Commander Basil John Douglas Guy, VC, DSO, RN

Born on 9 May 1882, Basil John Douglas Guy was the son of the Reverend Sherwood Guy, Vicar Of Christ Church, Harrogate. His early education was undertaken at Aysgarth School, Yorkshire, and at Llandaff Cathedral School before undertaking training in the Royal Navy’s cadet training ship HMS Britannia, moored at Dartmouth.

On 15 July 1898 Guy passed out from Britannia and joined the pre-dreadnought, second class battleship, HMS Barfleur which at that time was operating in the Far East. When the Boxer rebellion broke out in China in 1900 Guy held the rank of Midshipman.

 

HMS Barfleur
HMS Barfleur

Attack on Tientsin, China 1900

On 13 July 1900 Guy was a member of a naval force that was landed to protect British nationals and other Europeans under threat of the anti-western Boxers. It was decided to make an attack on Tientsin city and during the advance the force was subjected to an exceptionally heavy cross-fire which inflicted numerous casualties on the advancing seamen.

One of the ratings hit was Able Seaman T McCarthy who was shot when about 50 yards short of cover. Seeing the man’s plight, Midshipman Guy ran to his aid and examined his wounds. He then attempted to lift McCarthy and carry him to safety, but the dead- weight of the sailor was too great for the young midshipman. By that time the remainder of the force had forged ahead finding cover; the result being that Guy and McCarthy drew the concentrated fire of those firing from the city wall. Guy subsequently dressed McCarthy’s wounds before leaving to get assistance.

Having found help, Guy joined two stretcher bearers as they ran out to carry the wounded rating to safety. With complete disregard for his own well-being, Guy assisted to place McCarthy on the stretcher as the ground around him was ploughed up by heavy fire. Miraculously he was not hit although the hapless McCarthy was to suffer a fatal wound as he was being carried to safety.

Left: Cadet Midshipman Guy c.1897. Right: Midshipman Guy, VC, RN aged 18.
Left: Cadet Midshipman Guy c.1897. Right: Midshipman Guy, VC, RN aged 18.

In recognition of the 18-year-old midshipman’s valour, Guy was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross. He was personally decorated by His Majesty King Edward VII at Keyham Barracks on 8 March 1902.

The award of the Victoria Cross to Sub-Lieutenant BJD Guy by HM King Edward VII (Courtesy The Graphic 15 Mar 02)
The award of the Victoria Cross to Sub-Lieutenant BJD Guy by HM King Edward VII (Courtesy The Graphic 15 Mar 1902).

Service in World War I

During the years that followed Guy continued to serve in the Royal Navy attaining the rank of lieutenant commander. During World War 1 he was appointed in command of the Q ship HMS Wonganella in which he further distinguished himself on 11 March 1917. [i] The following extract from E Kebble Chatterton’s Q-Ships and Their Story records the action:

On March 11, 1917, the Wonganella (Lieut.-Commander BJD Guy, RN) was on her way from Malta to England via Gibraltar, she was shelled by a submarine, and while the ‘panic’ party were getting out the boats, a shell wounded the officer and several of the crew in the starboard lifeboat. Another shell went through the bulwarks of the ship, wounding some men and bursting the steam-pipe of the winch, thus rendering unworkable the derrick used for hoisting out the third boat, and the port lifeboat was also damaged

Shells burst in the well deck and holed the big boat, so in this case, as all his boats were ‘done in’, the captain had to give up the idea of ‘abandoning’ ship. There was nothing for it but to open fire, though it was not easy for orders to be heard in that indescribable din when shells were bursting, steam pouring out form the burst winch-pipe, wounded men in great pain, and Wonganella’s own boiler-steam blowing off with an annoying roar

As soon as fire was opened, the submarine dived and then fired a torpedo, which was avoided by Wonganella going astern with her engines, the torpedo just missing the ship’s fore-foot by 10 feet. No more was seen of the enemy, and at dusk the armed steam yacht Iolanda was met, from whom a doctor was obtained, thus saving the lives of several of the wounded

In this engagement, whilst the White Ensign was being hoisted, the signal halyards were shot away, so the ensign had to be carried up the rigging and secured thereto. Wonganella was holed on the water-line and hit elsewhere, but she put into Gibraltar on March 13.

 

The Q-Ship HMS Wonganella
The Q-Ship HMS Wonganella

For his part in this, and several other Q-ship actions during World War I, Guy was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.

In June 1918 Guy was promoted to commander and after serving five years in that rank he retired. He was recalled for further service during World War II serving in staff appointments.

Commander BJD Guy, VC, DSO died at Lambeth, London, on 28 December 1956. He was buried at St Michael's & All Angels Churchyard, Pirbright.

Commander BJD Guy, VC, DSO decorations and medals which are presently on display in the Imperial War Museum, London.
Commander BJD Guy, VC, DSO decorations and medals which are presently on display in the Imperial War Museum, London.
Guy's term reunion 50 years after leaving Britannia.
Guy's term reunion 50 years after leaving Britannia.
Guy's term reunion 50 years after leaving Britannia.

[i] Q-ships, also known as Q-boats, decoy vessels, special service ships, or mystery ships, were heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry, designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. This gave Q-ships the chance to open fire and sink them.