(Supplement to the R.E. Journal)
Colonel B.C. Dening, C.B.E, M.C.
The death in action on June 2nd in a destroyer off Dunkirk, of
Colonel Basil Cranmer Dening, G.S.O.1 of the 4th Division, deprives the Corps of Royal
Engineers, the Army, and indeed the British Empire, of an officer whose moral and
intellectual attainments would have carried him far up the ladder of fame. His career was
cut short when he was almost within reach of safety; after superintending the embarkation
of his men he himself continued fighting to the last, firing a Bren gun till killed by a
German bomb - "and so passed over to the other side." Beneath a quiet and almost
retiring manner he possessed the courage of his convictions - based on an unusually clear
brain and deep study of his profession; this courage was matched by his physical bravery,
and a strong and determined character.
Basil Dening was the son of the late Walter Dening, and was born in
Australia on September 27th, 1894. His father was first a missionary, and then a professor
of English literature, in Japan, where he was a well known figure during the latter part
of the Meiji era. Walter Denings knowledge of the Japanese language enabled him to
smooth the path of many foreign students by a series of books on the subject; he was also
the author of A New Life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and numerous other works. This
literary ability descended to his son, whose essays on various military subjects won him
the Bertrand Stewart Prize in the Army Quarterly on three separate occasions.
Basils mental vigour and remarkable powers of concentration enabled him to write the
drafts of some of his articles during his daily train journeys between his home at Fleet
and London, when working at the War Office. His publications included a book on the
mechanization of the British Army (1925), a collection of notes designed to assist
candidates for the Staff College (1930), and a work entitled Modern War (1937).
From 1925 to 1929 he was a General Staff officer in the Intelligence
branch, for the last two years under the writer of this memoir; his grasp of the
political, economic, and military problems of the various countries with which he dealt
(including the United States of America, Italy and the Balkans), and his lucid memoranda,
were of great value to the General Staff at that time. Not the least of his assets were
the charm and modesty with which he expounded his views.
Educated at Crediton, Dening passed into the Royal academy in 1912,
and received his commission in the Royal Engineers o February 18th, 1912. A 2nd-Lieutenant
at the beginning of the Great War, he was wounded at Messines in March, 1915, and was
subsequently awarded the Military Cross for the part he took in that action. His services
in the field, both as a regimental and a staff officer, were so distinguished that he was
mentioned in despatches four times, and received a brevet majority in the Peace Gazette of
June 3rd, 1919 - some months before his twenty-fifth birthday.
After serving in Ireland from 1921 to 1923, he passed through the
Staff college, Camberley, and was appointed to the Railway Commission of the Army of the
Rhine in Cologne, his knowledge of German being most useful. His work at the War Office
during the next four years has already been referred to. He sailed to India in 1930, saw
regimental service with the Q.V.O. Madras Sappers and Miners, was on the staff at Simla,
and then became an instructor at the Staff College, Camberley, where he spent the next two
years. In 1937 he was appointed C.R.E. London District, and in January, 1939, took up the
post which he held at the time of his death.
He was created C.B.E. in time for the Birthday Honours of 1940, in
recognition of his fine work, but did not live to know of his reward; Mrs. Dening was
given her husbands insignia by H.M. The King at a recent investiture at Buckingham
Dening received a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonelcy on January 1st, 1933,
and he could count under the regulations then in force on reaching the rank of Substantive
Colonel at about the age of 42. His future in the Army was assured - especially as the
results of the Stanhope Committee began to bear fruit at the end of 1934, and a steadily
increasing flow of promotion to Major-General set in from the Colonels list.
He was as good a Sapper as a staff officer; and his wide experience,
and a growing and fully-justified confidence in his own powers, occasionally prompted
ambitions in a wider field than the Army.
Had Basil Dening decided to put these to the test, his influence
might have played a notable part in the history of our Empire. Be that as it may, the
example and memory of a man who laid down his life in the British Armys adversity in
1940 will not be soon forgotten.
He was a keen athlete and sportsman, being particularly fond of
riding. At Quetta he won several point-to-point trophies, and after returning to England
rode in many similar meetings in the southern counties. A keen exponent of rough shooting,
he probably bagged more game in the Aldershot Command shoot than most people thought
existed. Team games, and the spirit which animates them, always appealed to him, and he
played hockey, Rugby football, and cricket with zest and ability; the ethics of cricket
probably meant as much to him as its technical exposition.
A devoted husband and father, Colonel Dening, who married in
December, 1916, is survived by his widow, formerly Miss Ruth Henderson, of Crediton, and
four children. Both sons went to Cambridge, and the elder has now left for the Indian
Army; the two daughters are still at school. Basils younger brother, Esler, followed
his fathers footsteps to the Far east, and after serving in the Great War joined the
Japanese Consular Service; he held various posts in the Japanese Empire, and in Manchuria,
and is now employed at the Foreign Office.