is the story of Chief Petty Officer Thomas Baskerville O.B.E.,
B.E.M, remembered on the NPL War Memorial. He served with HMS
Vernon, as did Dover casualty
Baskerville was born in Scotland on 4th December 1896
to Thomas and Susan Baskerville, but the family soon moved to
Sheerness in Kent. Heralding from a family with a rich heritage
of service in the Royal Navy dating back to the era of the
Battle of Trafalgar, young Thomas decided on a naval career from
an early age. From then on he spent most of his life in the Navy
serving through the First World War until 1935 when he ‘retired’
and was seconded by the Navy to the National Physical
Laboratory, where he spent time working in the Admiralty Ship
Tanks. Moving from Portsmouth with his wife Guinevere and
family, they settled in Holmes Road near Twickenham. In his
spare time, Thomas was a keen photographer.
mine warfare, it was when the Second World War was declared in
September 1939 that Thomas Baskerville was recalled by the Royal
Navy, and he was posted to HMS Vernon, a shore
establishment at Portsmouth for torpedo, mining and electrical
training. With the increasing use of sea mines by the enemy, HMS
Vernon took on responsibility for mine disposal and
developing mine countermeasures, from where the Naval staff were
able to capture a number of enemy mines and develop successful
countermeasures. Several officers working at HMS Vernon
were awarded Distinguished Service Orders for their successes in
capturing new types of mine, and these awards were some of the
first Royal Navy decorations of the war.
began placing booby traps in some mines to counter attempts by
HMS Vernon staff to capture them, and Thomas Baskerville
was successful in countering these booby traps and he was
awarded a British Empire Medal for his work.
often involved defusing mines washed up on beaches around the
British coastline, and on the winter’s day of 23rd
January 1941, he was in the Bridlington Bay area between Flamborough Head and Spurn Head on England’s East Coast dealing
with yet another washed-up mine. After successfully defusing the
mine, it was for the purpose of testing and research gathering
back at HMS Vernon that Thomas put the fuse and detonator
of the mine in his jacket pocket.
Escorted by a
local Policeman, Thomas made his way through a local town, where
the Police Officer then stopped to question someone, at which
point Thomas slipped on the icy ground and he fell upon the fuse
and detonator that was in his pocket – there was an explosion
and tragically brave Thomas Baskerville was killed aged 44.
of his work in mine disposal, he was awarded a posthumous O.B.E.
Chief Petty Officer Thomas Baskerville was laid to rest in
Teddington Cemetery, where on a regular basis NPL staff tend to
his grave on behalf of the family.
NPL is the National Physical Laboratory,
the National Measurement Institute of the UK.
This article first appeared in "Newsnet", the NPL
newsletter, November 2007
reproduced with permission