Return of medals brings links to family, war story
The return of a lost uncle’s war medals was an emotional moment for Alexandra man Paul Bennett.
It also highlighted a famous World War 2 action which resulted in the awarding of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry.
The Memorial Cross — a medal given to the wives and mothers of servicemen who died during World War 2 — was reportedly discovered in a market in Queensland.
It recognised a New Zealand serviceman, Flight Sergeant Arthur Bennett, and Medals Reunited New Zealand founder Ian Martyn was engaged to verify its authenticity and track down relatives to which it could be returned.
Other medals identical to those awarded to Flt Sgt Bennett were also sourced to complete a set for the family.
The search eventually led Mr Martyn to Alexandra, and Mr Bennett, a nephew.
Having grown up without knowing one side of his family, Mr Bennett had had some gaps in his history filled in by the discovery — and return — of the medals.
“You know, it’s huge,” Mr Bennett said.
While he could not turn the clock back, it was a tangible link to his father, uncle and wider family he did not know.
In 1941, Arthur Bennett enlisted as a cadet in the Royal Air Force, training in Canada.
He qualified as an air gunner a year later and was promoted to flight sergeant the same day.
Shortly after, he was posted to West Africa as a wireless operator-air gunner in 200 Squadron, an RAF Coastal Command unit conducting anti-submarine patrols along the Ivory Coast.
Flt Sgt Bennett completed 51 operations in Lockheed Hudsons before the squadron moved to a heavier bomber, the B-24 Liberator, in 1943.
The first flight in the Liberator was to be his last.
On August 11, Flt Sgt Bennett and seven other airmen perished during an attack on U-468, a surfaced German submarine, 386km off Dakar.
The Liberator, flown by New Zealander Flying Officer Lloyd Trigg, dived towards the submarine, sustaining catastrophic damage from enemy fire directly into the plane’s bomb bay.
Undeterred, Flg Offr Trigg continued his attack, releasing depth charges on to the submarine with devastating effect, before his aircraft crashed into the sea.
Twenty enemy crew initially survived; however, after a night in shark-infested waters, only six remained — relatively safe in an RAF inflatable dinghy salvaged from the wreckage of the Liberator. They were rescued by HMS Clarkia.
Flg Offr Trigg was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the only serviceman to have been bestowed the medal on the “recommendation” of an enemy.
It was based on the testimony of U-468 captain Klemens Schamong, who decades later recalled Flg Offr Trigg as a “gallant fighter”.
None of the other Liberator crew was recognised in the same way.
– Shannon Thomson (West Otago News)
NOTE: The full story of F/Sgt Arthur Bennett’s last operation and the return of his medals will be published in a separate post in the near future.