Not Forgotten

f b bassett
f b bassett memorial
f b bassett 2

Had he lived, today 30 April 2010 would have been the 90th birthday of my uncle Fran, after whom I take my middle name.

He had hardly left school when he volunteered, unknown to his family, in 1939 to join the R.A.F. He had only been qualified for a few months as a pilot by the time the war began, and he joined 266 Squadron and, shortly afterwards, 222 Squadron at Duxford (Douglas Bader’s squadron).

In February 1940, he was badly injured in an air accident, when the plane in which he was a passenger hit a tree near Duxford, killing the pilot. He seems to have been in and out of hospital for the next few months with a broken jaw, cerebral contusion, and fractured vertebra. He returned to 222 Squadron in August, at the height of the Battle of Britain, flying Spitfires, but still suffering from headaches from the February accident.

The Battle of Britain ended in October 1940, and he was then posted to Moose Jaw in Canada to train pilots. Here another air accident left him in hospital for another couple of months.

He returned to Britain in September 1941, and joined 152 Squadron, based in Norfolk, and later Londonderry, and then Pembrokeshire.

At the end of October, 152 Squadron was transferred by ship to Gibraltar, en route to join the North Africa campaign that was just beginning. On 14 November, the squadron took off from Gibraltar to fly to Algiers, Maison Blanche – a distance of about 500 miles. As the most experienced pilot, his plane was positioned last in a formation of 18 Spitfires. North of Oran, over the Mediterranean, his Spitfire caught fire, and he bailed out, and climbed into a yellow inflatable rubber dinghy. The squadron continued on to Maison Blanche, where several of the Spitfires were refuelled, and went back to look for him. They found nothing. A few days later, he was posted missing, presumed dead.

My mother, his older sister, had many fond memories of him. She said that he had lots of girlfriends, with different ones sometimes phoning on the same day. He drove around in a green M.G. She’d asked him once about what it was like shooting down German bombers, and he said it was quite easy: you just came up behind and beneath them, and then climbed up and let them have it. He told her that, floating in the sea after being shot down on one occasion, he’d bitterly regretted knocking her over the head with a stick in his childhood. She said that, wherever they were, he and his fellow pilots were always glancing over their shoulders behind them.

He also wrote poetry, some of which turned up in my mother’s papers after she died. Unfortunately I don’t have an example at hand.

And he was a smoker, as can be seen in the colour photo (below left), in which he was probably wearing his desert uniform for the first time, before his departure to Gibraltar.

I created a web page for him some years ago. His name is to be found on the Battle of Britain London Memorial, on the Thames Embankment (see photo inset left) along with several thousand more of the “Few”: P/O F. B. Bassett.

About Frank Davis

smoker
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8 Responses to Not Forgotten

  1. Anonymous says:

    He sounds like someone I would have liked to have known.
    Rest in peace, Fran. And Happy Birthday, wherever you are.
    Rob F

  2. Anonymous says:

    Like you, Frank, I too lost an uncle in the war. My Uncle Arthur was the middle son of three children with an older sister, my Auntie Jo, and a younger one, Rose – my mother. He’d signed up to the RAF wanting, like your uncle, to become a pilot, but short-sightedness ruled this out for him, so he instead trained as a navigator and flew several successful sorties overseas. Towards the end of the war (about six months before it ended, I think) he and his team were hit during a raid. The plane was flyable, so the pilot decided to try and make it home to England rather than land in Germany and be taken POW. The plane nearly made it, just sputtering its last and crashing in Gravesend, Kent, killing all on board. Uncle Arthur was just 21.
    He, too, had no shortage of lady-friends, with one in particular looking likely to have become my auntie, had the crash not happened. He also had a plethora of young eligible friends, including a handsome and charming young Canadian who it seemed had something of a fond eye for my mum, Rose. My mother still has a picture of him, smiling, jolly, and full of life (not dissimilar, in fact, to the first picture of your own uncle) on the reverse of one of those old-fashioned two-sided photo-holders, the other side of which holds a photo of my uncle himself, in uniform, young and handsome but rather more pensive and serious-looking than his chum. Alas, he too was killed in action – who knows what might have happened had these tragedies not occurred?
    My mum tells me that her mum – my granny – never really got over the death of her beloved son. In those long-gone days things like grief counselling didn’t exist and “letting it all out” just wasn’t “done.” People were expected just to get on with things, as they had been doing throughout the war, and although for many people that worked as best it could under the circumstances, for others the loss of a loved family member remained an open sore which never really healed, not even to a scar. Despite all the hype on anniversary days, my mother tells me that VE-Day wasn’t a day for celebrating if you’d lost someone in the fighting. Nor was it a day for celebrating if you still had a family member suffering the rigours of the still-very-active fight going on in the Far East, about which much less is made. There were as many if not more people at home, still hurting for the absence of a friend or family member as there were people out partying in Trafalgar Square.
    For those on the front line, and for those at home who love them, war is a terrible thing at a very personal level. My mother tells me that my granny often said that my grandfather – who served in WWI – was “not the same man” when he came home after the war as he had been before it. But again, these things were never spoken about and by and large the British “stiff upper lip” was expected to prevail so that normal life could continue once peace was restored.
    Of course, your post and this one isn’t really about the smoking ban, but there are some similarities between this and your next, most recent, post, in that often it’s the less obvious, once-removed-type fallout which has the most devastating effect on a society and its members, but it’s that more far-reaching fallout which is the most easily overlooked and thus usually the least scrutinised.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Spooky
    My Grandad also served in the RAF at that time as an airframe mechanic in 222 squadron and bizarrely his name was also Frank Davis!! He was 90 on saturday

  4. Frank Davis says:

    Re: Spooky
    Spooky indeed!
    Could you ask him if he remembers my uncle? He probably won’t, because from what our family has been able to make out, Francis “Bertie” Bassett spent quite a large part of 1940 in and out of hospitals after a flying accident, and was only thrown into action in 222 Squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain.
    I’d love to hear from anyone who knew him, but unfortunately there are very few of them around these days.
    Frank

  5. Anonymous says:

    Re: Spooky
    I had a Great Uncle Frank Davis then too??? My Mother’s uncle. However he had nothing to do with his brother, so am trying to find my relatives.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Re: Spooky
    I had a Great Uncle Frank Davis then too??? My Mother’s uncle. However he had nothing to do with his brother, so am trying to find my relatives.

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