SAMUEL JOHN BENNETT, M.C. ~ WW1 medals STOLEN in Rotorua found and reunited !

55752 – SAMUEL JOHN BENNETT, M.C.    

On 31 January 2017 I posted a STOLEN MEDALS request  for the medals of Samuel John Bennett. M.C. on MRNZ’s Website and Facebook Page – the medals were found two weeks ago and have now been reunited with their owner.

Andrew & Karen Bennett’s house Rotorua was burgled sometime between December 2016 and January 2017 and aside from other items taken, a set of very important family taonga, war medals, was stolen.  Karen had posted their losses on Facebook where I had first spotted them, with a picture of the medals.  Shortly afterwards Andrew’s brother Graeme from  Auckland made contact with me and requested I list the medals – I placed a perpetual listing on the MISSING IN ACTION page, and MRNZ Facebook page, and a ‘Stolen’ notice on the MRNZ website.

The missing medals were:

  • WW1 – Military Cross (English issue, named and dated)
  • WW1 – 1914-15 Star (named)
  • WW1 – British War Medal, 1914-1918
  • WW1 – Victory Medal (named)
  • WW2 – Defence Medal (un-named)

Last Tuesday I received a call from Lois Ion the owner/manager of ‘Stamps and Coins’ in Rotorua.  Lois related to me a gentleman had just come into her shop and produced the missing medals saying that he had found them under the deck of his house.  The finder, Tuhei (Tu) Ratapu, knew that what he had found was important since there was a silver cross with a white and purple ribbon so he thought someone must be missing them.  Tu became even more concerned when he saw the name “BENNETT” on the back of one of the medals.  Tu said he had immediately thought of one of New Zealand’s most famous WW2 soldiers, Lt Col. Charles Moihi Bennett of 28 Maori Battalion fame, and so immediately took the medals to someone he believed would know what to do with them – he gave them to Lois at “Stamps and Coins”. 

When Lois inspected the name on the medals she saw that the medals were named to: 55752 WO. CL.1. S.J. BENNETT 19th CDN. INF. BN. CEF.  These markings indicated that the named soldier was – Warrant Officer Class 1 Samuel John Bennett, 19th Canadian Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.  The silver cross with the white and purple ribbon was an award for an outstanding service whilst on active service  – the Military Cross.

Lois had recalled seeing the name “Bennett” posted on the MISSING IN ACTION page of the MRNZ website and called me to say the medals had been found and handed to her.  I recalled posting the Bennett medals on my website as there had also been other memorable items stolen with the medals – a named rimu box containing the ashes of the Bennett’s pet cat “Milo” (Boodle) as well as some sentimental watches and a collection of old Egyptian and Canadian coins that had belonged to Samuel Bennett during his service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WW1.  Regrettably Tu did not find any of these other items with the medals.   Lois duly sent the medals to me for verification, to check the authenticity and for damage etc and once done, I rang the Bennett family to pass on the good news.  These medals were indeed important since the person they had been awarded to was Andrew & Graeme Bennett’s grandfather who had gone to Canada from England and enlisted.  

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6th East Surrey Regiment

Pte. Samuel John Bennett – East Surrey Regt., c1908

Samuel John Bennett  (known as Jack) was an Englishman, born at Richmond in Surrey on 25 October 1885, the second of seven children of George Theophilus Bennett, a bricklayer, and Sarah Tryphena TILLEY, shop assistant. Jack Bennett , like his father, also became a bricklayer working together when in October 1902 on his 17th birthday, Jack joined the local Army volunteers for part-time (Territorial) service. 

He was enlisted as a Bugler with the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, East Surrey Regiment and was described as: 5’9’’in height, dark complexion, with dark brown hair.  Bugler Samuel John Bennett spent the next seven years and four months ‘blowing his horn’ for the 3rd Bn. completing his contract of service obligations.  At 23 years of age he re-attested in February 1908 for a further two years of service, but this time as a regular Infantry soldier in the 6th East Surrey Regiment with whom he remained until June 1910.  

A regular soldier had not only status but a regular income.  For 6138120 Private Samuel John Bennett, 1908 was to be a significant year for two other reasons – first he married Alice Sophia Lydia HUNT on 25 Jan and established a home at 11 Eton St, Richmond.  The second significant event that year was the birth of the Bennett’s first born of two sons – John William George Bennett in November, and his brother Charles Edward Bennett followed in Feb 1910.

After completing the two years  with the 6th East Surrey Regt. Pte. Samuel Bennett became a civilian again for the next 11 months whilst he took time to be with his new wife and sons.  Jack and Alice no doubt also would likely have weighed up the pros and cons of him serving in the military at home or with the Canadians ? – perhaps it would help facilitate their migration after the impending war; maybe the Canadians paid more, or maybe there was a family historical connection?  It is unlikely we will ever know the actual reason Jack Bennett enlisted in Canada however we do know that as soon as war had been declared by Britain, the participant Commonwealth countries were all recruiting furiously and it made little difference which Commonwealth country a man enlisted with.

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91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders)

25 year old Samuel Bennett went to Canada in early 1911 and established himself at 103 Bay Street, Hamilton, Ontario (located on the southern shores of Lake Ontario). 

Col. Sgt.  S. J. Bennett, 91st (Canadian Highlanders) Regiment – 1914

On 22 May 1911 55752 Private Samuel Bennett joined the 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders) based in Hamilton.  Although he could not have known at the time Pte. Bennett’s service with the 91st would take him overseas for nearly four and a half years where he would reach the highest rank and the most prestigious appointment that a non-commissioned soldier can aspire to, and he would be decorated for his service.

During his time with the 91st Highlanders Pte. Bennett was promoted twice: Corporal in Dec 1911, and Sergeant in Jan 1912 after he had successfully passed his First Class School Certificate.   In October 1914, 29 year old Sergeant Jack Bennett was confirmed in rank (formerly he was a militia [part-time] Sgt.), meaning he was now qualified to fulfil the duties of a Sergeant in a regular Army battalion.

On 24 October 1914 Sgt. Bennett joined the 19th Battalion and was immediately promoted to Colour Sergeant the same day ! (similar to a Staff Sergeant)    Col. Sgt. Bennett was attested for overseas service on 06 Nov 1914 with the 19th Canadian (Central Ontario) Battalion (19th CDN. BN.) of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force (CEF), for as long as the war between Germany and Great Britain endured.  His monthly rate of pay was $25.00 ($1.60 per day) and Field Allowance once in France was payable at the rate of 0.20 cents per day.

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19th Canadian Battalion (Central Ontario)

With the structure of the 2nd Canadian Division finalised, 111 infantry battalions were raised for the Canadian Expedition Force (CEF) from the province of Ontario during the First World War.  Ottawa issued the order authorizing the 19th Battalion’s mobilization on 19 Oct 1914 and placed the unit under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel (Lt-Col) John Inglis McLaren, a businessman, politician, and militia officer from Hamilton who commanded the city’s 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders).  The battalion mobilized at Toronto and recruited part of its original complement of personnel there, with the rest of the men hailing from Hamilton, Brantford, Sault Ste Marie, and St Catherine’s.  A number of militia units from these communities recruited companies of men to form the battalion, including the Queen’s Own Rifles, 48th Highlanders, 10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers), 38th Regiment, 51st Regiment (Soo Rifles), 19th (Lincoln) Regiment, 13th Royal Regiment, and the 91st Regiment (including Sgt. Bennett).  Like Lt-Col McLaren, a number of the unit’s senior officers and close to 30 per cent of its other ranks came from Hamilton, thus laying much of the foundation for the 19th Battalion’s strong association with that city and with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise’s), known as “the Argylls”, the Hamilton regiment that perpetuates its legacy to this day.

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Once fully manned the 19th Battalion went from High Park in Toronto to Montreal where they embarked for England on the SS Scandanavian on the 23rd of May, 1915 as part of Canada’s Second Contingent of units for overseas service.  One day later, the 24th of May, Col.Sgt. Jack Bennett was promoted on board to Warrant Officer Class 2 and appointed the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) of ‘D’ Company, one of the battalion’s four Rifle Company Sergeant Majors (A, B, C, D).   On arrival at Liverpool the battalion proceeded to Shorncliffe, Kent and the West Sandling training camp to train  where they would rehearse and prepare for war over the next four months.  CSM Bennett also had the opportunity to briefly return home to visit his family before leaving for for France.

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The 19th Battalion landed in Boulogne, France in Sep 1915 to begin four years of bloody war service on the European continent.  Their first action in France was the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in June 1916, followed by significant actions at:  Battle of Thiepval, Battle of Le Transloy, Battle of the Ancre Heights. 

On 28 June 1916,  CSM (WO2) Bennett attained the pinnacle of non-commission rank and appointments – he was promoted to Warrant Officer Class 1 and appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of the 19th Canadian Infantry Battalion (RSM – sometimes referred to as BSM, Battalion Sgt. Major), an appointment he retained until demobilization in 1919.

19th Battalion’s actions in 1917 – Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, and Passchendaele;  Actions in 1918 – First Battle of the Somme, Battle of Amiens, Second Battle of the Somme, Drocourt-Quéant, Battle of the Hindenburg Line, Canal du Nord, and the Pursuit to Mons, Belgium.  RSM Bennett was there for them all.

For his leadership and devotion to duty through the four years in France RSM, WO Class 1. Samuel John Bennett was awarded the Military Cross (M.C.) on 28 July 1918. (London Gazette Sup. 30716 dated 03 June 1918).  The Military Cross was usually awarded to officers however was available to WOs, but rarely awarded.  Such was RSM Bennett’s effectiveness and coolness under fire in co-ordinating and managing all ranks of the battalion throughout the four years the battalion was overseas, a high award was deemed appropriate for this warrant officer.  RSM Bennett was granted seven days leave which expired on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918.

On 05 April 1919 the 19th Battalion departed from Le Havre and crossed the channel to Camp Witley where the battalion’s medical and records administration for all ranks was completed before their return to Canada.  On 03 May leave for the battalion was granted liberally and the battalion was represented by 5 officers and 200 selected other ranks at the Empire’s Victory Parade in London.   After four years to the day since departing Montreal the 19th Battalion was going home and embarked RMS Coronia at Liverpool bound for Halifax on 14 May 1919. 

This effectively marked the disbandment of the 19th Battalion.  From mobilization in 1914 to demobilization in 1919, some 188 officers and approximately 5000 other ranks had passed through the battalion – the battalion had changed over in personnel four and a half times.  Of these 5000, casualties amounted to 3072 including 737 fatalities.   The 19th Battalion had also earned 18 Battle Honours.

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May 30th, 1919 55752  Warrant Officer Class 1 (Rtd) Samuel John Bennett, MC was discharged from Her Majesty’s Canadian Expeditionary Force on 24 May 1919 to 103 Bay Street, Hamilton Ontario.  Jack Bennett arrived at the Port of London on 10 Sep 1919 aboard the SS Tunisian to return to Surrey, to Alice and their sons at 11 Eton Street in Richmond.

Awards:   Military Cross (1918) as WO1 RSM, 1914-15 Star (as WO2, CSM), British War Medals 1914-18, Victory Medal.  Also warded the Defence Medal (1945) for WW2 home service.

Service in England:   7 years 120 days (1902-1910) – 3rd Bn., Volunteer East Surrey Regt;  6th East Surrey Regt.

Service in Canada:    3 years  183 days (1911-1915) – 91st Regt. (Canadian Highlanders); 19th Bn. (Central Ontario) Canadian Infantry Regt. 

Service Overseas:   4 years  (1915-1919) 19th Bn. 2nd Canadian Division, CEF

Total Service:   14 years 303 days (+ 4 years in East Surrey Regt. – 2nd enlistment; + WW2 service) = 20 years completed (pensionable).

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On 10 September 1919 Jack Bennett arrived at the Port of London aboard the SS Tunisian and thereafter returned to Surrey, to Alice and their sons at 11 Eton Street, Richmond.   In due course Jack to a job in the building trade, working his way up to ‘builders foreman’.  However the call of the military once more drew him into service – at 39 years 11 months of age, Jack Bennett enlisted as Territorial soldier in the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston on 23 Oct 1925, for a period of four years.  

Jack’s movements and records hereafter are very hard to find.  It is suspected he re-enlisted at the beginning of WW2 for Home Service as : D/38061 Samuel Bennett – enlisted 28 Feb 1940 – discharged 23 Mar 1941, service for which he was awarded the Defence Medal.

Alice Bennett died in 1940 aged 61 years, and Samuel John Bennett – grave location unknown.

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Reuniting the medals

Once  the medals from Lois arrived I contacted the owners who were rapt they had been handed in.  Sadly ‘Milo’s ashes, the watches and coins still remain missing but there is always hope.  Lois, who also recently experienced a theft from her shop, was very happy that at least she had been able to assist with the return someone else’s prized possessions.  The medals are now back in Lois’s hands and she will arrange a handover of the medals to Andrew and the family, hopefully with Tu and the Rotorua Daily Post in attendance – the RDP had published the original article regarding the burglary, featuring Andrews’s wife Karen – you can read he original article here: “Theft of ashes , medals devastates family – Rotorua Daily Post, Jan 2017 

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Very big UPS and thanks to Tu Ratapu for recovering the Bennett medals and passing them to Lois.  My thanks to Lois for contacting me and co-ordinating the return of the medals to a very happy family.  Karen is still desperately hoping the ashes of her beloved pet cat ‘Milo’ (Boodle) will be returned to her.

Footnote: Owner Lois Ion of “Stamps and Coins”, 1233 Tuatanekai Street, Rotorua is an MRNZ approved agent to accept medals or other military items that holders would like to have returned to family/owner.  Lois will accept these from anyone anonymously, posted anonymously, or deposited anonymously at “Stamps and Coins – NO QUESTION ASKED !

Reunited medal tally is now 157.

 

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