Edward William Bennett MC First World War service

Title in English
Motorcycle dispatch rider

Edward William Bennett (1893-1970) The First World War 1914 -1918 Off to War? EWB with his 1912 T.T.Triumph Combination. Summer of 1914 EJB Feb 2009 Edward William Bennett’s Service 1914 - 1920 My father, Edward William Bennett, volunteered for service on the 7th of August 1914; just 3 days after war had been declared, aged 21. As a keen motorcyclist, he was drafted into the Royal Engineers Signals Depot, No 10 Motorcycle section as a dispatch rider (you had to provide your own motorcycle!). He was posted to France on the 15th of August as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and attached to the Headquarters of the 2nd Army Corporal Edward William Bennett Aug. 1914 Father said very little about his wartime experiences, the only period he did speak of were the early months in the Autumn of 1914, before the Western Front settled down to a static battle of opposing trench lines at the end of that year. He described how on one occasion he was speeding through the lanes of France, pursued by a German motorcyclist who was intent on capturing valuable intelligence, when he completely misjudged a corner and ploughed through a hedge into a field (his eyesight was always poor, even as a young man) and the relief he felt on hearing the German speed past on the road as he lay stunned on the ground. On another occasion the headquarters had been set up in a deserted farmhouse and they had been lucky enough to catch a chicken and collect a good supply of eggs. The bird was simmering nicely over a fire when word came that the Germans were rapidly advancing and it was necessary to move out at once. The transport was quickly loaded and at the last moment father dashed over to the fire and kicked the Billy can and its contents into the ashes to deny the Germans their chicken supper, vaulted over the back of the open topped staff car, landing on the eggs that had been stowed on the back seat! The most dangerous moment in these early days occurred when he was nearly shot by his own side. Something fell from his motorbike and he was searching for it by the feeble light of his shuttered headlight, when he was challenged by a sentry from the Anglian regiment. Having his ear by the engine which he kept running, father did not hear. He did however hear the shot and the tug on his coat as the .303 bullet tore into the cloth. I understand the sentry learned of his error in no uncertain way almost immediately. On close inspection no blood was found but that the bullet had sliced through the coat from hem to hip pocket then passed through his tin cigar case from edge to edge before passing harmlessly into the night. Having seen the case I can vouch for the fact it was only slightly thicker than the two bullet holes. As a child I remember being terrified when he produced a cigar from the case, having told this story and proceeded to smoke it. I thought it was one of the original cigars and was convinced it would explode! Service with the MMGS In January 1915 Sergeant Edward William Bennett volunteered for service in the newly formed Motor Machine Gun Section of the Machine Gun Corps, was commissioned to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on the 9th of February, and posted to the 14th Battery Formation and development Motorcycles and armoured cars were used from the earliest days of the war. Army order 480 dated the 12 of November and sanctioned in February 1915, approved the addition to each division of a motor machine gun battery. This was designated to be a unit of the Royal Field Artillery and was to be known as the Motor Machine Gun Service (MMGS). Soldiers for the service were found from enlisted men and volunteers known to be interested in motorcycles. The thinking behind the formation of the batteries was that they could act as a rapid reaction force; however by the time they saw action, the roads at the front, if they still existed, were so badly damaged that such operations were severely hampered. By the start of the battle of Loos on the 25th of September 1915 there were eighteen Batteries, five of which were engaged at Loos. Batteries of the MMGS typically included 18 motorcycle combinations, 6 Vickers machineguns with ammunition, 8 motorcycles without sidecars, 2 or 3 wagons or cars and a motorcycle combination for the officer commanding. The earliest motorcycles used were Scotts, with Matchless, Premier, Zenith, Enfield and Clyno machines entering service when it was found that the Scotts were insufficiently robust for active service. The men of the MMGS wore an unusual uniform as shown in this photograph of Lieutenant Edward.W.Bennett, with leather boots in place of puttees. Cap badges were similar to the Machine Gun Corps. ( MGC), but with MMG lettering. The shoulder title was a brass MGC with a letter M underneath it. Gauntlets, goggles and weather proof garments were used for riding but no crash helmet. Note also that Lieut.Bennett has removed the wire stiffening from his service cap to produce the “Gorblimey“ style, an affectation only to be used by experienced campaigners of the BEF who joined up at the start of the war. By May of 1916 most of the Batteries had been withdrawn from Divisional command and attached as Corps Troops and by the end of 1916 many men were transferred to the Heavy Motor Machine Gun Corps later, to be known as the Tank Corps 14th Battery Mounted Machine Gun Corp. EWB standing by machine, front row on the left. Major Carr on his left By the 26th of January 1915 the 14th Battery had been formed and joined the 20th (Light) Division of the First Army 3rd Corps. Following a period of training, in their base in Belton Park Grantham, the battery set sale for France. Disembarking at Le Havre on the 21st of July 1915, they moved up to the front line near Mauquissart, a hamlet just north of Neuve-Chapelle on the road to Fauquissart in northern France. (Now the D171 R.de Bois). Before the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle in March 1915 which resulted in the capture of this town, Mauquissart was described as a cluster of ruined houses barely a quarter of a mile behind the German lines, on the left of the planned attack and directly in front of Aubers, which was on a ridge a mile beyond. Between them was the Moulin du Pietre a large double-storied working mill that had served local farmers for miles around. Beyond Mauquissart the enemy line began to curve, dipping back slightly behind the Ferme Vanbiesen a deserted and ruined large farm, almost a manor, surrounded by trees and a once ornamental waterscape that had doubled as a drainage ditch in the low lying farmland. British troops, looking from their own lines into no-mans land, christened it the Moated Grange. Following the Battle of Neuve- Chapelle, the Allies had moved forward and prior to the battle of Loos now occupied the line of the German trenches described above, see trench map for July 1915 The Battle of Loos September 25th 1915 Trench map of Mauquissart at July 1915 part of Laventie sheet 36 S.W.1. (Imperial War Museum) The timing of the attack on Loos, a mining town in northern France close to the Belgium border, was dictated by the French to support their own action elsewhere, as was the battle of the Somme a year later. To distract attention from the main target of Loos, it was decided to mount diversionary attacks simultaneously, one from Neuve-Chapelle/Mauquissart about 15 Km to the north, and the other from Ypres in Belgium . Field Marshal Sir John French was concerned that the severe shortage of artillery shells available at the time would jeopardize the success of the operation. He hoped that the availability of gas, which was to be used for the first time by the Allies, in retaliation for its use by the Germans who had attacked at Ypres behind a cloud of chlorine gas some time earlier, would compensate to some extent. The British forces around Neuve-Chapelle were made up of elements of the 20th Division, the Indian army Meerut Division, which in addition to Indian troops also contained a battalion of British regulars (as had been the case in India) and a battalion of Territorials or Special Reservists, and the Gurkha Rifles. Stand To was set for 3.30am on the 25th and zero hour for 5.50. At Mauquissart the 3rd Londoners were ready to advance when the Gurkhas and the Leicesters had captured the first line of trenches and the gas detachment was standing by to release clouds of gas and smoke towards the German lines, to smother the enemy before the infantry attack. Meanwhile the bombardment was underway and the enemy guns were sending back shell for shell, nearer zero hour a rum ration would be given out, but well before this, disaster struck. A German shell fell short of the trench, harmlessly it seemed but near enough to make the men duck involuntarily. After several minutes a cloud of gas drifted back over the trenches. The shell had landed on the gas bottles fracturing some of them and because of a change in the wind direction the escaping fumes were drifting everywhere other than towards the Germans, despite valiant attempts to stem the flow of escaping gas by piling sand bags on them. Man after man succumbed and at zero hour the Gurkhas donned gas helmets and charged through the clouds of gas and smoke. Not a good start. Initially significant gains were made; the 12th Rifle brigade reached and held the third line of German trenches but was so far ahead of the line they were in danger of becoming isolated. The Meerut Bareilly Brigade had done well too, but with no reserves following up they were driven back giving no option for the 12th Rifles than to retire, an action that cost them three hundred and twenty nine killed, wounded or missing in their brigade alone. So at the end of the day the Allies in the Neuve-Chappell sector were back where they started, they had achieved the objective of keeping the Germans occupied but at a high cost. Once again initial gains were lost because of the late arrival of support, due in the most part to the unavailability in those days of adequate battlefield communication and hence real time intelligence of the situation at the front, rather than just incompetence. Attacks carried on for several weeks, with further losses and no gains before petering out. What action the 14th MMGS saw during this time or what involvement Leiut.E.W.Bennett had in the battle is not known, however it must have been notable to be drawn to Sir John French’s attention, who mentioned him in his despatch of the 30th of November, resulting in the award of the Military Cross (MC) for gallantry in the field. Which he received from King George the Fifth at Buckingham Palace on the 2nd of March 1917 Service in the Ypres Salient Nothing is known of Lieutenant Bennett’s service between September 1915 and the spring of 1916, however by this time the 14th MMGS Battery was located in or around Ypres in Belgium. On the 5th of March he was driving a motorcycle combination with his gunner in the sidecar on the Menim Road towards Sanctuary Wood, near Hell Fire Corner, when he was spotted by a German battery. When the shell exploded he took shrapnel in the neck, back and legs. (His gunner in the sidecar was less severely wounded and later returned to the front and was killed). On the 7th of March Lieutenant Bennett was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital at Le Touquet The Menim Road at Hell Fire Corner. The screens on the left were designed to hide the traffic from the German lines During a long spell in hospital and convalescence between April 1916 to the 11th of December 1918 father was declared permanently unfit for active service. Because of his pre war profession as a chemical engineer specialising in gas production (father was employed by the London Gaslight and Coke Company) he was attached to the newly formed Royal Air Force, and posted to the Airship Section in Dean Stanley Street Westminster, where between reoccurring bouts of illness, he was involved in the development of Airships such as the R33 and where he remained until the end of the war. After the war father tried his hand at farming in Kenya. I believe this was under the auspices of the BEADOC (British East African Disabled Officers Colony) scheme, to seek his fortune growing flax. During this time it was reported by the British Army Medical Board in Kisumu on the 22nd of May 1920, that he had been in hospital in Nairobi for three weeks because the wound in his right leg started discharging. The same Board awarded Lieutenant E W Bennett MC (whose unit is now described as The RAF Reserve), a pension of £50 per annum. The BEADOC scheme was ill conceived and under funded. Following the collapse of the flax market after the war (the price had been inflated by the wartime demands for flax for uniforms, aircraft skins and other stores) he, like most, found that it was impossible to make a living from the farm and returned to England. The lucky ones managed to sell their land to Brook Bond, who found it ideal for growing tea! Lieutenant Edward William Bennett List of Medals from left to right 1) Military Medal (MC) inscribed on the back, (horizontal bar) Lieutenant E W Bennett Motor Machine Gun Service. Vertically, Mauquissart Sept. 25th 1915. 2) 1914 Star. 3) British War Medal 4) Victory Medal E W Bennett’s War records are Held at The Public Records Office Kew Ref.WO 339/ 2548 His Long Number was 46456 Edward John Bennett Feb. 2009
Transcription status
Not started 0 %
Edit 0 %
Review 16 %
Complete 84 %
Number of items
Edward William Bennett
Origin date
Edward John Bennett