16th (Service) Battalion, Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own)
1872, St Pancras district – 3rd September 1916, killed in action, attacking German positions around Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme
Pier and Face 16B and 16C, Thiepval Memorial
Lives of the First World War entry
3582 / 7515, Private,
Middlesex Regiment, later 11th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)
25th September 1892, St Pancras district – 1st July 1916, killed in action, Western Front, in an attack on the Pommier Redoubt on the Somme
Pier and Face 8C, 9A and 16A, Thiepval Memorial
Lives of the First World War entry
Benjamin was one of at least nine children of Eugene or Edward Eugene Bewley (1827, Croydon, Surrey – 1895, St Pancras) and his wife Hannah or Sophia Hannah Dance (1831, Chesham, Buckinghamshire – 1892, St Pancras), who had married in the City of London in 1853. They moved to the St Pancras district and had seven children by 1871, when they were living at 4 Monte Video Place in Kentish Town. The family had moved to 8 Stanmore Place in Camden Town by 1881, now with nine children. Eugene initially worked as a china dealer (1871 census) or a general dealer (1881 census), but by 1891 was a florist. In 1891 Benjamin’s parents were living with two of their children at 10 Pleasant Row in Camden Town, with Benjamin working as a polisher.
Benjamin married on 11th October 1891 to Emily Sarah Burdekin (1872, St Giles’s – 1923, St Pancras), a carriage painter’s daughter at St James’s, Hampstead Road (between Warren Street and Mornington Crescent). Their first married home was 11 Little Exmouth Street, Camden Town. Frederick was their first child, born on 25th September 1892 and baptised on 17th October 1892. In 1901 Benjamin, Emily and Frederick were living at 108 Arlington Road., with two further children, Lilian (1897-1901) and Albert (1899). Benjamin initially followed his father as a general dealer (1901 census and enlistment papers), later becoming a self-employed firewood dealer (1911 census). Emily later had four more children – Robert (1902), Joseph (1904), John (1907) and Louise (1909). By 1911 Benjamin and Emily were living with all six of their surviving children at 11 Pleasant Row in Camden Town, next door to Benjamin’s parents’ 1901 address. Frederick was now working as a van boy at a jam factory and they had also been joined by Emily’s widowed father Henry Burdekin (1845, St Pancras – 1912, St Pancras), still a painter but now at a motor works.
Frederick enlisted in St Pancras at an unknown date. He held two service numbers, implying he may have joined up just after the outbreak of war into a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment which was soon afterwards converted into 11th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Frederick was awarded the 1914-15 Star, having landed in France with 11th Battalion Royal Fusiliers on 26th July 1915. This may imply he joined the battalion on their formation in September 1914 or just afterwards. Neither Benjamin nor Frederick appeared on the parish magazine’s March 1915 list of those already serving in the forces, though this may be an error or omission rather than meaning he only joined up after March 1915.
Although he was already 42 years old (the maximum age for army recruits was 40) and a father of six, still living in Camden Town, Benjamin decided to join up. He enlisted for the duration of the war on 29th May 1915 in the St Pancras recruiting office, in a battalion which had been raised in St Pancras on 2nd April that year. In his enlistment papers he gave his residence as 11 Pleasant Place, Row or Road, Camden Town, knocked four years off his age and failed to mention his 22 year old son Frederick. It shows he was 5 foot 2.5 inches tall, with a 37.5 inch chest and a weight of 137 pounds. He had a tattoo on his left forearm of a “dancer etc” and on his right forearm of “Good Luck” . He was posted to a unit the following day.
A form in the papers giving Benjamin’s relations was certified on 2nd May 1919 by his widow and by Thomas Henry Kett, one of the curates at St Michael’s at the time (then boarding at 120 Albert Street and recorded in the 1911 census as boarding at 69 Albert Street). It states that both his parents were by then dead. It records his father’s name as Bengomine Bewley (presumably a misspelling of Eugene) but states his mother’s name was “Not known”. It also states his brothers’ names as Arthur and William and his sisters as Emma, Minnie and Anna. At the time of his death he also had a living 74-year-old aunt on his mother’s side, Sarah Shepperd.
On 7th March 1916 Benjamin embarked at Southampton, landing in France the following day. He was attached to a Royal Engineers tunnelling company from 17 to 21 April 1916. Soon afterwards his son Frederick’s battalion was put in reserve at Carnoy on 25th June ready for the Battle of the Somme. Even in reserve the troops were not safe – the five day British bombardment led to German retaliation, to which the battalion lost eight officers and men killed, forty-six wounded and three lost to shell shock. At 11 pm on 30th June it took over front line trenches from 12th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, reaching battle positions by 2 am, making it the left assaulting battalion of 54th Brigade, ready to attack towards Montauban. Fine rain began to fall and around 4.30 am tea was sent up. A mist descended around 7:00 but it had cleared by the time the assault began half an hour later. One regimental history stated “It was [the battalion’s]… first battle and they engaged in it with peculiar zest.”, going on to add:
the men went over the top “like bloodhounds let loose from the leash.” The German trenches had been so battered [by the artillery bombardment] that it was only with the utmost difficulty the men carried out the pre-arranged plan. The Fusiliers ran through the German barrage and went across their front line in great style.
An attempt to check the advance from Austrian Support was dealt with, one of the machine guns being rushed by Lance-Corporal A. Payne. Between Bund Trench and Pommiers Trench, a space of some 500 yards, uncut wire was encountered by the battalion on the right of the Fusiliers, and the consequent check was seized upon by the Germans in Mametz to strike against the battalion’s left flank. Second Lieutenant Parr-Dudley turned his platoon half-left and, with a vigorous charge, accounted for the small enemy party, but lost his life in the action.
A small party bombed [ie threw grenades] up Black Alley, leading to Pommiers Trench. Private W. T. Taverner, locating a machine gun in the latter trench, and unable to get at the gunner, won a M.M. by standing on top of the emplacement and directing the waves right and left. Private J. Nicholson shot six German snipers and then knocked out a machine gun. And so by numerous acts of individual bravery and initiative Pommiers Trench was won, the Fusiliers securing a machine gun. There was then a pause and a Fusilier officer noted that “the men were by this time quite cool and collected, and apparently very happy. Several of them were holding miniature sing-songs, whilst others were energetically shaking hands and wishing their officers good luck.”
Pommiers Redoubt had still to be taken, and this was the worst stage of the day’s fighting. Captain Johnson was held in Black Alley by a machine gun, and could not approach that way. He then attempted to take the redoubt from the rear. Second Lieutenant Savage accounted for the snipers in Beetle Alley, on the north-west, and Johnson was able to bring his machine guns up to enfilade the front of the redoubt. With this assistance the Bedfordshires were able to advance frontally, and the obstacle was won at 9.30 a.m. Beetle Alley was rushed shortly afterwards, but an hour’s delay was experienced
here, as the flanking battalions were not up. At length the advance was resumed, and in the afternoon the Fusiliers were 1,000 yards still farther ahead, in White Trench, below Mametz Wood. A line of strong points was begun later in the day. “It was very hard for the diggers, but it was really pitiful to see the others. Everybody was tired out, and I had to keep on constantly waking the men up, for as soon as they touched the ground they automatically succumbed into deep sleep. It is not altogether fun being so tired as we all were in the face of the enemy.” Digging was continued until dawn was breaking1. In this single day the battalion lost 47 killed, 148 wounded, 6 died of wounds, 7 missing and 4 to shell shock. One of those 47 was Frederick Bewley.
On 11th August 1916, probably still mourning his son, Benjamin was docked seven days’ pay for “falling out on the march without permission”. From 27th to 29th August he was placed on permanent attachment to 174 Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers. He returned to duty on 30th August. He was recorded as wounded and missing on 3rd September 1916 – the accurate date of this death is unknown, but that date was accepted by the War Office as his date of death for their purposes. That date was also the death date of another man on the memorial, John Thomas Culver, serving with the same battalion. Like his son, he has no known grave. On 28th May 1917, Benjamin’s widow and children were awarded a pension of 28 shillings and 9 pence a week – she lived on to 1923.
- H. C. O’Neill, The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War (London: Heinemann, 1922), pages 113 to 115. ↩