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)
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.
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.
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!
Gilbert Bassett, centre, at his garage in Seal
Gilbert eventually moved to Hastings in the 1930s and died there aged 56.
An early WREN
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.
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.
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.