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Remembrance - a personal perspective
By AG - 1st November 2017 11:08am
At the age of 16 Basil had joined the Royal Navy as a Cadet-Midshipman, and after completing his initial training at Dartmouth was sent out on a P & O steamer to the "China station" where he joined the battleship HMS Barfleur. There in 1900, during the vicious and complex Boxer rebellion, an Allied Naval force of 2000 men was landed to go by train to Peking to help protect British and European nationals. Greatly outnumbered by regular Chinese troops and Boxer irregulars, on 13th July 1900 the Naval Brigade attacked Tientsin City. As the VC citation reads; "a very heavy cross-fire was brought to bear on the Naval Brigade". Basil stopped to assist and then retrieve the badly wounded Able Seaman McCarthy (who sadly later died from his wounds). Unable to bring McCarthy to safety he bound his wounds, then ran to get assistance and returned to retrieve him. "During the whole time a very heavy fire had been brought to bear upon Mr. Guy, and the ground around him was absolutely ploughed up." This is recorded in the watercolour by George Soper.
In keeping with the standards of the day Basil's journal makes no mention of the episode. On returning home he was decorated at Devonport on 3rd March 1902 by Queen Victoria's successor, King Edward VII, and later formed part of the guard of Honour at His Majesty's coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1902. His later naval service included the command of HMS Weribee / Wonganella, a Q (decoy) ship in the Mediterranean in which capacity he was awarded the DSO for anti-submarine operations on February 9th 1916. The report describes "after 6 rounds from the Q-ship the enemy ceased firing and the eighth seemed to hit abaft the conning-tower, then she submerged in a cloud of smoke". His younger brother, who was stationed in France with the Artillery, recorded in his diary of 29th February "don't altogether like the news from Basil. He's Captain of a tramp steamer, 6000 tons odd, carrying sand etc from Port Said and so on. Don't know for sure whether he's on some secret job or not ...". A week later he adds, presumably somehow having had further news from his brother, "Basil came across a torpedoed war-ship of sorts and "stood by", only to be shelled by submarine who did him a lot of damage; & of course he had no chance of returning it without any guns on board ... he thereupon rammed it!". Basil's "tramp steamer" was of course armed and there is no corroboration of the ramming suggestion, although like all good stories it grew as the years passed!
At the age of 18 years and 2 months Basil was one of the younger recipients of the VC, whose inscription reads "For Valour". Queen Victoria had turned down the originally suggested inscription, "For bravery", on the basis that all Her soldiers were brave. The Victoria Cross was established by Queen Victoria in January 1856, prior to that at that time awards and decorations were given as general campaign medals, or for long service or general meritorious conduct only. Until 1918 Naval VC's had a blue ribbon (or riband as it was originally specified) and Army VC's a crimson one, thereafter a crimson ribbon for all services.
Basil died shortly after I was born, but his deeds and those of countless others, honoured, remembered or unknown, remain to remind us of the horrors and follies of war.