Postcard Stories: Sub-Lieutenant Benson in Russia


rnas pic rev crop

Captain Edward White Benson 1884-1938

Edward W Benson was born on the 10th October 1884 in Ballymoney, County Antrim, Ireland. He was the ninth of eleven children to Thomas Miller Benson (1851-1921) and Jane Gardner Orr (1853-1941) who married in Lurgan in 1871; Thomas M Benson was a senior clergyman in the Church of Ireland, serving as rector of Ballymoney, and eventually as Archdeacon of Connor. In the 1901 census, the Bensons are resident at the Rectory in Ballymoney, but by 1911, Benson had followed two of his brothers to Canada, where they both farmed.

At the outbreak of war, Benson returned from Canada and enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service in December 1914: his occupation of ‘chauffeur’ indicates he was one of the Ulstermen recruited by the RNAS Armoured Car Division for their experience as drivers, many with the Unionist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force. His initial rank was as a Petty Officer Mechanic, and he qualified in March 1915 with service number F 2880, and his first ‘ship’ was the RNACD base establishment HMS President II.cap

He first served at Dunkirk in April 1915, which was the RNACD headquarters in Flanders

By the spring of 1916, he was a Chief Petty Officer II with the ‘Russian Armoured Car’ detachment, described by his CO Locker-Lampton, as an ‘admirable man’. From May to September 1916 he served with number 3 squadron, and distinguished himself in the unit’s fighting in Trans-Caucasia especially an engagement in August 1916 – where his 3 pounder gunnery destroyed Turkish magazine; it was probably this action for which he was awarded the Russian Military Cross.

Benson was the first enlisted man of the RNACD to be recommended for a commission, and from October to December 1916 he was in the UK training with the RNVR, being commissioned as Sub-Lieutenant in January 1917, and returning to Russia. The RNACD was now deployed on the new Romanian Front, with Sub-Lieutenant Benson in command of the Heavy Armoured car ‘Mountjoy’ covering a Russian retreat from Dobjura to Braila in an action at the end of January 1917. The RAC were deployed to Austrian Galicia in an increasingly unstable political atmosphere, as Russia began to be effected by revolution. In late July, Benson’s section of two 3-pounders were called to hold the line in trenches facing Brzezany after Russian troops withdrew. Benson again proved his artillery skills, knocking out a machine-gun positioned in a church belfry at a distance of 2000 yards.

Political uncertainty led to the withdrawal of the RAC in August 1917; at beginning of 1918 reconstituted as a brigade of the Army’s Motor Machine Gun Corps: Benson’s service records show how he was promoted full Lieutenant in January 1918, then transferred to the Army MGC in the same month. The former RNACD now redeployed via Mesopotamia to Baku as part of ‘Dunsterforce’, charged with securing the oil-rich Caspian region from Soviet and Turkish occupation.  Benson eventually reached the rank of Captain by the end of the war.

Post-war Benson returned to Canada and by the early 1920s was living at Qualicum Beach, Vancouver. He worked initially for the Government, then for a major timber company. He died in November 1938 in a drowning accident. He was 54.

The British Newspaper Archive - (5)


Perrett, Bryan, and Anthony Lord. The Czar’s British Squadron. London: Kimber, 1981. Print.Czars

Bewdley Men on the Somme II

Lance Corporal George Reginald STYLESstyles KT 11 11 16 p8

16th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment 450

Killed in action Sunday 3rd September 1916

Lance Corporal Styles is one of the four Bewdley men to serve with the Birmingham ‘Pals’ battalions of the 14th, 15th and 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

George Reginald Styles was born in Peterborough, Northamptonshire on the 18th May 1893. He was the son of Bewdley–born George Henry Styles and Martha Ada Styles (formerly Shiers), who was from the Peterborough village of Eye Green. George Henry’s trade was a clothier, and the family lived at 9 Lincoln Road in the city. The couple’s daughter Winifred was born in 1894, but by 1901, the Styles family have returned to Bewdley, and live at 74 Load Street where George Henry is a fruiterer. The couple also have an infant son Herbert, born in 1901. In 1911, George is an apprentice golf equipment manufacturer, and the family home is now 6, Lower Park, Bewdley.

By the time of the outbreak of war in 1914, George Reginald Styles was working as a foreman in Simpsons Seed Merchants in Birmingham.[i] He enlisted in Aston, and his low regimental number is evidence of his being a very early volunteer to the 16th Battalion. His platoon is pictured in the ‘Birmingham Battalions Book of Honour’, where he is a private in 5th platoon under Lieutenant Neville Yardley, part of ‘B’ Company commanded by Captain Grahame Deakin.

Styles served in the same unit as Lance-Corporal Charles Minton (see above), and was killed in action during hand to hand fighting for the seizure of the fortified farmhouse of Falfemont near Guillemont on or around the 3rd September 1916.

On the evening of 31st August 1916, 15th Brigade relieved 13th Brigade in the front line, occupying trenches dug by their comrades in the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On the 1st September, the 16th Battalion dug assembly trenches in front of the German strong-point of Falfemont Farm in preparation for the imminent attack, designed to seize the spur of Somme countryside that overlooked the German held village of Combles, marked by the site of Leuze (or ‘Lousy’) Wood. In addition to this, on the evening of the 1st September, the 16th Battalion staged a reconnaissance by 2 patrols of 18 men, which succeeded in attracting machine gunfire, wounding the officer in command, Lt. J Hughes, and resulting in 2 men missing.

On the morning of the 2nd September, a British artillery bombardment opened up in preparation for the attack. This attracted German retaliation, and in a day of continual artillery bombardment, the 16th Royal Warwicks suffered 30 casualties, before being relieved in the evening by the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers. By 3am in the morning of the 3rd September, they were back in support in Casement Trench.

After the attack on Falfemont Farm by the 14th and 15th Battalions of 13th Brigade, (as described in the entry on JB Smith),  the 16th Battalion were deployed on the evening of the 3rd September, in close support by Angle Wood . On the 4th, the 1st Norfolks renewed the attack, suffering heavily from machine gun fire. A and D companies of the 16th were ordered up to help the Norfolks, moving from shell hole to shell hole under heavy fire. As darkness fell the 16th were digging in on the southeastern edge of the farm, digging trenches or ‘saps’ towards the German positions. On the morning of the 5th September, these saps were used in the final assault on Falfemont Farm which fell after heavy hand to hand fighting. That night, the 16th Royal Warwicks were relieved by troops from the 16th (Irish) Division.[i]

Given the intensity of the fighting, exact dates for the loss of specific soldiers are difficult to establish, with some sources giving a blanket date of the 3rd September 1916 for casualties killed on the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Between 31st August and 5th September, the 16th lost 61 men killed and 195 wounded.One of these was the 24-year-old George Reginald Styles, who was buried in Delville Wood Cemetery, grave XXV. K 7. he is also commemorated on his parent’s grave in Ribbesford churchyard. [ii]

[i]  Carter pp. 207-8

[i]  Kidderminster Shuttle 14th October 1916 page 8.

[ii]  ‘In loving memory of / George Henry Styles / who died August 7th 1924 / Aged 54 / Resting In Peace / Also George Reginald / Son of the above / killed in the Great War / September 3rd 1916 Aged 23 / Greater love hath no man than this / Also Martha Ada wife of  / George Henry Styles / who fell asleep November 2nd 1935 / aged 67 / until the morning without clouds’. Henry and Martha Styles lived at Rose Villa, Wyre Hill, Bewdley in the mid-1920s.




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