b. 30/09/1920 Hyde, Cheshire. d. 18/08/1944 Brindisi, Italy.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 18/08/1944 Brindisi, Italy.
Kenneth Horsfield (1920-1944) was born in Hyde, Cheshire on 30th September 1920, the son of John and Annie Horsfield (nee Dobb). His father was an engineering draughtsman and the family lived at 11 George Street, Hyde, which was shared by Annie’s parents. At the time of his parents marriage, three years before Kenneth was born, his father was serving in the Royal Monmouth Royal Engineers, and his mother was a cotton weaver.
In January 1921, the family had moved to Bromborough on the Wirral Peninsula, in housing provided by the Lever Brothers Company, for which John Horsfield now worked as a foreman. In 1922, Kenneth’s younger brother Alan was born. John left the Lever Brothers Company in 1924, and the family moved into a house named “Kenlan” after the two children, in Longden Road, Shrewsbury. John is thought to have commuted by train to work for Chubb Locksmiths in Wolverhampton as an engineer’s draughtsman.
On 29th January 1926 John died of heart failure, after an illness which had lasted several months, Kenneth was five years old and Alan just four. Annie presumably had little choice but to return to her family in Hyde. There she set up home above and behind the shop she ran at 26 Brook Street with the boys, her father Henry Dobb and her mother Elizabeth (formerly Bradbury). The shop is thought to have belonged to Maria Pailthorpe, Elizabeth Bradbury’s sister and it had been inhabited by the Bradbury family since the beginning of the century.
Kenneth attended Leigh Street School, he was less successful academically than his younger brother who attended Hyde Grammar School. He is known to have trained as a butcher, but by the time he had enrolled with the Manchester Regiment in 1939, he was shown to be a timber machinist.
According to his army records Kenneth joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on 2nd May 1939 in Ashton under Lyne. His occupation was given as Wood Machine Hand and his religion as CE, which is something of a surprise as the family regularly attended a Methodist Church in Hyde. The next entry on 9th April 1940 shows a posting to the Senior Officers School at Erlestoke Park attached to the 57th Battalion Heavy Tank Regiment Supernumerary Strength. Six weeks later on 21st May, the attachment to the Heavy Tank Regiment ceased, but the record implies that the posting to the Senior Officers School at Erlestoke Park continued up to and including an entire fortnight’s posting back to the Manchesters’ 24 Machine Gun Training Centre at Chester on 18th September 1941. That posting could only have lasted a fortnight, because on 3rd October he is shown to be posted to STS 61 where he appears to have remained until the penultimate entry on 8th August 1942, ‘Embarked for Egypt’.
STS 61 was primarily concerned with packing the containers for the parachute drops that were essential to the support for many SOE operations. It looks very much as if this was exactly what he was doing in Military Establishment 54 when he met his death. ME 54 was a large factory for packing the containers at Brindisi near the air base from which the SOE missions were flown. The American OSS, which was the parallel organization to SOE referred to their section of ME 54 as Paradise Camp. There are good grounds for thinking that Kenneth was deliberately transferred abroad, first to Derna and then to Brindisi, for his container packing nous.
At approximately 1.45pm on the afternoon of 18th August 1944 an explosion occurred in the demolition area of Military Establishment 54, where Kenneth was working, killing two men and injuring three more. Kenneth immediately ran to the scene even though ammunition was exploding all around him. Unable to release a man trapped by rubble and surrounded by a blazing fire, Kenneth ran to fetch an extinguisher and was still using that to try to control the fire when it became exhausted. Finally, a second explosion occurred causing him injuries from which he died on his way to hospital. Kenneth had all ordered other soldiers to stand clear and he must have been fully aware of the dangers from the live ammunition and explosives surrounding him. Kenneth was buried with full military honours in Bari War Cemetery, Italy.
According to the citation written by the Commanding Officer of ME54, " In view of the great sacrifice this soldier made, to save the life of another, and with full knowledge of the likelihood of another fatal explosion, I have no hesitation in recommending him for the posthumous award of the George Cross". The recommendation was accepted and the London Gazette published the citation on 23rd March 1945. Kenneth’s George Cross which was presented to his mother Annie at an investiture at Buckingham Palace, later donated his medal group to the Manchester Regimental Museum, Ashton-under-Lyne, Cheshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MANCHESTER REGIMENT MUSEUM, ASHTON UNDER LYNE.
BURIAL PLACE: BARI WAR CEMETERY, BARI, ITALY.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Kenneth (on left) with his brother Alan