Image: Gabriel Basly at Martincourt: first man on left among French soldiers having dinner in the trenches, ca. 1914 (SPRA 164.02.17)
Regimental Number: 1156
Rank: Soldier 1st Class
Branch: 17th Company of the 302 Infantry Regiment; 311 Infantry Regiment; 255 Infantry Regiment
Gabriel Basly was born on March 28, 1885 in Gennevilliers (Seine-St. Denis), France.
Young men in France were required to serve in the army for three years, so in 1906 at the age of 21, Gaby enlisted in an infantry unit at Caen. When he immigrated to Canada in 1907 he notified the French Government about his move and inquired about his army status. Gaby took out a homestead in Big Valley, Alberta, about 67 km east of Innisfail.
In August 1914, Gaby was informed by the French Consulate that he should report for mobilization with his army corps, so with several other young men from Big Valley who were also French, he made his way back to France to “save the motherland.” He was placed in the 17th Company of the 302 Infantry Regiment, and in August-September of 1914 fought in the Battle of Lorraine, which was a disaster for the French. During the next year, the 302 Regiment lost so many of its soldiers that it was dissolved and Gaby was moved to the 311 Infantry Regiment, just in time to fight in the Battle of Verdun (June 1916), where he served as a message carrier.
It was in the Battle of Verdun that Gaby earned his “Croix de Guerre,” an award for bravery. The citation reads, “Basly, Gabriel No. 1156, of 7075 13th Comp. has assured communications with the company, with the greatest disdain for danger under a bombardment of the most violent kind during attacks on the 15th, 16th and 17th of June 1916.”
Again, because of heavy losses, Gaby was transferred again to the 255 Infantry Regiment, which is the number that appears on his uniform, and in April 1917, he was granted permission to travel back to Canada on a three-week leave.
Gaby never went back to the war. He settled back into farming, and in 1926 headed for Grande Prairie to start a new life.
Gaby died on May 4, 1966 at the age of 80 years. He is buried in the Grande Prairie Municipal Cemetery.
Sources: Along the Wapiti p. 243
Soldier Spotlight highlights veterans from the Archives’ online Soldiers’ Memorial. Each week, our volunteers select a remarkable individual to showcase in this blog series. The Soldiers’ Memorial commemorates more than 1,100 WWI veterans and 2,300 WWII veterans from our region. Three dedicated volunteers have contributed over 1,200 hours to this project by researching and writing biographies. Our goal is to have all South Peace soldiers acknowledged for their service. If you know of someone who lived in the South Peace and should be listed on the Memorial, or would like to get involved by researching a local veteran, please contact the Archives.