2. Vicar's Great War magazine
4. Decorated servicemen
5. When the guns fell silent
6. Village life during the war
7. Population and enlistment
8. Children during the war
9. Women during the war
10. Sweetheart cards
1914 - 1918
BENSON IN THE GREAT WAR
The Bensington Society History Group carried out the research presented on this page, during 2014, for the centenary of the start of the Great War.
This research is continuing and more material will be added as it becomes available.
1. BENSON'S CASUALTIES IN THE GREAT WAR
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from the list for
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Researched by the authors of Benson Book of Remembrance : Alastair Jack, William Burtt and Don Fletcher, and members of the Bensington Society
MEN FROM THE BENSON AREA
WHO LOST THEIR LIVES
*No name on war memorial.
Names of those who gave their lives in the Great War, carved on the War Memorial.
BENSON WAR MEMORIAL UNVEILED IN 1920, funded by local subscribers
2. THE REV. FIELD'S GREAT WAR PARISH MAGAZINE
The Rev. J.E. Field, Vicar of St. Helen’s (1881-1922), produced a monthly parish magazine which in some ways was a precursor of ‘The Benson Bulletin’. During the period of the 1914-1918 war it provided the inhabitants of Benson with information, amongst other matters, about those members of the parish in active service. Click here to read more details
4. BENSON'S DECORATED SERVICEMEN OF THE GREAT WAR
The following men with Benson connections were all
decorated for valour & gallantry during the Great War
Harold Howard Alder MM
Was born in Benson in 1890, the son of John & Ellen Alder of Rokemarsh. Harold joined the Army as a youngster and served in a newly formed Wireless Telegraph Company. He married in 1915 when he was also promoted sergeant. His award of the Military Medal (MM) in June 1917 was for “conspicuous gallantry in the field”.
Harold Alder survived the war and made a career as a Telegraph Inspector, travelling to Africa many times in the course of his work.
Frederick Whicker G Whichello MM
Was born in 1892 in Benson, the son of Walter Whichello, the butcher in Brook St, and brother to Richard Whichello, the Royal Marine who was the first Benson casualty of the war. Frederick moved to London to board with his married elder sister and in 1911 was himself a butcher in Stoke Newington.
During the war he was in the Royal Field Artillery, serving as a sergeant in Salonika with C Battery, 99 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for gallantry in 1919.
Frederick Whichello survived the war, and lived to the ripe old age of 85.
Rev William Gaisford Burgis MC BA
William Gaisford Burgis was born in Benson in 1881, the son of John & Marie Burgis, a grocer in High St, Benson. William was an assistant in a chemist's shop in Barnet in 1901, but by 1911 he had become a clergyman in South Shields, Durham.
William joined the Army as a Chaplain and was posted to Egypt in 1916, serving in Mesopotamia, where he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for valour. After the war, Willam Burgis returned to the Church, becoming a village vicar in Staffordshire, where he died in 1951 aged 70.
John Bridcutt was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in June 1917 whilst leading the 7th Bedfords as acting Major. He was killed in action on 1st October 1918.
Joseph Baker MC
Henry Joseph Baker was born in Benson in 1894, his family running a drapers shop in the High St. Before the war Joe Baker also entered the trade, but through the war he served in the Royal Field Artillery, being promoted from sergeant to lieutenant in March 1916 when the unit went to France and winning the Military Cross in November 1916 for “conspicuous gallantry in action”. He survived the war.
Sgt James Green MM
Charles James Green was born in Benson in 1891 & lived in Brook St. He was a regular soldier in the 1st Ox & Bucks, serving in Mesopotamia in 1917/1918. He was mentioned in dispatches twice, on 2nd Nov 1917 and on 15th April 1918. On 7th March 1918 he was awarded the MM for gallantry, having led a patrol of Lewis gunners round the flank of a Turkish MG post and put it out of action before the battalion advanced. Click here to see a certificate presented to him by the village of Benson.
Herbert Frederick Lewen Tugwell MC
Known as Steve to his friends, Herbert Tugwell was born in 1897, the son of Bishop Herbert Tugwell (Bishop of Equitorial West Africa). Herbert was a nephew of William Dines of Observatory House in Benson.
Lt Tugwell served in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was sent to France in May 1917 aged 19, where he was awarded the Military Cross for valour.
Herbert Tugwell survived the war, lived in India for some time serving apparently in the Indian Army on the NW Frontier and married twice. His father – Bishop Tugwell – is buried in St Helen's Churchyard
Ben Pick MM
Ben Pick was born in Notts in 1881, was a regular soldier in the Royal Engineers pre-war and went to France in August 1914. He served in the REs for over 12 years, winning the Military Medal for gallantry at Cambrai. Ben survived the war, and in 1922 Sgt Ben Pick enlisted in the Territorial Army with the new Field Artillery unit under Captain Hatt whilst working as a builder in Benson. Ben & his wife Lizzie kept the Horse & Harrow in Rokemarsh for a while, but sadly Ben died at the early age of 52 in 1933. His son, Ben Michael Pick served in the RAF in WW2 and was killed in 1942.
Sir Francis Weatherby MC
Francis Weatherby was born in 1885 in Surrey, a son of a wealthy publishing family. Educated at Winchester, he served locally in the Yeomanry with the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars. He went to France in Sept 1914 with his unit, but also served in the Intelligence Corps. Captain Weatherby was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 for his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”
After the war, he lived mainly in London, becoming Secretary of the Jockey Club in 1930, a role much played by members of the Weatherby family. He was knighted in 1953 and died in November 1968
Albert Wells MM
Albert Wells was born in Littleworth in 1899 and served as a bugler with the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars, a yeomanry regiment. He was awarded the Military Medal in 1918 for “carrying a wounded officer off the field under heavy fire”.
Arthur Phillips MM
Arthur Phillips was born in Benson in 1893 and worked as a farm labourer at Battle Farm in Crowmarsh. He served as a Private in the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. He was killed in action in 1917.
Frederick Ovenell /Walton DCM
Frederick Ovenell was born in Oxford in 1881, the son of Henry & Lavinia Ovenell. It is recorded that his father was the temporary lock keeper at Benson during the war, and that Frederick won the DCM for gallantry whilst serving in the RGA. It is now believed that he won the award whilst serving under the name of Walton.
RESEARCH BY DAVE RUSHTON FOR THE BENSINGTON SOCIETY HISTORY GROUP
5. WHEN THE GUNS FELL SILENT
During 2018, members of the Bensington Society History Group continued with their research into the lives of those who served in the Great War. The results were presented as an exhibition which commemorated the centenery of the end of the war. The research is continuing and more material will be added as it becomes available.
Click on a name to read details of each individual.
6. BENSON VILLAGE LIFE DURING THE GREAT WAR
There were many changes to village life during the war, not least because the women came to the fore. As men from the farms, the shops, small businesses and the postman left the village to fight, they were replaced by women. Some of the younger women went away to work in munitions, the nearest munitions factory being in Banbury. Benson was also affected by much austerity and sadness. As the war continued there were increasing numbers of small cards with crosses or bows of black velvet attached, and with a photograph of the soldier or sailor of the family who had been killed in action, placed in windows where passers-by could see them and perhaps knock on the door to express condolences.
A sense of patriotism increased as the war continued. The National Anthem was sung at many village events, the indoor events usually being held in the school. At concerts, songs such as ‘Tipperary’, and ‘Your King and Country Want You’ were sung, and finished with ‘O God Our Help in Ages Past’. At the school, assemblies were held around the flagpole flying the Union Jack with the singing of the National Anthem. Many concerts, magic lantern shows, garden fêtes and church collections were held in aid of wartime charities, and increasingly as the war went on, in aid of the British Red Cross. There were Red Cross hospitals nearby at Swyncombe, Woodcote and Burcot, and funds were often donated to them. As time went on some of the wounded soldiers, particularly from the Swyncombe hospital, came to village events. A fête at Crowmarsh Battle Farm featured ‘songs by several ladies interspersed with children’s songs and dances. A bountiful tea followed after which there were various amusements. The occasion attracted a large attendance from the village and about twenty wounded soldiers’.
From time to time Belgian refugees stayed in the village. There was one young couple who had had to escape from Antwerp on their wedding day. On arriving in this country they were housed in Benson and asked if they could get married here. The banns were read and, as the young couple couldn’t understand much English, the Rev’d Field rose to the occasion and read parts of the service in Flemish!
It wasn’t until early in 1917 that the Soldiers and Sailors Help Society was set up in the village. A Mrs Stevenson was appointed to be the ‘friend’ on behalf of this association and when discharged, Benson soldiers and sailors in need of help applied to her.
Benson men fighting for their country were always in the minds of the villagers. At Harvest Thanksgiving quantities of vegetables were brought to the church and sent through the Vegetable Products Committee for the sailors ‘of our Fleet’. The Needlework Guild was very active and by the end of the war had made 2,973 garments including vests, ward-suits, socks, scarves and other ‘comforts’ which were sent to the French War Emergency Fund, Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, the British Red Cross, the Friends’ War Victims Relief Committee as well as Benson men on active service.
7. BENSON POPULATION AND EMPLOYMENT IN THE GREAT WAR
In 1914 Benson village was much smaller than it is now, both in extent and in population. The main A4074 Shillingford to Wallingford road, St Helens Avenue and RAF Benson had not been built, and the main road to Henley was a continuation of Old London Road across what is now the airfield.
Benson (including Roke, Rokemarsh, Preston Crowmarsh and Turners Court) had a population of 979 people at the 1911 census compared to about 4,500 now. Interestingly the population in 1811 was about 900, i.e. there had been relatively little change over a hundred years.
Of the 979 people there were 312 men in employment and the type of work was dominated by those in agriculture (140 or so), followed by gardening (30) building trades (40), retail (40). This distribution of occupations was similar to that found in the early 1800s.
We cannot know precisely but from the records of the time we believe about 160 men who were living in or were associated with the Parish enlisted during the period 1914-1918. The majority joined up as volunteers in the early part of the war, but some were undoubtedly subject to conscription after 1916. Over the 1914-1918 period a high fraction of the 200 or so men who were between 18 and 41 years joined the armed forces; certainly over half of the eligible men – possibly as high as three quarters. Such a large fraction of the men in the village leaving must have had a major impact on the village, which is detailed elsewhere. Of the 160 men who enlisted we know 31 were killed, the majority in the last two years of the war.
In 1914 Benson was dominated by farms. There were three farms with farm buildings on Brook Street alone. The village was ‘surrounded’ by farmland with a complex inter-linkage of fields. A farm might have fields spread over different parts of the farmland around the village. Of the nine farms associated with the village only one was owned by the farmer, two were owned by an Oxford College and the remainder were leased from private individuals. Many of the farms had cottages for the workforce associated with them.
Working in agriculture was the major occupation in the village (140 out of 312 men in work); the majority were farm labourers. Of the 140 people in agriculture, only 23 were not from Oxfordshire or Berkshire and approximately a third of the people were originally from Benson Parish. So we have a village dominated by people working on the land who were mainly brought up locally. In this part of Oxfordshire cereal crops dominated the land usage but about 30% of the land was given to pasture.
Wages for farm labourers in Oxfordshire were the lowest in the country; 14s 11d a week for a farm labourer, whereas in Suffolk it was 15s 9d. This was potentially significant given that in 1914 a loaf of bread cost 1.2p, a pint of milk as 0.7p and a dozen eggs were 7.9p. Horsemen were more highly paid (17s a week) but were still paid less than elsewhere.
For a farm labourer the hours on the farm were usually 7:00 to 15:00 with half an hour for lunch,). A typical day for a horseman was as follows: 05:00 tend to horses; 07:00 Work in Field; 12:00 ½ hour break; and 15:00 stop tend to horses. By tradition 17:00 – 18:00 was spent on the allotments (there were 4500 acres in allotments in Oxfordshire)
Of the 140 men working on farms in the Parish it is likely that approximately 50-60 joined the armed forces. This left a depleted workforce dominated by people over 40 years old rather than a workforce with the majority of men under 40. There is evidence that farmers had to recruit new workers, particularly in 1914/1915 when so many people volunteered. At Crowmarsh Battle Farm over the period 1914-1918 we know that two of the cowman volunteered and that new workers were recruited. During the period 1914-1918 it is interesting that out of a workforce of four, three sons went from ‘apprentices’ to full labourers (as indicated by their salaries) and subsequently two of the three went away to war (in 1917 and 1918).
8. BENSON CHILDREN DURING THE GREAT WAR
The children of Benson played their part in the war effort. At school they were all required to knit, much to the disgust of the boys who considered this to be ‘cissie’. Balaclavas, socks, scarves and jerseys were all made in khaki-coloured wool. School children were given time off from school, on the recommendation of the County Education Committee, to pick blackberries for the Food Production Department of the War Office. By the end of the war, the children of Benson School had collected 757lbs of blackberries, all collected within the distant outskirts of the parish or in neighbouring parishes. These were sent to be made into jam for the soldiers at the front. They put on many entertainments to raise money for war time charities, particularly the British Red Cross. They sang and danced, acted out fairy tales and performed tableaux of those serving in the war with miniature soldiers and Red Cross nurses.
With a much reduced agricultural labour force, children were given special leave from school to help in the fields. Reduced labour also meant they had to help out in their own family businesses. Frank West was aged between seven and eleven during the war years and he described helping his father with some of the jobs in their building and decorating firm, the nastiest being the emptying of cesspits. Water closets had started to replace earth closets, and these drained into pits which had to be emptied. With the workmen away it was left to father and son to do the pumping and the removal of the filled tank. When his father was finally called up in 1918, Frank had to do other chores to help his mother keep the business going. He would cycle to collect supplies from Champions in Wallingford, being there when they opened at eight o’clock. He then cycled back to Benson, delivered the supplies and then turned back again to cycle to Wallingford Grammar School for the start of school at nine o’clock!
Being protected from many of the stresses and anxieties of the war, the children enjoyed occasional excitements. There was a time when 49 school children (out of about 150) played truant because of an impending visit by troops to the village and, in 1916, official leave was given to them to attend the presentation to an ex-pupil, Joey Baker, winner of the MC. An occasional convoy of large, solid-tyred army lorries caused much scampering to vantage points to watch and, if they carried soldiers, to cheer with excitable enthusiasm. George Gurney recalled seeing “a battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry marching through the village on their way to Tilbury. The officers were on horseback – they sometimes took their own horses to war with them. With the column was a cook-wagon with a fire and a stovepipe, the cooks cooking as they went along.”
Towards the end of the war an aeroplane came down in a field between Shillingford and Dorchester. It was a bi-plane, later identified as a DeHavilland One. The sight attracted such large crowds that the plane had a policeman on guard to protect it.
Apart from this, life for the children in Benson carried on as normal. School attendance was good, they still had their school and Sunday school treats, the Girls Club and Boy Scouts, their cricket matches and outdoor play.
Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Emblem
9. WOMEN IN THE GREAT WAR
The local men who had been called to serve in the war would have been sadly missed by the women. During the war a Womens’ Land Army was formed, which undertook agriculture needs such as milking the cows, ploughing the fields and other forestry needs. In peace time women and children would have been used to working in the fields during harvest time, but during the war they would have to cope on their own by taking over the men’s work. Harvest time would have been particularly busy, the village would have been practically empty as everyone helped in the fields, cutting and carrying corn.
During the war, women were now the main source of labour. Their roles changed from staying at home to taking over roles in industry, in the manufacturing of equipment in factories. They also worked in the manufacture of explosives needed at the front. In all 195.7 million shells were made up to 1918. They women proudly wore lapel badges ‘On War Service’. Women relaxed by playing in factory football teams. Women became police officers to replace the men at the front.
Working class women did not drive cars but during the war 2,600 women drove tramcars, railway engines and ambulances taking expatriated wounded men to hospital. Many women became nurses to the wounded soldiers, they gave medication, treated injuries and wrote letters for the blind.
For the wealthy families charity work became an important part of the war effort, raising funds and providing Nursing homes for the officers. Penny flag days became popular. Women had no vote, so no right to be politically active. A white feather campaign was started, to shame men who had not enlisted. Sometimes they were wounded, ill or under age. Later these men were given blue uniforms to wear. Wives were entitled to a separation allowance of 12s 6d a week. A wife and one child received 17s 6d a week.
One of the Benson women who had to take on the man’s role during the war was Alice Moffatt. Her husband Henry James Moffatt was the Benson Lock and Weir Keeper from 1905-1926. He was born in 1880 and served in the Boer war from 1899 to 1902. On his return he started with Thames Conservancy as an Assistant Lock Keeper at Teddington. He moved to the old Lock Keepers house in Benson with his wife in 1905, where Jack, Phyllis and Alex were born. They moved to the new Lock Keepers House which was rebuilt after a fire in 1913 where Ernie (1913) and Vic (1920 ) were born.
Henry was away throughout the Great War serving in France in the Artillery. Alice with a baby and three other children was left alone on the remote island to run the lock and bring up the children. Henry returned after the war but his health had been badly affected. In January 1926 he caught a cold while working on the weir on a cold wet night, pneumonia and pleurisy followed and he died a few days later at the age of 45. His coffin, covered with the Thames Conservancy ensign was taken along the river by steam launch. Henry is buried in St. Helens Churchyard, Benson. Alice and the children later moved to nearby Preston Crowmarsh. Click here to read more.
Benson Soup Kitchen.
George Gurney remembered during the First World War a soup kitchen in Benson run by a Mrs Pelham who lived next to the Limes. She made soup in a wash copper. The children could buy a cup of soup and the adults would go with a jug.
There were food shortages and coal shortages. The armies in France and Belgium needed food. It was a very cold winter. Food could not be wasted everything was rationed
10. SWEETHEART CARDS
These silk postcards were a very important souvenir for soldiers in WW1. They were produced in small numbers before the war, but gained popularity in 1915 and the locals in France and Belgium rapidly understood the sales potential.
Sweetheart card sent by a soldier serving in France in May 1919.
Each one was made by a growing cottage industry, in which mostly women embroidered intricate designs by hand onto strips of silk mesh, and these were then sent to a factory where they were mounted as postcards/greetings cards. There was a wide range on offer, including ones that showed regimental crests.
It is estimated that as many as 10 million were produced, despite the fact that they were expensive. A single card could cost three days pay for the average soldier.
The Benson Troop of Horse Yeomanry "at ease". Captain Richard Charles Hatt of Ewelme and Hale Farm joined the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars as a trooper in 1901 and achieved the rank of Captain in 1914. Click here for more details.
Crown Square, Benson, photographed in 1917, twenty years before the airfield was built, with road sign pointing to Henley and London (via Old London Road)