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7809701 Staff Sergeant HAROLD JOHN BAZLEY
Royal Engineers
by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 1999.

Early Life and Enlistment (1897 - 1917)

Harold John Bazley was born in the town of Devonport, in the County of Devonshire on the 2nd of May 1897. His parents were Samuel George and Cecilia Mary Bazley of 85 Catshill Avenue, Devonport. As a boy he was raised in the rites of the Church of England.

As a young man, Harold ("Jack") Bazley worked as a Plumber’s Apprentice and apparently resided with his parents at 85 Catshill Avenue in Devonport before he decided to enlist in the Army. On the 27th of July 1916, almost two years after the start of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, Harold Bazley enlisted as a Private (Regimental Number 29745) in the Devonshire Regiment (Regular Army) at Exeter, Devonshire. This action on his part was to cause a considerable amount of hard feelings in his family. The Bazley family, coming from Plymouth as they did, had a long history of naval service. His enlistment in the Army angered many of his family members and it caused a rift between Harold and other members of his family that sadly was never resolved.

When he enlisted in 1916 at the age of 19 years and 2 months, Private Bazley was an exceptionally small man. His description on enlistment indicates that he was only 5 feet, 3-1/2 inches tall, weighed 113 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 34 inches. Bazley had blue eyes, dark brown hair and a fresh complexion.

By the recruitment standards of the day, Bazley just barely met the minimum requirements for service. The minimum height for enlistment in the Infantry of the Line was 5 feet, 3-1/2 inches. Coincidentally, this was exactly young Bazley’s height. For a soldier of this height the minimum chest measurement was 34 inches. Again, coincidentally, Bazley just met this requirement. The minimum weight for all recruits was 115 pounds. As Bazley was just two pounds under this limit, and as the war had been going on for two years with Britain in need of recruits, it is not difficult to imagine that the requirement for these two extra pounds was waived in his case. It is also not difficult to imagine that the Regimental Surgeon examining Bazley may have just given him the height and chest measurement necessary for him to pass muster.

On the day following his enlistment into the Regular Army, Private Bazley was transferred to the Army Reserve. The reason for this transfer is not explained in his military records. However, on the 3rd of August 1916, Private Bazley was mobilized for war service and posted to the depot of the Devonshire Regiment located at Exeter. On the following day he was posted to the machine gun section of the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment which was also located at Exeter. After only three months of service with the Devonshire Regiment at Exeter, Private Bazley was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (M.G.C.) on the 4th of November 1916. At this time he was issued with new identity discs and was given a new Regimental Number, 67252. It is probably safe to assume that Bazley volunteered for service in the Machine Gun Corps. Because of his small size and the physical strength required of a member of a machine gun crew, it is unlikely that Bazley would have been selected for service in the M.G.C. However, since the Machine Gun Corps was ominously nicknamed the "Suicide Club" and volunteers were hard to find, any man, whatever his size was welcomed with open arms.

Service in the Great War (1917 - 1918)

Private Bazley proceeded to the principal training base of the Machine Gun Corps located on the estate of Lord Brownlow at Harrowby Camp, Grantham, Lincolnshire. At Harrowby Camp he learned the crew drill with the Vickers machine gun.

The standard drill for going into action with the gun was complicated, and long and hard practice was needed to get a three-man machine gun team into really good shape. This is where Private Bazley’s small size might have been a hindrance to his gun crew team mates. The drill for a machine gun team started with the blow of a whistle. Number One man on the team dashed five yards with the tripod, released the ratchet-held front legs so that they swung forward, both pointing outwards, and secured them rigidly by tightening the ratchet handles. Sitting down, he removed two metal pins from the head of the tripod, whereupon the Number Two man placed the gun in position on the tripod. Number One whipped in the pins and the gun was then ready for loading. Number Three dashed forward with an ammunition box containing a canvas belt, pocketed to hold 250 rounds of ammunition. Number Two inserted the brass tag-end of the belt into the feed-block on the right side of the gun. Number One grabbed the tag-end poking through the left side, jerked it through, at the same time pulling back on the crank handle twice, which completed the loading operation. For sighting, the flick of a finger sprang the stem of the rear sight into a vertical position. A rapid selection of ranges was provided by a spring-loaded wheel, turned up or down as necessary.

Stripping the gun to change a barrel or replace broken parts, and re-assembling at speed, was also of great importance in Private Bazley’s training. He spent several hours in doing some of the jobs when blindfolded, in order to achieve the utmost familiarity with the different parts of the gun. The different types of stoppages or malfunctions of the gun were indicated by the position of the crank handle when firing ceased, and all gunners were trained to remove the cause of a stoppage in a matter of seconds.

Following a period of grueling training with the machine gun, Private Bazley was posted to the 172nd Company, M.G.C. on the 14th of February 1917. The 172nd Company was assigned to the 172nd Brigade of the 57th (2nd/West Lancashire) Division. On the 5th of January 1917 the War Office had informed General Headquarters in France that the 57th Division would begin embarkation for France on the 6th of February. Thus, when Private Bazley reported in to his unit, his division was already on its way to the theatre of war in France and Belgium. The 57th Division crossed the Channel to France between the 7th and 22nd of February. The 172nd Company, M.G.C. embarked at Southampton on the very day that Private Bazley reported in, and disembarked at Le Havre on the following day.

The 57th Division completed its concentration in the Merris area and joined II Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) in the British Second Army on the 23rd of February 1917 4). The division went into line in the right sector of II ANZAC Corps, north of Le Tilleloy, on the 25th of February 1917.

The 57th Division was subsequently transferred from II ANZAC Corps to the British XIV Corps. On the 26th of October 1917 the division took part in the Second Battle of Passchendaele where it remained engaged until about 1400 hours on the 29th of October. During this period Private Bazley learned why the Machine Gun Corps was nicknamed the "Suicide Club." Machine gunners had a unique function in active operations during the Great War. They were always at the centre of things. Because they had tremendous firepower and posed such a threat to the German infantry, they were the targets of every enemy weapon within range once they opened fire with their machine guns.

Following the action at Passchendaele, the 57th Division was transferred to the British XIX Corps in the British Fifth Army. On the 5th of November 1917 Private Bazley was admitted to the Casualty Reception Station with injuries or wounds to his legs. His military service record is not specific with regard to the nature of his injuries, however, since his evacuation took place during the Second Battle of Passchendaele, it might be safe to assume that he became a casualty during the battle which ended on the 7th of November. On the 6th of November Bazley was transferred to the 2/2nd Wessex Field Ambulance for further treatment and still further evacuation to the rear area. He was transferred to the 13th Casualty Clearing Station on the 10th of November and then on to the 55th General Hospital at Boulogne on the 15th of November. Within three days he was on his way to the 25th General Hospital at Haulot.

Private Bazley was treated and recuperated at Haulot for about three weeks. On the 12th of December 1917 he was discharged from the 25th General Hospital and posted to the Machine Gun Corps Base Depot at Camiers near Etaples. After a little more than two weeks at the depot he was posted back to the front on the 31st of December 1917. His new assignment was with the 48th Company, M.G.C., in the 16th Division.

Only eight days after reporting in to his new unit, Private Bazley became ill with pyrexia (a high fever) and was admitted to the 113th Field Ambulance for treatment. It is quite possible that his wounds or injuries from Passchendaele had not completely healed by this time and that they became infected, perhaps due to premature discharge from hospital back to the dreadfully unsanitary conditions at the front. These conditions are described by 66518 Private W.C. Topham, M.G.C. who also fought at Passchendaele during the winter of 1917:

[The trenches at the front were] "holes in the ground surrounded by evil smelling muddy water which filled up the huge shell craters . . . At night time, we tried to dig emplacements for our machine-guns, but after two feet the sides slid into the mud and water. As we dug, quite often Jack-Johnson’s [German shells] were dropping all round us, leaving us exposed in the open ground."

It may have been conditions like those described by Private Topham that brought on Bazley’s high fever. In any case, he was to start the long evacuation process to the rear all over again. On the 9th of January 1919 he was transferred to the 5th Casualty Clearing Station and then on the 11th to the 9th General Hospital at Rouen. On the 21st of January 1918 he was invalided to England aboard the Hospital Ship "St. Andrew."

Private Bazley arrived in England on the 22nd of January 1918 and on the 23rd he was posted to the Machine Gun Corps Depot at Harrowby Camp. After recuperating sufficiently from his illness, he was set upon by the instructors at Harrowby who were mostly fire-eating types from the Guards who had not seen any actual fighting at the front. In a matter of hours the memory of the soft time in hospital was purged from Bazley and stiff training was started at once, with spit and polish, guard duties, and fatigues thrown in for good measure.

Although he had been at the front already, the Guards instructors told Private Bazley and the other ex-wounded soldiers to forget any experience they had acquired in France, as it counted for nothing at Harrowby. Obviously this did not sit well with men who had been in combat and were being forced to take instructions from men who had never been there. Abuse was heaped upon the men by the Guards instructors and fitness was literally lashed into them. The ranks of the Machine Gun Corps veterans seethed with rage and some (privately) even threatened to kill the instructors if they ever met up with them in France.

There was some compensation, however, to being at Harrowby Camp. The nearby town of Grantham offered pints on Friday nights, fish and chips, and feeds in churches with nice local girls to serve the men.

After his training at Harrowby Camp was completed, Private Bazley was sent to Belton Park in Grantham to await orders to return to France. Belton Park was a dreary hutted camp that, with snow and frost, gave the appearance of an Arctic outpost. It was an uncomfortable place to perform guard duty and fatigues while he waited for his name to be called.

Every week names were called for overseas drafts. Private Bazley’s name was called on the 4th of March 1918. On that date he was posted to the 5th Battalion, M.G.C. This battalion was assigned to the 5th Division which at this time was serving along the River Piave in Italy with the British XI Corps. Coincidentally, the 5th Division was scheduled to leave Italy for France and Flanders at about this time. Because of these plans to move the 5th Division, it appears that Bazley’s orders were changed and he never joined the 5th Battalion, M.G.C. Instead, he remained at the depot and on the 7th of May 1918 he embarked at Folkestone for France. He disembarked at Boulogne and was posted once again to the Machine Gun Corps Base Depot at Camiers. During this period he was allocated his new Army Number and became 7809701 Private H.J. Bazley, M.G.C.

On the 9th of May 1918 Private Bazley was posted to the 19th Battalion, M.G.C. with the 19th Division. At the time of his assignment to the 19th Battalion, the unit was near Kemmel. Private Bazley took part in the Battle of the Aisne that commenced on the 27th of May 1918 and lasted until the 6th of June. On the 29th of June he was appointed Acting Lance Corporal and serving in this rank he took part in the Battle of Cambrai, on the 8th and 9th of October, and the Battle of Selle which began on the 17th of October. On the 21st of October Bazley reverted to the rank of Private and on the 24th he was posted back to the Machine Gun Corps Base Depot at Camiers. He remained at Camiers right through to the Armistice on the 11th of November 1918.

Post War Service with the Machine Gun Corps (1918 - 1921)

Bazley was admitted to the 20th General Hospital at Camiers on the 7th of December 1918 for reasons not explained in his military service record. He was discharged from hospital and apparently remained at Camiers until he returned to England where he arrived on the 21st of January 1919.

Private Bazley was transferred to the Army Reserve on the 19th of February 1919. He was discharged from the Army Reserve on the 13th of October 1919. For his service in the Great War of 1914 to 1918 he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.

On the day following his discharge from the Army Reserve, Bazley re-enlisted in the Machine Gun Corps (Regular Army) at Plymouth. He was given yet another Army Number and was now 195585 Private H.J. Bazley, M.G.C. Upon his re-enlistment he was posted to the 1st Depot Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps at Shorncliffe Camp near Dover.

Harold Bazley appears to have been an intelligent man who recognized the value of education. He pursued his studies while in the Army and on the 27th of November 1919 he earned a 3rd Class Certificate of Education. He went on to earn his 2nd Class Certificate of Education on the 16th of December 1920.

Service in the Royal Engineers (1921 - 1938)

Bazley probably recognized that he had the skills and intelligence to serve in the Army in a more technical capacity than simply carrying and firing a machine gun. His apprenticeship prior to entering the Army probably also steered him to a technical branch of the service. On the 12th of March 1921 he transferred from the Machine Gun Corps to the Corps of Royal Engineers and was posted to the Royal Engineer Depot at Chatham, Kent. In keeping with his prior training as an Apprentice Plumber, he was classified by the Royal Engineers as a Pioneer Plumber (Gas Fitter) E III. He retained his Army Number, 7809701, upon his transfer to the Royal Engineers.

On the 13th of March 1921 Bazley began his courses of instruction with the Training Battalion Royal Engineers at Brompton Barracks. It was there that he learned the basics of military engineering along with advanced technical skills to make him a proficient Gas Fitter. This training lasted until the 21st of October 1922 when he was posted to "M" Company, Royal Engineer Depot Battalion at Chatham.

Bazley extended his service to complete 12 years with the Colours on the 15th of September 1925. Fifteen days later he was posted to the 38th Field Company, R.E. at Aldershot in Hampshire. The 38th Field Company formed part of the Divisional troops of the 2nd Division which, along with the 5th and 11th Field Companies, were under the command of Lieutenant Colonel T.T. Grove, C.M.G., D.S.O., R.E. At the same time he was remustered as a Surveyor Class A III. Since only intelligent and highly skilled men were selected for survey work, his selection to become a surveyor seems to be another indication of Bazley’s capacity for technical work.

Harold Bazley married Miss Daisy O’Connell at Aldershot on the 27th of July 1926 and the couple resided at 16, Park Road in Aldershot. On the 12th of November 1926 Bazley was posted to the 24th (Fortress) Company on Malta. The 24th (Fortress) Company, at this time, was commanded by Major F.P. Heath, R.E.

While serving on Malta Bazley continued to improve his education. He earned his 1st Class Certificate of Education on the 12th of October 1927. As part of his military training he passed the 100-yard swimming test at Malta on the 4th of October 1928. The swim test took place in conjunction with the company’s annual aquatic sports held at the Haymarket by permission of the Commander Royal Engineers in Malta, Lieutenant Colonel H.O. Clogstoun, R.E.

On the 23rd of October 1928 a shocking disaster, involving the loss of six lives and severe injuries to 26 other men, occurred on the collapse of the Portanier Brewery at Hamrun on the outskirts of Valletta. The brewery building was under construction at the time, with parties working day and night. An effort to hoist a boiler weighing 20 tons using a faulty pillar on which to attach the tackle was the cause of the disaster. The pillar gave way and the boiler crashed on the ground floor and went through to the cellar beneath, in which the unfortunate victims were working. The civilian authorities immediately telephoned for assistance to the 24th Fortress Company and within a short space of time a large party of volunteers from the company were on the spot helping to clear away the debris and rescue the unfortunate workmen. Shortly afterwards parties of infantry soldiers and men of the Royal Navy also arrived and placed themselves under the direction of the Royal Engineers at the scene. Colonel J.W.S. Sewell, the Chief Engineer on Malta, took over complete control and directed the rescue operations. At about 8.30 p.m. on the evening of the 23rd, the men of the 24th Fortress Company were withdrawn and parties of workmen who were originally employed on the building took over the rescue work.

The following letter was received by the Malta Command in appreciation of the work done by Bazley and the other men of the 24th Fortress Company:

The Palace, Valletta

"Sir - I am directed by the Officer Administering the Government to inform you that the Ministers have requested his Excellency to convey to you an expression of their grateful thanks for the valuable and prompt assistance rendered by the Military Authorities on the 23rd October, on the occasion of the collapse of part of a brewery in course of construction at Hamrun.

I have the honour to be, Sir

Your obedient servant,

(signed) EDW. R. MIFSUD
(Private Secretary to the Governor)

The Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General
in Charge of Administration

Malta Command

This incident demonstrates very well the assistance rendered to civil affairs in areas where Royal Engineers were stationed around the world. It also points out very well the value of the engineers in performing peacetime duties as well as their service during wartime.

In November of 1928 the 24th Fortress Company began its annual training course at Pembroke. The training for the company consisted of building a timber trestle bridge out of locally available materials. The bridge was designed to carry divisional loads and was constructed under the direction of Captain W.G.R. Nutt, M.C., R.E. The company also constructed a road at Bahar-ic-Caighk. The work parties on this project reported that the ground at the site of the road construction was decidedly difficult to excavate since the general strata consisted of a rather colourful combination of "upper corraline limestone, green sand, blue clay, and globigerina limestone and lower corraline limestone." The men of the company found the work both tiring and tedious.

In April of 1929 the company was very busy moving machinery about the island of Malta. The major portion of this work involved digging out and moving electric lighting equipment and generators from the Sliema Point Battery and San Rocco and reinstalling the equipment at English Curtain and Leonardo. In June and July the company proceeded to the ranges at Ghain Tuffieha, as it did most years, for musketry training. While at Ghain Tuffieha the men of the company lived under canvas, as no permanent barrack facilities were available at the musketry ranges. Rifle practice was undertaken in the mornings, with sports the order of the day for the afternoons. In the middle of the period of musketry training, one of the men of the company, a Sapper A. Haggertay, was struck with acute appendicitis. He subsequently died at Imtarfa Hospital on the 30th of June and was buried with full military honours at Pieta Cemetery. Sapper Bazley and the full strength of the 24th Fortress Company paraded for Sapper Haggertay’s funeral.

The Chief Engineer on Malta (Colonel J.W.S. Sewell, C.B., C.M.G.) carried out an inspection of the 24th Fortress Company at Ghain Tuffieha on the 6th of July 1929. The company put on a good show for Colonel Sewell and he was very pleased with their turn out.

In September of 1929 Sapper Bazley and his company were at work at Bahar-in- Claghak constructing a new road. The company returned to its St. Francais Barracks headquarters in November upon completion of the road project. The Chief Engineer and the Commander Royal Engineers on Malta both departed in early October of 1929 and were replaced by Colonel S.F. Newcombe, D.S.O. and Lieutenant Colonel R.N. Bocquet, R.E., respectively.

Sapper Bazley passed the trade test as a Draughtsman A II on the 27th of March 1930. This classification as a draughtsman was to be the third trade he was qualified to practice as a result of his technical skills and training. One of his first assignments while serving in his new trade was work at Pembroke on an experimental project involving the construction of cement bound roads. The project was undertaken by the company in July of 1930. In August the company was involved with numerous projects on the island, including:

These projects continued well into September until the annual Musketry Course at Ghain Tuffieha again had to be attended by the men of the company.

These were the last activities of the 24th Fortress Company in which Sapper Bazley participated. To make the best use of his skills, the Royal Engineers assigned him to the Establishment for Engineer Services (E.E.S.) on the 26th of September 1930. On this date he was also promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal (Engineer Draughtsman). Congratulations on his appointment were printed in The Sapper magazine of December 1930.

Lance Corporal Bazley completed his tour of duty on Malta on the 28th of November 1930. He embarked for home aboard H.T. "Dorsetshire" and arrived in England on the 6th of December 1930. On the following day he was posted to the Command Depot at Didcot, south of Oxford.

While serving at Didcot he re-engaged to complete 21 years of service with the Colours on the 25th of February 1931. On the 12th of December 1931 he was promoted to the rank of Engineer Clerk and Draughtsman Corporal. His military records also show that on the 26th of August 1932 he left the Church of England and converted to Roman Catholicism.

Corporal Bazley continued his service with the E.E.S. at Didcot until the 22nd of September 1933 when he embarked on H.T. "Neuralia" bound for Singapore. On the 17th of October, while aboard ship, he was temporarily appointed to the rank of Acting Lance Sergeant. Bazley disembarked at Singapore on the 21st of October 1933 and on the 12th of December 1933 he was promoted to the substantive rank of Lance Sergeant and Engineer Draughtman. Engineer units in Singapore at the time of his arrival included the 41st Fortress Company and sections of the Establishment for Engineer Services. The January 1934 issue of The Sapper magazine contains a welcome to Bazley on his arrival in Singapore.

While serving in Singapore in July of 1934, Bazley completed 18 years of service with the Colours and was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. On the 24th of November 1934 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (Engineer Draughtsman).

Sergeant Bazley departed Singapore aboard S.S. "Rampura" on the 21st of May 1937 and disembarked in England on the 18th of June 1937. He was immediately posted to the Royal Engineer Depot at Aldershot. On the 24th of November 1937 he was promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant (Engineer Draughtsman).

Staff Sergeant Bazley served out the remainder of his time in service at Aldershot and was discharged at his own request on the 1st of September 1938 after completing more than 22 years and 1 month of service. His military conduct upon discharge was rated as "Exemplary" and his commanding officer provided the following testimonial for Staff Sergeant Bazley when he left the service:

"An extremely capable, willing and efficient Draughtsman. He is most intelligent and helpful in his work. Reliable, conscientious and trustworthy. Most suited for any post where honesty and trustworthiness are essentials."

Staff Sergeant Bazley’s service with the Colours (not including time in the Army Reserve) covered the following periods:

3 August 1916 to 18 February 1919

14 October 1919 to 1 September 1938

His overseas service included:

British Expeditionary Force (France): 14 February 1917 to 22 January 1918

British Expeditionary Force (France): 7 May 1918 to 21 January 1919

Malta:12 November 1925 to 6 December 1930

Singapore: 22 September 1933 to 18 June 1937

Civilian Government Service (1938 - 1962)

Following his discharge, Harold Bazley was employed as a civilian draughtsman in the drawing office at Army Headquarters in Steele’s Road, Aldershot. In 1938 he and Mrs. Bazley moved into a newly constructed semi-detached home at 100 Lower Farnham Road in Aldershot.

During the period from 1939 to 1945, despite his many military skills, Harold Bazley was not recalled for service in the Second World War. In his position as a draughtsman working for Army Headquarters at Aldershot, it was probably considered that he was performing in the best capacity to serve the war effort. He retired fully from government service in 1962 at the age of 65. He continued to work part time on various projects in the Aldershot Garrison even after his retirement. He presumably also found time to enjoy his opera music. Neighbors on Lower Farnham Road who knew the Bazleys said that they were quiet people who pretty much kept to themselves.

Final Years (1962 - 1978)

Harold John Bazley prepared his Last Will and Testament on the 13th of March 1974. The executors of his will were Messrs. Tanner and Taylor of 17, The Borough, Farnham, Surrey. Bazley’s primary heir was his wife Daisy. He also appointed as secondary heirs, should his wife predecease him, his nieces (to whom he was known as "Uncle Jack"); Agnes Violet Montpetit, Margaret Ivy Osborne and Margaret Violet Adkins.

After 16 years of retirement, Harold John Bazley died at 100 Lower Farnham Road, Aldershot, Hants on the 14th of September 1978. His niece, Margaret Violet Adkins was listed as the informant of his death. The causes of his death were listed as myocardial infarction and ischaemic heart disease. Bazley’s death was registered on the 15th of September 1978 in the District of North East Hampshire, Sub-District of North East Hampshire, County of Hampshire, by M.R. Lawrence, Deputy Registrar.

Bazley’s will was probated at Winchester on the 7th of December 1978. Mrs. Bazley, who was much younger than her husband, lived on at 100 Lower Farnham Road. Unfortunately her mental condition deteriorated over time and eventually she was admitted to Brookwood Hospital. She never left the hospital after she was admitted and died there six or seven years after her husband.