Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt B Vokes
1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry
Killed in action, 15.2.1917
Basil Vokes arrived in Weybridge in 1908 to take up a post as an assistant teacher at St James’ School (Baker Street). He was born in Winchester in 1883 to James and Lavinia (nee Draper) who had married at St Andrew’s Church, Chale on the Isle of Wight on 9 January 1879. James Vokes was a stonemason and Basil was his younger son, his brother, Harold having been born in 1880. The family made their home in Winchester, first in Greenhill Road and then by 1911 in Clifton Terrace when Basil was a pupil teacher and his brother was employed by the Post Office.
His first home in Weybridge was as a lodger with Miss Summer of Fieldview, Springfield Meadows where he remained until moving to 11 Minorca Road in 1910 or 1911. His parents visited him in September 1908 but his mother died suddenly during the visit. Her funeral report in the Hampshire Chronicle (12 September 1908) commented that her son was ‘…held in high esteem in Weybridge.’ The floral tributes included one from the boys in Basil’s class. He quickly involved himself in Weybridge life, becoming a Free Mason in 1909 when he joined the local Noel Money Lodge and going on to serve as secretary to the Bowls Club for several years.
It is not possible to say exactly when Basil joined the army but on 8 January 1916, the Surrey Advertiser reported that L/Cpl Vokes, a teacher at St James’ School who had joined the Artists Rifles ‘…was presented with a wrist watch, case of brushes, razor etc. by Weybridge Bowling Club….’ on leaving the town. The Artists Rifles established officer training facilities in France and in Britain and Basil was posted to the 1/1st Buckinghamshire Battalion of the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry. They went to France on 30 March 1915 so Basil was unlikely to have been with them at that stage but was likely to have been present during the Battles of the Somme in 1916. On 1 July, the first day of the onslaught, his battalion was in reserve but they were part of an attack on enemy positions between Ovillers and Pozieres on the night of the 20-21 July. It was the first serious operation in which Basil’s unit had been engaged. It was a chastening experience. They lay 175 yards from the German lines and at zero hour, 2.45am, they were already under German fire. The British barrage seemed to have little impact and as they rose to move forward they were cut down by enemy machine gun fire. Few were able to advance to the objective but of those who did hardly any returned. The attack failed. The battalion suffered 12 fatalities, 102 wounded and 41 missing in action.
There was little time to recover as they attacked again on 23 July at 4am.They felt keenly the recent loss of 8 officers killed or wounded but ‘D’ Company performed brilliantly by advancing practically in the supporting barrage and taking the objective single-handed. Several attempts to re-take the position were repulsed. Basil’s battalion was withdrawn from the line on 26 July. By February 1917 he was with the 1/4th Battalion of his regiment when they were in a support position near Herbicourt. Basil was killed by a shell which burst just outside the entrance to ‘C’ Company HQ at Brigade Support, 1,500 yards from Flaucourt. He was buried at Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres but his body was exhumed on 14 August 1924 and re-buried at Hem Farm Military Cemetery (I.L.6), Hem-Monacu, 13 km south-east of Albert.
None of Basil’s immediate family was alive at the time of his death. His brother had died in 1905 and his father in 1913.
Artists Rifles, www.artistsriflesassociation.org
British Army WW1 Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920, www.ancestry.co.uk
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Harding/Booker Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
1st Ox & Bucks L I, 1914-1918, www.lightbobs.com
England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751-1921, www.ancestry.co.uk