war memorial at dusk, photographed by Michelle Cooper



Thomas Baskerville

"NPL's TRAGIC WAR HERO" by Dean Sumner

Thomas BaskervilleThis 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 George Edward Bowling 

Thomas Leonard 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.

NPL memorial, by Dean SumnerExperienced in 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.

The Germans 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.

Thomas' 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.

grave, by Dean Sumner 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.

In recognition 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

Copyright 2008 © Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved