Lieutenant Eugene Paul BENNETT V.C., M.C.
Eugene Paul Bennett was born on the 4th June 1892 at Caincross, Stroud, Gloucestershire, son of Charles Bennett a former headmaster and accountant, and Florence Emma Sophia Bennett. He was one of six children and the forth of five sons.
Eugene was educated at Marling School the local grammer school in Stroud. He was keen on sport and was good at both football and cricket.
He was simply known as Paul by his family and freinds.
After leaving school he joined the Bank of England as a clerk.
In October 1913 he enlisted into the army, joining the 28th County of London Battalion (Artist's Rifles), County of London Regiment (Territorial Force) as a Private soldier (army number 1253).
On the out break of war, the Artists' Rifles were mobilised on the 4th August 1914 at Dukes Road, Euston Road and became part of London Division Army Troops in the St Albans area.
He went with the Artist's Rifles to France on the 19th October 1914.
On the 1st January 1915 he was given a commission with the Worcestershire Regiment and joined the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, at their reserve billets at Vieille Chapelle, with a group of reinforcements the same month, including two other newly commission officers from the Artist's Rifles.
Throughout 1915 he saw action at Festubert and at the Battle of Loos.
On the 6th November 1915, after four days in reserve, the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment relieved the 2nd Battalion Highland L.I, in the front trenches east of Cambrin. The Battalion moved forward to the front-line trenches on the right of those previously held. Those trenches were new to the Battalion. The relief was just complete, and officers and men were settling down into their positions in the gathering darkness, when a terrific explosion wrecked the front trenches. The enemy had sprung a mine in the centre of the Battalion's line. About seventy yards of the front trenches of "D" Company were destroyed and a great crater was formed. As the debris of the explosion subsided, a searchlight flashed out from the German lines and lit up the scene. Machine-guns opened from the enemy's line and a hail of bullets swept the wrecked trenches.
Lieutenant Eugene Paul Bennett V.C.
The explosion had buried several men of "D" Company: some had completely disappeared, while others were up to their waists or their necks in the heaped mud. Rescue parties led by 2nd Lieutenant E. P. Bennett climbed over the debris and set to work to dig out the helpless men. The cold glare of the searchlight lit up the scene, and a German machine-gun fired rapidly from less than thirty yards away; but the work was continued until all the survivors were freed. A sharp bombing fight followed for the possession of the crater. Bombing continued all night, but by dawn the crater had been secured and the position was more or less normal. For his brave actions 2nd Lieutenant E. P. Bennett was awarded the Military Cross.
Lieutenant E. P. Bennet recieved his Military Cross at Buckingham Palace from H.M. King George V on the 10th May 1916, his parents were also at the ceremony.
In October 1915 the 2nd Battalion moved in to trenches near Cambrin in readiness for the next big push. In 1916 they were in the Somme and involved at the battle of Delville Wood.
In October 1916 the 1st and 4th Battalions of the Worcestershire Regiment moved back from the Transloy Ridges, the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment advanced into the battle area.
On the 5th November 1916, he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his brave actions at the Battle of Transloy Ridges.
His citation reads:
"For most conspicuous bravery in action when in command of the second wave of the attack. Finding that the first wave had suffered heavy casualties, its commander killed and the line wavering, Lt. Bennett advanced at the head of tihe second wave, and by his personal example of valour and resolution reached his objective with but sixty men.
Isolated with his small party, he at once took steps to consolidate his position under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from both flanks, and although wounded, he remained in command directing, and controlling.
He set an example of cheerfulness and resolution beyond all praise, and there is little doubt that but for his personal example of courage, the attack would have been checked at the outset." (London Gazette 30th December 1916)
Below is an account of the 2nd Battalions actions during the attack at Transloy Ridges and how Lieut. Bennett won his Victoria Cross.
Battle of The Transloy Ridges (4th to 6th November 1916)
After dark (6 p.m.) on November 4th the 2nd Worcestershire left their reserve trenches behind Les Boeufs and marched in single file along interminable duck-board tracks into the French lines. Then, led by French guides, the Battalion moved forward into position close behind a sunken lane, which was occupied by the foremost groups of the French battalion. In the darkness the companies deployed and lay down: "D" Company in front, then in succession "C," "B," and "A". The total strength of the four companies was 14 officers and about 300 other ranks, the latter being mostly young soldiers newly arrived from home. All arrangements were concerted with the French officers. French and British runners were stationed together in relay posts, and the French Battalion Commander (the French unit was the 1st Battalion of the 66th Regiment) welcomed Colonel Pardoe of the 2nd Worcestershire in his Headquarters in "Thunder Trench." It was arranged that the attack next day should be made at 11 a.m.
A terrific storm of rain beat down, with much lightning. Through the rain came German shells but in that slough many of them failed to explode. Presently the rain passed: the night became quiet and very cold.
The companies set to work to dig themselves in. As they worked, the officers noticed a favourable sign. The wind, which for days had brought rain from the west, was changing; and soon it blew from the east, bitter cold indeed but rapidly drying the mud.
Dawn broke and the troops crouched in the cover they had made. In front of them, beyond the sunken road, a low crest-line, as before, hid the enemy's position.
With the first light a German aeroplane drifted overhead. The enemy machine suddenly dived down to the position of the Battalion, circled close above the crowded companies, rose again amid a splutter of firing and made off to the eastward. Urged by their officers the troops dug feverishly while there was yet time.
Twenty minutes later German shells came crashing down about the flimsy trenches, mostly not more than 4 foot deep by that time. The troops huddled close in their cover. The bombardment continued fiercely and without intermission. The two leading companies suffered many casualties. Both the company commanders, Captain H. M. Eyles and Captain E. J. L. Warlow were killed, and all the other officers of "D" Company were hit. Hour after hour the bombardment continued, while the platoons lay close among the shell-holes.
Precisely at 11 a.m. the British artillery suddenly opened an intense fire. Thirteen minutes later the word was given to advance. The four companies of the 2nd Worcestershire scrambled to their feet and pushed forward to the attack. "D" Company, the leading "wave" had already lost all their officers. Lieutenant E. P. Bennett, commanding "C" Company, went forward to them, started them off, led by their N.C.O's. and then returned to lead his own Company.
The attack was met by a storm of fire. A barrage of heavy shells crashed down along the sunken lane, and through the shell-bursts could be heard the stammer of machine-guns.
Led by a few brave N.C.O's., "D" Company advanced through the barrage across the sunken road and up the slope. Close behind followed the other three companies. As he reached the sunken road, Lieut. E. P. Bennett, commanding "C" Company was struck down by a shell-burst. He collapsed half-stunned into the lane, where his wounds were bandaged by a kindly Frenchman. Dazed by the shock, he watched the two rear companies pass forward through the fire. Beside him in the sunken lane he found other wounded men; among them a Sergeant (whose name, unfortunately, is now unknown) and a little 2nd Lieutenant, believed to have been 2/Lieut. J. O. Couldridge. Together they peered forward through the smoke of the German barrage. For a moment the smoke drifted aside, and they could see the situation in front. The attack had stopped. The last few N.C.O's. of "D" Company had been hit, two German machine-guns from the right flank had raked the line, and the young soldiers, brave enough but utterly bewildered, had halted and lain down. The other companies had closed up to them and had likewise stopped. All four companies were crowded in the open under a fierce fire.
The little group in the trench were horror-struck. "God !" cried the little 2nd Lieutenant "Are we going to fail again?" The wounded Sergeant grasped the situation and tore at the steep bank to make a step. " The boys will go on all right if there's someone to lead them " he said: he clambered up and dashed forward into the fire. Twenty yards from the trench he was struck and fell. Close on his heels followed the little 2nd Lieutenant.
Lieut E. P. Bennett still grasping his spade encourages his troops to advance at the Battle of Transloy Ridges (5th Nov. 1916)
Lieutenant Bennett found a spade and cut himself a step in the embankment. Then he too ran forward through the bursting shells. As he ran, he passed the little 2nd Lieutenant struck dead. Still grasping the spade, he reached the troops, dashed through them and signalled them to advance. The whole Battalion rose behind him and flooded forward in one wave over the crest-line and down on to the flank of the German trenches.
From the front and from the right flank came a hail of bullets from the German machine-guns; but the ground was so broken that the platoons afforded no constant target as they struggled down into and up out of the countless shell-holes . . . . "we were like a swarm of rats in a ploughed field" (Lieut. E. P. Bennett). Before that onslaught the German garrisons of "Mirage" and "Boritzka" trenches gave way. Such as survived of the enemy fell back across the broken ground, and Lieutenant Bennett led the attack forward along the whole length of the objective. Then, in pursuance of their orders, the 2nd Worcestershire faced to their right and pushed forward down the slope for some five hundred yards. Orders were given to dig in, and the remnant of the Battalion consolidated a new line beyond the captured ground.
The enemy actively disputed the advance, and the new line was entrenched under a hot fire of musketry from close range. Lieut. E. M. Holland, who had shown great gallantry throughout the attack, was shot and killed during the work of entrenchment. At first the new position was dangerously isolated, but presently an officer of the 16th King's Royal Rifles made his way forward to the line. His battalion had captured "Hazy Trench" and had made good their ground. The left flank of the Worcestershire was thereby secured.
The survivors of the Battalion held their ground all the rest of that day, answering shot by shot and digging themselves into cover. Great gallantry was shown by 2/Lieut. R. W. A. Watts, who reorganised his men and carried out a dangerous patrol to the front, in which he was wounded. 2/Lieut, Watts was awarded the M.C. They were exposed to a fierce fire all the afternoon and there were many casualties. After dark came relief. The 5th Scottish Rifles took over the captured line and the Worcestershire moved back. Very few were left of the four companies. Lieutenant Bennett could muster not more than about 60 all told, with one young subaltern besides himself. The little force marched back through the French lines, where they were heartily congratulated, to Battalion Headquarters at Les Boeufs. Thence the Battalion moved back up the communication trenches to Guillemont, which was reached at dawn of November 6th. There all slept soundly until roused in the afternoon by the arrival of a relieving battalion; which proved to be none other than the 1st Worcestershire. After hearty mutual greetings, the 2nd Worcestershire fell in and tramped back westward past Montauban to a camp "in a very muddy field" near Fricourt. For two days the Battalion rested and cleaned up. On November 9th the Brigadier inspected the Battalion and read a message of congratulation from the Regimental Commander of the French 66th Regiment.. Next day the Battalion marched by Meaulte to Buire station and entrained for the back areas to rest and train. Their part in the battle was over; and Lieutenant Bennett's bravery and fine leadership were fitly rewarded with the Victoria Cross.
Casualties, of the 2nd Worcestershire, November 5th, were given officially as follows:—Killed 3 officers 15 other ranks. Wounded 2 officers, 66 other ranks. Missing one officer (believed killed) and 21 other ranks; but those figures are certainly understated. Besides the two Captains named above, 2/Lieuts. J. O. Couldridge and E. M. Holland were killed. Lieut. E. P. Bennett and 2/Lt. R. W. A. Watts were wounded, among others. The actual loss was over 200. The Battalion War Diaries at this period are very defective.
Recovering from his wounds back in England
Lieutenant Bennett spent several months back in England recovering from his wounds and in February 1917 he was well enough to return to his home town at Stroud. On the 21st February 1917 members of the local Council, a guard of honour and his family met him as the train came in to the station at Stroud. The local inhabitants were also out on the streets to welcome their local hero home. Later that evening dinner was given in his honour at the Holloway Instutute.
Back to France (1918)
Lieutenant Bennett returned back to France and joined the 4th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment for the Battle of Courtrai in October 1918, with the rank of Captain, but just four days later on the 14th October he sustained a very servere shell splinder wound near Gulleghem and had to be evacuated.
Captain Eugene Paul Bennett V.C. medals
Gallahers cigarette card
After treatment for his wounds back in England he was confined to his bed for nearly a year and as a result was unable to attend his fathers funeral in September 1919.
Bennett then returned to civilian life.
In July 1922 he married Violet Forster at Kingston, Surrey. They had a daughter and a son. Sadly the son died in 1946 of pneumonia.
In 1923 Bennett was called to the bar at Middle Temple, City of London and became the Procecuting Council on the South-East Circuit from 1931 to 1935. From 1935 to 1961 he held the position of a Metropolitan Magistrate and sat on the London Magistrate Court until 1946, followed by Marlborough Street Court until 1961.
During the Second World War their family home in Marylebone, London was bombed on two occassions. He was now employed as an officer at the Air Training Corps, R.A.F. with the rank of Squadron Leader.
In the later years of his life he retired to Vincenza, Italy with his wife Violet. He died there on the 6th April 1970, age 77.
His medals are now held by the Worcestershire Regiment Museum Trust in Worcester.