Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

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Major H. J. (JACK) BENNETT

SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 23 JUNE, 1917. 6265

War Office, 23rd June, 1917. TERRITORIAL FORCE. INFANTRY. Oxford, and Bucks. L.I.

Lt. (temp.) (acting Maj.) H. J. Bennett to be Lt. (actg. Maj.), with precedence as from 1st June 1916. 24th June 1917.

Lt. (actg. Maj.) H. J. Bennett to be Capt. (actg. Maj.), with precedence as from 1st June 1916, next below Capt. A. K. Gibson. 24th June 1917.

Captain H. J. Bennett posted to the Battalion as second in command in place of Major W. L. Ruthven.

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

19th August 1916

At 10 p.m. on August 19 a raid upon the German trenches near the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was carried out by A Company. The raid was part of an elaborate scheme in which the Australians upon the left and the 2/5th Gloucesters on our own front co-operated. The leading bombing party, which Bennett sent forward under Sergeant Hinton, quickly succeeded in reaching the German parapet and was doing well, when a Mills bomb, dropped or inaccurately thrown, fell amongst the men. The plan was spoilt. A miniature panic ensued, which Bennett and his Sergeant-Major found it difficult to check. As in many raids, a message to retire was passed [1]. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.

Late August 1916

Two original officers of the 2/4th, Jack Bennett and Hugh Davenport, commanded A and B Companies respectively.

20th November 1916

At Albert, Bennett was taken from A Company to act as Second in Command of the Berks.

Late December 1916

Colonel Bellamy went on leave, and Bennett, amid many offers to accompany him as batman, departed for three months’ instruction at Aldershot as a senior officer.

7th April 1917

The weather cleared, and at 11 a.m. on the 7th I was allowed to return to my version of Montolu Wood. On the same day the Battalion was relieved by the Bucks and marched back through Soyécourt to Caulaincourt. There we found Bennett, who had come from the Aldershot course to be Second in Command. The château grounds were quieter than before, for our guns had now moved further up towards the line.

26th April 1917

During the morning of April 26 I was sent for by the Colonel. I found Headquarters in their new position, an oblong greenhouse over whose frame, destitute of glass, was stretched a large ‘trench shelter.’ They had passed a shell-ridden night. Bennett just now had narrowly eluded a 5.9. This morning shells were falling as usual in Holnon, and pieces occasionally came humming down to earth close by.

Late October / Early November 1917

Another feature of this period was a Brigade school, with Bennett as its commandant, at Arras. A week’s course was held for each platoon in the Brigade. The school was well run and partly recompensed for the lack of training during the long tours in the trenches.

Late December 1917

Huts, built by the French but vacated more than a year ago and now very dilapidated, formed the accommodation. In them Christmas dinners, to procure which Bennett had proceeded early from the line, were eaten. And O’Meara conducted the Brigade band.

21st March 1918

When the attack was known to have commenced, all transport, quartermasters’ stores, and men left out of the line were ordered back to Ugny, where Bennett as senior Major present formed all our divisional details into a composite Battalion some 900 strong.

22nd March 1918

As March 22 lengthened out, the tide of battle rolled nearer and nearer towards Ugny, above which air fighting at only a few hundred feet from the ground was taking place. At 7 p.m. Bennett had orders to move his men westwards across the Somme. Soon afterwards a runner came post-haste. He told of the fighting on the Beauvoir line; the intrepid General had been wounded in the head while with his shrapnel helmet in his hand he waved encouragement to his men. Colonel Wetherall had already started on the way to Languevoisin but was caught up at Matigny. He the same night (22nd) regained the Beauvoir line and took command of the Brigade. As we have seen, he moved back with the Brigade on the next day.

23rd March 1918

After the battle for the Beauvoir Line the 184th Infantry Brigade was ordered back to Nesle. At Languevoisin on March 23 we find the relics of the 2/4th Oxfords under the command of Major Bennett, who with a force including other members of the Battalion had been providing rearguards at the crossings of the Somme.

Further developments soon diverted Bennett’s force, whose fortunes we are following. At Matigny he was ordered by the Major-General with half his force to guard the Offoy bridgehead and with the other half to hold Voyennes. The Offoy garrison was despatched under Moberly, who was commanding the details of the 184th Brigade, including a hundred Oxfords. Moberly’s force comprised many administrative personnel. ‘What your men lack in numbers they must make up in courage,’ was the Major-General’s encouragement.

24th / 25th March 1918

On the same day of which I was last speaking–March 24–the 184th Brigade, minus those Oxfords who were in action with the 20th Division, though sadly wasted in numbers, formed up again to make a stand. Colonel Wetherall, the acting Brigadier, had received orders to hold the line of the Canal east and south east of Nesle. On the left of this line stood the Oxfords under Bennett, 200 Berks under Willink were in the centre, while the Gloucesters, about 120 strong under Colonel Lawson, guarded the right. At 11 a.m. on March 25 the enemy attacked. As often during these days, when a line was held solidly in one place, it broke elsewhere. By noon the enemy had captured Nesle, and the left flank of the Brigade was turned. During the fight Colonel Wetherall was wounded in the neck by a piece of shell and owed his life to the Brigade Major, Howitt, who held the arteries.

27th / 28th March 1918

Suddenly moved at midnight of March 27/28 by lorries.

The lorries made towards Amiens, and it appeared that the battered relics of the Brigade were being withdrawn. The belief was disappointed. At Villers Bretonneux Bennett received orders from a staff officer to go to Marcelçave, where the 61st Division was being concentrated for a

counter-attack at dawn against the village of La Motte. In the darkness the route was missed and the convoy drove straight into our front line. Marcelçave was reached eventually, but so late that a dawn attack was impossible. At 10 a.m. on March 28 the forlorn enterprise, in which the 183rd Brigade, the Gloucesters, and the Berks shared, was launched from the station yard. The troops were footsore, sleepless, and unfed. They were mostly men from regimental employ–pioneers, clerks, storemen—to send whom forward across strange country to drive the enemy from the village he had seized on the important Amiens-St. Quentin road was a mockery. Such efforts at counter-attack resulted in more and more ground being lost. Still, the men staggered forward bravely, to come almost at once under fierce enfilade machine-gun fire. The losses were heavy. Craddock, a young officer now serving under Bennett, moved about among the men, encouraging them by his example of coolness and gallantry.

When 350 yards short of La Motte the advance was driven to take cover. It was useless to press on; in fact, already there was real danger of being surrounded. Bennett, whose leadership throughout was excellent, with difficulty extricated his men by doubling them in two’s across the open. Towards evening those that got back were placed in trenches outside Marcelçave.

By now that village was being severely shelled and bombed, and in danger of becoming surrounded by the enemy. Soon after dark it was attacked in earnest. Bennett stayed too long in Marcelçave attempting to get news of the situation and some orders. Brigade Headquarters had in fact already left, before Bennett, instead of returning to his former headquarters, decided to join his men in the trenches before the village. Those trenches were no longer being fought for. Near the railway bridge he ran straight into the enemy as they swarmed towards the village and was captured.

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918

Name: H J Bennett
Rank: Major
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 30 Mar 1918
Repatriation Date: Dec 1918
Record Number: 2918
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

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