes with a much better landing too.

We go into the Sergeants` Mess for tea and the pilot comes round, picks us up in the CC`s touring car and we start back again for Marques.  I might mention here that Dunkirk must be a very unhealthy place to live in as the `drome from above looked like a large plum pudding with plenty of plum in as Jerry had been over there on the nights of June 6th and 7th and dropped 240 bombs on it so you may guess it made a mess of things.  In fact the door of the Sergeants` Mess was riddled with shrapnel holes and hangars and machines were blown to pieces.  Now they put all the machines on the sands and just bring them up to the `drome to load up with bombs and things and then go back to the sands again and wait for going out at night.  Nobody sleeps on the `drome either now they all go out and the place is left only for the cats and dogs at night.

We start off to Marques, 50 miles distant and after a somewhat fast run in which the dust flies pretty much we arrive there in 1 hour 20 minutes.  In fact I feel a lot safer a few thousand feet in the air than in that car.  We arrive at Marques covered with dust and the pilot gets another car to take him to Boulogne and he wants me to go as well but I knew very well that we should not be in there until late and it would mean a Rest Billet where you don`t rest, as you have to, as a rule, be catching things all night and it isn`t fishing either, so I get permission to stop at Marques and we have a comfortable bed on the stage again and we go down in the morning and have a few hours in Boulogne and also a `posh` luncheon served up in true French style and we catch the boat at 3 o`clock and land back at Lympne at 6 o`clock all safe and sound and am now waiting for another trip which can come as soon as it likes.

After the war

Gilbert had been born in Seal and worked there as a builder before the war. Afterwards, he returned home to Seal where he ran the local garage, builders and coffin makers!

Seal Garage with Grandad, Cecil & Jack Innes

Gilbert Bassett, centre, at his garage in Seal

Gilbert eventually moved to Hastings in the 1930s and died there aged 56.

An early WREN

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Ada Margaret Bassett

Gilbert’s niece and sister of George Sidney, Ada Margaret Bassett, known as Maggie, was born in 1897 and joined the WRENS at its formation in 1917 when she was the fifth to enrol with the new service. Maggie became an official driver, working for Admiral Lord Jellicoe, who was then First Sea Lord. Later she served in the Second World War in the Auxillary Transport Service and was a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, driving ambulances on the Home Front.

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Aged 92, Maggie was featured in the Daily Telegraph and lived on until 1996, reaching a similar age to her grandmother, Ann.

Ann Bassett nee Parsons, the mother of George and Maggie’s father, Charles, was born in 1835 and lived on until 1933. With youngest son Gilbert and grandchildren George and Maggie all serving, Ann became a tireless contributor to the war effort by knitting shirts and other clothing for soldiers at the Front. She was thanked after the war as this photograph shows.

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Ann Bassett

The story of the Bassett family illustrates the range of of ways that just one family from Sevenoaks contributed to the war effort.

Thank you to all members of the Bassett family who have shared the family stories and photos.

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Nursing at Cornwall Hall

A real treasure trove of information on some of the women of Sevenoaks who worked as nurses during the war is the archive of material left by Kathleen Mansfield, Commandant of the Cornwall Hall VAD Hospital. IMG_2286

Kathleen Mansfield

She was born Kathleen Lilian Clark in October 1885 in Portadown. Kathleen attended Sidcot Quaker school and went on to train as a nurse at Almondsbury Memorial Hospital, north of Bristol. In 1910, she married Dr Percy Mansfield, a family doctor in Sevenoaks and they went on to have four children.

The Voluntary Aid Detachment, commonly known as VAD, was founded in 1909 to provide field nursing services both at home and across the Empire. Kathleen Mansfield joined in 1912 and soon held the post of Lady Superintendent. When a VAD hospital was set up at Cornwall Hall near where the couple lived, Kathleen joined  and became the Commandant, joining husband Percy who was already working as the Medical Officer. Other hospitals were established locally at St John’s Hall in Hollybush Lane, at Wildernesse and on the Combe Bank estate. Vita Sackville West of Knole worked at St John’s, together with (Bridget) Aurea Lambarde, of Bradbourne Hall.

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Staff and patients at Cornwall Hall

Kathleen and her husband served throughout the war, tireless in their work to care for those that arrived at Cornwall Hall, from the Belgian refugees who began to arrive in Sevenoaks in late 1914, to the wounded servicemen who were sent to convalesce throughout the war. Fortunately, Kathleen kept meticulous records, including photographs and letters from the servicemen, with names and service numbers carefully inscribed. The archive also includes some wonderful photos of the nursing staff, who were mainly drawn from the local upper and middle class families of the town, as well as photos of sports days, fancy dress parades, Easter and Christmas celebrations. All of this material, including the glowing testimony of many of their former charges now returned to the Front and recalling the care and comfort that they had received, speaks of the dedication and compassion of the Commandant and her nursing team. Kathleen was awarded the Royal Red Cross in 1917 in recognition of her service. DSC_0253

Staff and patients congratulate the Commandant on her honour

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Telegram from Buckingham Palace regarding her investiture

Kathleen Mansfield died in 1962, surviving her husband by twelve years. Thanks to her family, who have carefully preserved her scrapbooks and given permission for the material to be shared in support of the Nursing Memorial, I will be researching many of those nurses and patients featured within its pages and sharing stories on this website.

One of the nurses featured throughout the archive, is Emma Snow Crump. Emma was born in 1873 in Devon and the 1901 census for Wales shows her working at the Monmouthshire Lunatic Asylum. Ten years later, the 1911 census shows that Emma is as a nurse at Sevenoaks workhouse in Sundridge. Emma Crump joined the staff at Cornwall Hall as a night nurse in October 1914 and stayed there throughout the war, becoming Sister in 1915, Matron in 1918 and Matron in sole charge, 1919. According to her records, she was paid 30/- per week in 1914 and by 1919 this had increased to £2 per week. Emma married in 1926 and lived on until 1952.

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Emma Snow Crump

I’ll be sharing more photos from the Cornwall Hall archive over the coming weeks. As ever, please do let me know if any of your family worked at or had a connection to Cornwall Hall VAD or any of the hospitals in Sevenoaks during the war.

Marjorie’s War

As tomorrow is International Women’s Day and in keeping with my aim of writing more about the women of Sevenoaks and their contribution during the First World War, this weekend’s posts honour some of those local women, from all walks of life, who made a difference. Marjorie Crosbie Hill was one of these. Born in Sutton, Surrey, in 1887, Marjorie was the daughter of William Samuel James Hill and his wife Elizabeth Mary Crosbie. William and Elizabeth had married in Islington in 1871. By 1891 they had moved to Sevenoaks, where William became a prominent resident and JP, and were recorded in that year’s census living at The Red House, once the home of Francis Austen, an uncle of Jane Austen and now the premises of local solicitors, Knocker & Foskett. The  census shows Marjorie at home with five siblings, a governess and three servants. Later the family moved to 50, High Street and by 1911, Marjorie was living with her widowed father at 2, South Park. During the war, Marjorie, who was a Christian Scientist, worked organising and running canteens and clubs for workers at the munitions factories, for the Young Women’s Christian Association. She was awarded the OBE for this war work in early 1918 and this photo was taken around that time. IMG_0931

Marjorie Crosbie Hill

Marjorie’s niece,  Jane Ashmore, recalled:

‘My aunt, at one time, lived next door but one to the old Post Office on return from running two kitchen’s for munitions workers, for which she was decorated. After World War Two, she built herself a house in Burntwood Road, called Tussocks, (her tiny little beech hedge is now huge). Also, she was a well known golfer, belonging to the Knole Club (where she was Lady Captain in 1925 and 1930).’

Marjorie later lived at Stone Street near Sevenoaks and died, aged 80, in 1967. Her elder sister, Barbara, had married Sir James Masterton Smith, who was Private Secretary to successive First Lords of the Admiralty, including Winston Churchill.

Jane Ashmore’s brother and Marjorie’s nephew, Philip Sydney Crosbie Hill, was born in 1917. He was in India, tea-planting in Assam when  the Second World War broke out, and immediately applied for service in the Indian Army. He was an Officer Cadet, undergoing training in the Royal Bombay Sapper and Miners when he was killed in a motor accident in 1941. He is remembered on the Sevenoaks War Memorial.

Jane herself wrote ration books during the Second World War and later joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps). I was fortunate to be able to speak to Jane last year to talk to her about her memories of her aunt and brother and was saddened to learn that she died in January aged 95.