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Letter from Lt Col Rickman, Commanding Officer, 11th East Lancashire Regt, to the father of 2nd Lt Basil Horsfall VC

(This letter was posted on the BBC’s WWI 90th Anniversary Remembrance Wall, by Hannah Mehiri, on 11 November 2008 –

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 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. The division on my right had been driven in. The bridge on my left had evacuated its position and the troops under my command held two German Divisions for 2½ days and nights – and then with both flanks in the air they only retired 1000 yards which the line is today held.

There is little that I can say that befits the glorious record of your son’™s death, and the battalion and all the regiment are so righteously proud of the glorious deeds in which won for your son the highest award of fame that can be granted to a soldier. On the award being received I paraded the battalion and called them to attention to hear the record of the dead which won for the Regiment this undying reward.

Alas your son had gone in earning for his battalion the undying fame of a Victoria Cross.

Beloved by all, respected by all. A magnificent example of cool bravery, splendid endurance and a record of the greatest gallantry under the most adverse conditions. His name will forever be remembered by his regiment and by all who had the honour to know him.

I can only add my deepest sympathy to you in your loss, and I can assure you if there is anything I can do for you, I should only be too pleased.

I have lost a personal friend and an Officer whose deeds will forever go down to posterity.

With my deepest sympathy

Believe me, yours sincerely,

(Sgd.) Arthur Rickman, Lieut.Col.

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