Among my grandfather's photographs was this snapshot of a group of seven soldiers. Although my grandfather wasn't included, and I didn't recognise any of the others, since the reverse had a piece of paper attached with a number of names inscribed, I thought it would be a relatively simple matter to work out why he had the photo.
The back of the loose paper photographic print has written on the back what appears top be the oldest inscription, in blue ink, "3 Sept. 1943 Yours truly from Johny Basham." Then below it, in different blue ink but in my aunt's handwriting, "FRIENDS OF DAD'S FIRST WORLD WAR," and "FRONT ROW LEFT - DAD" crossed out. This is what introduces the conundrum. The date suggests the photograph was given, probably to my grandfather, by "Johny Basham" during the Second World War, but my aunt's inscription suggests the friends were from the First. My next thought was that perhaps my aunt had simply made a mistake. A cursory examination of the uniforms, however, suggests they are indeed from the earlier of the two world wars.
Private Leslie Payne, CASC, 1916 (left) Major Leslie Payne, Pioneer Corps, 1941 (right)
My grandfather served in the CASC and the Canadian Machine Gun Corps (Canadian Expeditionary Force) during the First World War, but if these soldiers were from the Great War, their cap badges suggest they were not Canadians. He later served as an officer in the Pioneer Corps in England during the Second World War, which would correspond with the date written on the back.
The attached scrap of paper has the following names hand written in pencil and blue ink: Will, Pat O'Keefe, J. Basham, Dick Smith, Jimmy Wilde, Capt Bruce Logan, Jimmy Driscoll. When I started Googling these names, it very quickly became apparent that boxing was the common thread. An article about "Peerless Jim Driscoll" in particular has the following:
The Great War deprived him of a chance of further world champion bouts. He joined the army and belonged to a famous khaki boxing squad that included Bombardier Billy Wells, Pat O’Keefe, Johnny Basham, Dick Smith, Captain Bruce Logan and the ‘Mighty Atom’, Jimmy Wilde.
On the Welsh Warriors web site, devoted to Welsh boxing legends, there is even a reproduction of exactly the same group photograph. The Wellington Evening Post of 8 March 1919 carried a story with the heading, World's Boxers International Luncheon:
A luncheon was given at the Savoy Hotel on 13th December to the boxers of the world's Services who had fought and won and lost in the two days' battle at Albert Hall for the King's trophy ... Side by side were Jimmy Wilde, and Joe Lynch, the American. Lynch on Wednesday was pummelled by Wilde ; he left the ring with a nose all askew. Yesterday Wilde and Lynch delighted to exchange autographs ... an epoch-making event, and one that never will be forgotten. It brought the English-speaking races together to engage in a great national sport."For those readers who are boxing devotees - I am not one - I've put together some links to biographical details of some of the Khaki Boxing Squad members: Bombardier Billy Wells, Peerless Jim Driscoll and Jimmy Wilde (The Mighty Atom).
Captain Bruce Logan, the old amateur boxer, oarsman, and all-round sportsman, the captain of the British Army side, and Sergeant Jim Driscoll, trainer, in a few well-chosen words ... "We of the American team believe Jimmy Wilde to be the greatest boxer the world has ever seen, or will ever see. He is a most wonderful boxer, and it has given us the greatest possible pleasure to see him in the ring."
Johnny Basham and his manager W. T. Dodman, Wrexham, c. 1920s
Image © Wrexham County Borough Museum and courtesy of Culturenet Cymru
So who was Johnny Basham? Casglu'r Tlysau/Gathering the Jewels, the web site of Culturenet Cymru, provides a potted biography to accompany this excellent image of the young boxer with his manager, taken between the wars.
Sergeant Johnny Basham, c. 1914
Image © Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regimental Museum and courtesy of Culturenet Cymru
John Michael Basham (1890-1947) was born in Newport, Monmouthshire and joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers in 1912, when he was posted to Wrexham, Denbighshire.
Signed photo of Johnnie Basham, c. 1920s
Image © and courtesy of Jo Sports Inc
There are obviously a few autographed photos of Johnny (or Johnnie) Basham still around, including this one that I found on the net, which has a very similar inscription to my grandfather's photo.
John Michael Basham's WW1 Medal Index Card
Image © The National Archives and courtesy of Ancestry.co.uk
The medal index card for Basham confirms that he served with that unit during the Great War, being entitled to both the Victory medal and the British War medal. The biography goes on to say that "He was stationed at the barracks in Wrexham for many years and attained the rank of sergeant." Denbighshire rang a bell for me, as I knew my grandfather was stationed there during the Second World War, so I checked the records that my father and I have put together over the years.
Major Leslie Payne, c.1943
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
In early June 1943 Major Charles Leslie Lionel Payne was the Officer Commanding 315 Pioneer Corps at Newport, Monmouthshire. By early November that year he had been transferred to Pool Park Camp at Efenechtyd, near Ruthin in Denbighshire (now Clwyd), Wales, where he was O.C. of the 88 Company, Pioneer Corps. He remained there throughout that winter and at least until March 1944, probably housed in pre-frabricated wooden huts such as the one pictured above.
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The remains of Pool Park Camp, Efenechtyd
Thomas (2003) records the existence of Pool Park as a Prisoner of War camp, but not much else. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) has a little more:
World War 2 camp for Italian prisoners of war, consisting of several huts to the west of the B5105 road and a sewage works on the opposite side, set within the grounds of Pool Park ... The barracks for personnel serving at the camp was built in Park Road, RuthinIt also includes grid coordinates for the location. Brett Exton, in his list of POW camps in Great Britain, shows it as Camp 38.
Site of old POW camp, near Ruthin
Image © Eirian Evans and courtesy of Geograph.co.uk
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Unsurprisingly much of the physical evidence of these camps, which were only ever meant to be temporary, has disappeared. Somewhat belatedly, efforts are now being made by English Heritage to collate and research from what surviving information there is, largely held at The National Archives, and even to preserve some sites.
Malcolm Sanders on his web page about Prisoner of War Mail provides some useful background information on the formation of these camps and thestatus of the Italian prisoner of war.
From October 1942 until January 1943, with the El Alamein campaign, 130,000 mainly Italian and some German POWs, were sent to England ... From September 1943, with the fall of the fascists in Italy, the status of Italian POWs changed. In May 1944, Italian POWs were asked if they wished to work in the UK as 'cooperators'. Those refusing were held in 'non-cooperator' camps; others were referred to as members of Italian Labour Battalions, rather than as POWs.
Major Payne (3rd from left) with Italian POWs and RC clergyman
Image © and courtesy of Barbara Ellison
This group photo, which regular readers will recognise as having been the subject of a photo quiz (Sepia Saturday 80), shows my grandfather with four Italian POWs and an older man who I presume is a Roman Catholic priest. It may have been taken at Pool Camp during the winter of 1943/1944 - the trees certainly look bare enough for that time of year. However, by August 1944 Major Payne was O.C. of 584 Italian Working Company at Carfax Estate (Camp 584), near Tongham in Hampshire, so it may have been taken there the following winter. He remained in charge of that company until October 1945, although they moved to Puckridge Camp, near Aldershot, Hampshire in spring or early summer.
Getting back to the original signed photograph of the Khaki Boxing Squad, the date of 3 September 1943 corresponds to when he was based at Pool Park, near Ruthin, which in turn is not far from Wrexham. I think it quite likely that my grandfather either worked with or met Johnny Basham during his spell in North Wales. I've not been able to dig up any details of the former boxer's Second World War service, but since he was of a similar age to my grandfather, it's unlikely that he would have been sent abroad.
Image © fleamarketinsiders and courtesy of Flickr
As an epilogue to this story, when I was a young lad I was given a pair of child's boxing gloves which had belonged to my father as a boy. I tried them on a few times, but never did much more than tap the wall to try them out. Unfortunately, I don't recall what my father said about who had given them to him or why (he was probably an even more unlikely boxer than I am). I pondered on whether it was likely that Mr Basham had been any kind of influence on my grandfather's choice of present, but by the time he met Johnny, my Dad was 15 years old, and his hands would have been far too large for the gloves that I recall.
Now head over to Sepia Saturday, where you'll find a wealth of alternative takes on this week's theme.
Anon (1919) World's Boxers International Luncheon, Evening Post (Wellington New Zealand), 8 March 1919, p10.
Exton, Brett (nd) Location of POW Camps in Great Britain, Island Farm Prisoner of War Camp: 198 / Special Camp: XI, Bridgend, South Wales.
Malaws, B.A. (2006) Pool Park Prisoner of War Camp, Efenechtyd, Ruthin, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW)
Thomas, R.J.C. (2003) Prisoner of War Camps (1939-1948), English Heritage.
Zoncada, Pietro (Sgte.) (1944) Letter to "Maggiore Payne," The O.C., 584 Italian Working Company, Carfax Estate, 14 August 1944, Collection of Brett Payne.
Peerless Jim Driscoll, the most famous son of Newtown, Ireland, Wales and Europe: Poems, History and Language
Welsh Warriors, by Johnnyowen.com