Kenneth William Base joined up during the First World War. In the second of our posts we see what Kenneth’s letters tell us about his siblings time at war…
What active service Kenneth saw is not clear from the letters. One can only assume that he was involved in military action between February and June 1918. Records of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps show that the 1st Battalion were, during these months, involved in the Battle of St Quentin, the Battle of Bapaume and the 1st Battle of Arras. Active service is also confirmed in a letter from his father dated 11th July 1918. His father had been visiting a sick soldier at Lakenham Hospital who knew and remembered Kenneth when he joined the 1st Battalion. His father wrote: “He told mother how your company had to make a raid & how several were killed & a lot wounded. Poor boy!”
While Kenneth’s early reminiscences reveal the usual sibling squabbles; letters from Charlie and Madge show a fondness that might otherwise not have been so overtly expressed in peacetime.
Brother Charlie was a lieutenant in the Chinese Labour Corps. Writing from the Depot Chinese Labour Corps, A P O S 3y, B E F, France, Charlie comments:
“We’re having quite a good time here – Bowls, Tennis & Cricket all going strong & plenty of pretty walks round about”.
“How much longer do you expect to stay in hospital? Take my advice & stop there as long as possible!”
Meanwhile brother Frank in Canada had joined the Flying Corps. Their mother wrote to Kenneth on 7th July 1918. “We had a long letter from Frank a few days ago, he asked for news of you, & said he was always worrying since he heard you were in France.” Frank was about to finish his course then would soon start to fly. Their mother comments in the same letter: “He says he shan’t be silly enough to do any stunts”.
Always keen to have news from home, his sister Madge would write about day to day life in Norwich. On 9th July 1918 she wrote: “I hope you have received the parcel by this time. We could not think of anything very nice to put in it. There are such a few things one can send now. Sweet things are rather hard to get & cakes get so dry.” In the same letter she sends news of the youngest sister Olive: “She was first in the three legged and sack races . . . I expect she is too fat to do much good at the flat races”.
Another letter from Madge on 25th July 1918 makes reference to Bermondsey Military Hospital being a former workhouse and news of Charlie bringing a young lady home to meet the family. “By the way we never thought you would have landed in a workhouse. Am sorry it has come to that. . . . . . . I do hope Dorothy is not awfully proper . . . I feel rather shy of meeting her because I have heard so much about her but have not seen her”.
While letters from home continued to express a wish for Kenneth to return to Norwich, it is not evident that he ever did so during wartime. Madge wrote in August 1918: “Now, how about your leave. We are hoping that it will not begin before Aug. 17th (when the family had planned a holiday at East Runton) so that we may be home and you may spend it quietly & comfortably with us here. . . . . . I am very glad you feel so much better. Thanks for the photo. I think it is a very good one of you & the suit is not at all unbecoming. Don’t tramp about too much and overdo it. Remember you are still convalescent.”
While on holiday in East Runton his father wrote: “ . . very vexed to hear your heart is weak. . . . . Don’t be anxious about it as you are young & with care will outgrow it. Charlie was told the same thing & he appears to be all right now.. . . We went to the Roman Camp on Tuesday. The landlord of our diggings owns a donkey & cart & we hired it for the extravagant price of 3d for the half day. You would have been amused to see us trying to urge it to trot. . . . . .We are longing to see you & we shall have such a lot to talk about . . . . . Of course you have seen that no more boys under 19 are to be sent to the Front so anyhow you will be all right until September”.
On 25th October 1918 Kenneth was transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC). His regimental number was S/443267. One can only assume that he was not fully fit to return to the Rifle Corps but neither was he medically unfit to be demobilised at this time. His army pay book records he was on half pay for active service in the UK until the end of January 1919.
Between October 1918 and February 1919 Kenneth was in England, probably remaining in London. Records show that in December 1918 he was invited to a dance at GHQ 3rd Echelon held at the British Red Cross Hospital in London. His pay reverted back to full pay in February 1919.
While in London letters from his father encouraged him to make the most of his time in the capital giving him lots of suggestions for places to visit. “You would not be far from Hampstead Heath . . . You should go & see it & I think the zoological Gardens in Regent Park would be worth a visit”.
In March 1919 Kenneth was sent to Rouen as part of the RASC. His banking and administrative skills probably stood him in good stead for the work of the corps. The RASC, formerly the ASC until late 1918, was a logistics division providing food, equipment and ammunition. While the corps was disparaged by some as the Ally Sloper’s Cavalry, “the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won”.
Kenneth stayed in Rouen until the end of May 1919. In June he was given a month’s leave which was spent in England. He may have returned to Norwich to see his family during this time. At the end of his leave he was requested to report to Balfour House, 3rd Echelon, RASC Rouen situated at Finsbury Pavement, London and appeared to work there until October 1919 when he was given another month’s leave.
In November 1919 he was demobilised with the medical category BIII – ‘disorderly action of the heart’ due to diphtheria and was transferred to the Army Reserve. He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
After the war Kenneth returned to Norfolk where he rejoined the staff at Barclay’s Bank Dereham. He was employed in banking and finance for the rest of his working life.
In September 1939 Kenneth wrote in his diary “It looks as if, in spite of the fact that I served for 2 years in the last war, I’ve not got to give up my peaceful occupation & once more take up arms. It seems terribly hard”.
Kenneth William Base’s death was registered in East Dereham in January 1989.
Complied by Daryl Long, NRO Research Blogger