Private James Benison

Lincs RegPrivate James Benison

8801, 1st Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment
who died of wounds on 17th July 1916, aged 22

Remembered with honour
New Whittington Memorial
Daours Communal Cemetery Extension (I.B.6)


George Benison was born in Leicestershire but had lived on “The Blocks” at Barrow Hill with his parents and siblings since the 1860s. Their company cottage at 153, Barrow Hill, was on the row adjacent to the Zion Primitive Methodist Chapel and census records show that it was lived in by members of the Benison family from when it was first built until 1911 and beyond.

Both George and his father, Luke, worked as coal miners for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company. George married a local girl, Mary Ann Clifford, at Staveley on 13th April 1873 and their eldest son, John Thomas was born at Barrow Hill in 1874.

George and Mary Ann moved frequently and the couple’s children were born in other local mining areas; Julia at Hucknall in 1877, Hannah at Staveley in 1881 and Joseph and Mary at Langwith in 1882 and 1883 respectively. The family had returned to the Staveley area by 1885 when George Henry was born, at 104, Seymour on the 4th row of squalid colliery cottages at Woodthorpe. Two more children were born here; Harriet in 1887 and William in 1889.

The 1891 census reveals that the two-bedroomed cottage at Seymour was home to George and Mary, their eight young children and Mary’s brother who was lodging with the family. The following year, another move saw the family back at Barrow Hill where son Frank was born on 31st January 1892 and the youngest of the couple’s ten children, JAMES BENISON, in late July 1893.

Aged just 43 years old, George Benison died in early 1894 leaving his widow to bring up her children alone, most of whom were still under working age. She may have been given notice to leave the cottage at Barrow Hill which was tied to employment with the Staveley Company and, in 1901, was recorded as living at 110, South Street in New Whittington. Both Julia and John Thomas had married in 1900; Julia to Albert Harling and John Thomas to Florence Taylor. Both are listed on the 1901 Census twice; at their home addresses and also with their mother. The family was supported by son Joseph who was a coal miner and daughter Hannah who worked as a domestic servant, although Hannah herself left home when she married Thomas Binns later that year. Another child, Myra, is listed as Mary’s 1 year old daughter .

High St New Whitt

By 1911, Mary Ann had moved to 131, High Street, New Whittington. Still at home were her three youngest sons who all worked at Markham Colliery; 21 year old William was a rope-man whilst 20 year old Frank and 17 year old James were pony drivers. Myra was also still at home but is described in this later census as Mary’s granddaughter.  Married Hannah and her young son Harry were living next door at number 133, where Hannah was employed as a housekeeper to William Booth.  The other members of the family had all moved to live and work at Warsop Vale, a new village built for employees at the Warsop Main Colliery belonging to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company.

Mary Ann died less than a year before the outbreak of war and James moved to Mansfield Woodhouse to live with his eldest sister Julia who “had taken the place of a mother to him.” It was from here that he enlisted in the army for 3 years on 29th August 1914 aged 21 and 35 days. His older brother William enlisted on the same day at Chesterfield with the 7th (Service) Bn., Leicestershire Regiment (12230) but was discharged as medically unfit with eyesight problems at Aldershot just 27 days later. The following week, his brother Frank also enlisted at Chesterfield in the same battalion as William and the two brothers would have been at Aldershot together until Williams discharge.

James was initially posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment, a training unit which remained in the UK throughout the war and with which James underwent training at Grimsby.  His records reveal that he was 5’ 11 ½ “tall and weighed 163lbs. He had a fresh complexion, blue eyes and golden hair. In early 1915, he was posted as a Private to the 1st Battalion in 9th Brigade, 3rd Division and embarked for France on 17th February 1915.

James was treated in the field for a wound to his right knee on 29th March and again on 16th April for an illness. On 26th April 1915 he was admitted to hospital in Boulogne with what was suspected to be a “self-inflicted wound” and diagnosed with Neurasthenia; an illness sometimes described as “shell shock” and which is today usually termed “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” His medical records show that he was in Boulogne in June and that he was re-admitted to hospital in July when he was again diagnosed as suffering from Neurasthenia. During this time, his Battalion was in action at Bellewaarde. His sister Julia had received a card informing her that James had been wounded. Her enquiries elicited the response that “stretcher bearers said he left the nursing station suffering from wounds in the head.” On 23rd July he was transferred to a hospital ship and returned to England where he was admitted to the 4th London General Hospital suffering from “the usual Neurasthenia symptoms.” It was whilst James was in hospital that his brother Frank embarked for France.

After 25 days in the London Hospital, James was moved to the Springfield War Hospital at Tooting. On discharge on 10th September, he was posted back to the 3rd Battalion in Grimsby where he remained until March 1916. Whilst with the 3rd Battalion, his conduct sheet reveals that James received several days detention; 21 days in January 1916 for avoiding the draft and 14 days on 19th February for “breaking out of guardroom when a prisoner and absence from a draft under orders.” A memo dated 22nd February states that “A man who was invalided with a self-inflicted wound and who should have proceeded with the last draft is being sent out with the one now under orders for the (?)th bn.” A later enquiry was held to determine if James’ wound had been self-inflicted but concluded that “In the absence of any sufficient evidence no disciplinary action will be taken in this case.”

Privates George Henry Benison (28206) and Julia’s husband, Albert Harling (28205), had arrived in France with the 17th (Service) Battalion (Welbeck Rangers), Sherwood Foresters on 6th March, just a week before Frank Benison returned to England on 13th March.

James finally embarked for France for the second time on 22nd March 1916 and re-joined the 1st Battalion which was now part of 62nd Brigade, 21st Division. The following day, his brother George Henry died of wounds received on the Western Front having been in France for just 3 weeks.

The Battle of Albert is the official name for the British efforts during the first two weeks fighting of the first battle of the Somme. As such it includes the first day of the Somme, the most costly day in British military history.

On Saturday, 1st July 1916, the temperature was 72 degrees F and the sky was clear. Men from Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and many other Shires began their stroll across ‘No Man’s Land’ The 1st. 8th and 10th Lincolns towards Fricourt……

Frank Benison returned to France to re-join his battalion in the same division as James on 7th July 1916. A few days later, on Wednesday 12th July, James, was wounded in action and taken to a casualty clearing station where he died on 14th July, a few days short of his 23rd birthday.

Daours ExtJames Benison is buried at the Daours Communal Cemetery Extension. The extension to the communal cemetery was opened and the first burials made between June and November 1916.

1914 15 trioHe was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

*Harriet Benison had married Arthur Sharpe in 1909 but was widowed during the war. She re-married in 1918 and emigrated to New Zealand with her new husband and Sharpe children in 1919.

*Frank Benison survived the war having served with both the 7th Leicestershire Regiment (14274) and the Royal Defence Corps (69413). He was discharged in April 1919 but re-enlisted as Guardsman 36517 in the Grenadier Guards on 17th February 1920. He was discharged the following month on medical grounds.

*Albert Harling was discharged in 1917 and issued with a Silver War Badge.

*Cousin Joseph Benison (20742) served with 10th (Service) Battalion Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). He was killed in action on 15th September 1916.

*Cousin Jabes Benison (49593) served with the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment 

© Ann Lucas