This Day In History

  • 1775 In the early hours a small British force, including the Grenadier and Light Companies of the 47th (later 1st Loyals) and 59th (later 2nd East Lancashires), sets out from Boston, Massachusetts for Concord, some 20 miles away, to destroy a colonial munitions depot. At dawn at Lexington they are confronted by the local militia and the first shots of the American Revolution are fired. A further engagement follows at Concord where about 500 Militiamen defeat three British companies and force the British column to begin its return march to Boston. Reinforced at Lexington by a relief force including the rest of the 47th, the march is carried out under sustained fire from concealed insurgents, and the American War of Independence has begun.
  • 1854 47th Regiment (later the 1st Loyals) disembark at Scutari, opposite Constantinople, to join the 2nd Division, part of the British Army concentrating in preparation for the Crimean War. They are quartered in the huge Turkish barracks there, later to become famous as the British base hospital where Florence Nightingale effected her nursing reforms.
  • 1880 2nd Afghan War. Battle of Ahmed Kel. 59th Regiment (soon to 2nd East Lancashires) is hard-pressed on the right of the British line.  The Regiment forms square around its colours. It is the last occasion on which colours are carried by a British regiment on a victorious field. Afterwards 1,000 dead lie in front of the British line, with 600 around the 59th's position. The shell-torn colours are now displayed in the Sergeant's Mess of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment.
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2nd Lieutenant Basil Arthur Horsfall VC


Basil Arthur Horsfall VC

Basil Horsfall was born on 4 October 1887, the youngest son of Mr W F Horsfall, in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). He was educated in Ceylon and at Sir William Borlase’s Grammar School, Marlow, in England, after which he returned to Ceylon where he is reported as working 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. In July 1916, aged 28, he returned to Britain where he was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, on 19 December 1916.

Basil was wounded on 11 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 24 October 1917.

On 27 March 1918 the Pals came under a very heavy attack as the Germans attempted to capture the village of Ayette, south of Arras. The Germans stormed the Pals’ positions again and again, with each side suffering heavy casualties.

In a letter to Basil Horsfall’s father, the Pals’ Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Rickman, described the desperate situation:

“In the action fought between Ablainzeville and Mayannaville on 26th and 27th March 1918, my Battalion (11th East Lancs.) was holding the ridge which runs between Ablainzeville and Mayannaville. My left was on the road which runs from Courcelles Le Comte Le Ayette. The enemy attacked very heavily on the dates mentioned. Your son was commanding the left platoon of my left company. The 11th East Lancs. prolonged the line towards Mayonnaville. The 11th East Lancs. were driven off the ridge but your son continued to hold to his position. I received a message from him saying that he had been driven back but that he was counterattacking which he most successfully did, driving the enemy back and gaining his objective. He being wounded severely (in the head) at the time. Hearing that the two other platoon commanders on the ridge were both killed and the other platoon commander wounded he refused to leave his men. Throughout the day a very heavy fight was continued. Twice your son lost his position but each time he counterattacked, driving the enemy back. He held his ground though his Company had lost 135 out of 180 engaged. In the evening when both my flanks were driven in on to my  headquarters, I sent written instructions to your son to retire on to the line of Ayette. He received the instructions and carried them out, himself remaining behind to supervise the retirement. During the retirement he was unfortunately killed close to the ridge which he had so gallantly held for two days. His body had to be left where he fell, and the ridge
has been in the possession of the Germans ever since. By his splendid example and devotion to duty undoubtedly a very critical situation was saved.”


Nearly 70 years later, one of his soldiers, ex-Private Arthur Cheetham,  described Basil Horsfall’s final moments to the Pals local newspaper, the Accrington Observer:

“The order to retire came. Before we set off, 2/Lt Horsfall shouted ‘every man for himself’. Terrible words but a terrible situation to be in.

“2/Lt Horsfall was on my left as we started to cross an old airfield but 20 yards after we started he simply wasn’t there. Our company lost about 25 men crossing that airfield. There were five of us in my party and two didn’t make it. Of all the time I spent in France that was a day I will never forget.”

Basil Horsfall’s body was never found. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

His Victoria Cross is kept in the Museum, and is one of our proudest possessions