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

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