Major George W. Bennett

  
George W. Bennett was born May 8, 1864 on what became known as Bennet farm four miles West of Peterborough in the township of Monahan. The farm was located on the South half of lot 8 concession X. Bennett’s parents were Joseph and Jane (maiden name Graham) who were both Irish immigrants. Joseph and Jane raised a family of eight children of which George was the youngest. Bennett’s pre-war life consisted of regular farm work until his education began. He attended school in the country and eventually furthered his education by enrolling in both Peterborough Collegiate and Central School. Upon the completion of his studies, Bennett traveled to Owen Sound to follow in the footsteps of his oldest brother who practiced medicine. However, while there his brother fell ill and passed away causing George to return home to his family farm. Upon his return home, Bennett became the Road Inspector for Municipal Affairs, later furthering his career and becoming Superintendent of Colonization of Roads along the Northern Shore of Lake Superior, North Bay and North to Timmins. This was the job he held up until he enlisted for the war.   As a teen Bennett began his military career and served three years in Calvary and 31 in Defense. Bennett was a man who understood the military and spent most of his adult life involved in the Canadian militia. These 34 years of active service, clearly instilled a sense of duty, as once the Great War broke out, Bennett enlisted and continued the development of his military career. 
  

Taken with permission from Peterborough Museum and Archives. Peterborough Museum & Archives, Balsillie Collection of Roy Studio Images, 2000-012-015644-5.   

  
On August 12, 1914, 128 men from Peterborough, including Bennett began training exercises in the form of hikes and squad drills. These men trained for 10 days and then departed from Peterborough to head to Quebec to join the 2nd battalion, where they continued to train. At the age of 49, Bennett was well above the age of typical enlistees, however, he was still deemed fit for service for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on August 26, 1914. On September 22 Bennett officially enlisted for the war at Valcartier, Quebec, becoming a part of the 1st company of the 2nd battalion of the 57th regiment of Canada. Being unmarried, he listed his brother John F. Bennett, who lived in Peterborough, as his next of kin.

The 2nd battalion trained in Quebec until October 3, 1914 when they then sailed on the S.S. Cassandra landing in England, then later onto France. At the start of the war, Bennett was a Lieutenant, and though it is unclear when, he rose through the ranks making Captain and later Major. However, it is known that by Christmas 1914 Bennett had reached the rank of Major because a cablegram addressed him as such. The cablegram also demonstrates the support that the soldiers had from their hometown:


22 Dec. 14
            Cablegram from Major GW Bennett A Company
2nd Bn kindest remembrances, season’s greetings, and sincere thanks to the women of Peterborough from “A” company for the Christmas parcel received-GW Bennett Major (x)


Information on Major Bennett’s life in the trenches is limited, though in letters home he always appeared to look on the positive side of things, trying to find the humour in life even in war time conditions. As this cablegram demonstrates and another one from three days later where he thanks the Women's War Fund Committee and gives holiday greetings as well, in life he was considerate as he took the time to thank others for their efforts.

One of the highlights of Bennett’s war career was from when he was still a lieutenant.  He led the 2nd battalion in taking out one of the most dangerous machine gun nests of the war that was halting their advance.  He was deemed as showing determination, gallantry, and devotion to duty for both this and the rest of the attack where he helped the troops of both flanks forward.  Because he was an integral part to the success of this particular operation Bennett was awarded the Military Cross in recognition.

Bennett’s World War One career did not last long. After arriving in France in February, the 2nd battalion moved from Armetierers, then to Sailly-sur-la-leys relieving the Royal Warwickshire regiment. The battalion then became a part of the front lines during the Battle of Neuvre Chapelle on the 9th of March 1915. Then, in April 1915, the 2nd battalion went to Ypres. The days leading up to Major Bennett’s death are documented as follows: April 22, 1915 Ypres was gas attacked and the 2nd battalion moved from their rest position at Vlamertinghe to participate in the 2nd battle of Ypres. April 23, 1915 Major Bennett led the first company into battle at St. Julien, where nearly the entire company was wiped out. Approximately 160 men were wounded and 70 died, including Bennett himself. The battle was clearly devastating as Bennett was “virtually annihilated in a frontal bayonet attack on enemy positions at Kitcheners Wood near Oblong Farm in the area of Ypres from heavy fire from rifle and machine gun. There was no supporting barrage and it was not believed any reached enemy lines.”

The decade long military career of Major George W. Bennett was over. German soldiers buried his body in a marked grave and he was later moved to New Irish Farm cemetery in grave II. G. 17. After his death, the Peterborough Examiner ran an article titled, “Brave Bennett and those who followed him into St. Julien’s Battle Grim” with photos of all the men who died at the battle. This article left the Peterborough community with a lasting impression of Bennett’s last act have being a brave one.  
  

  
The 2nd Battalion with Major Bennett in the first row, 3rd from the left.  Many of these men would later die at the battle of Ypres in 1915.  Taken with permission from Peterborough Museum and Archives.  “Stirring Days for Canadians at Beginning of First World War.” Peterborough Examiner, August 7, 1964:20.
  

  
Bennett was a well-known and liked man in the Peterborough community which led to him being greatly mourned after his death.  Before the Great War, Bennet had won the respect of the Government and his Minister and also the members of the public through his daily interactions.  This, coupled with his heroic actions in the war, meant that his death was felt throughout the community.

Major George Bennett left a legacy behind that will be remembered for generations to come. Bennett’s brave act of leading his company into the second battle of Ypres, resulted in many casualties as the company was nearly all slaughtered. Through his actions of being a brave, local leader, the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire named a chapter after Major George W. Bennett. The I.O.D.E chose Bennett as the name of the chapter since he was one of the first local men to enlist into the very first 57th regiment. The I.O.D.E organization uses many war heroes’ names as chapters. Bennett’s actions which demonstrated his heroism, made him an excellent candidate for a chapter to be dedicated to him. There are many other monuments constructed which are in remembrance of Bennett as one of the first fallen Peterborough soldier. There is a plaque located within the Peterborough armories and another located in Major Bennett Industrial Park which was donated by the I.O.D.E. chapter. Having the chapter named after Major Bennett signifies his resilience and significance within the community. In addition to the two plaques and the chapter named after him, Bennett’s name is also found on the Peterborough War Memorial. Major George Bennett’s dedication and courage exemplify how a true leader acts and is looked up to.

Bennett accomplished many significant military actions, the greatest of which was leading the 2nd battalion into the second battle of Ypres. Major Bennett’s legacy will continue to live on for generations to come as a result of his various accomplishments and dedications.


 Researched by Victoria Pancucci and Alexi Fox



Sources
  
Library and Archives Canada. Census of Canada, 1891. RG31-C-1.  Microfilm reels T-6290 to T-6427.  Accessed via Ancestry.com.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission. “Major Bennett, G W” Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved from https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/451996/bennett,-/.
The Edinburgh Gazette, 13 Jan. 1919, p. 253.

Jones, Elwood H. An Historian Notebook. 100 Stories mostly Peterborough. Peterborough: Trent Valley Archives, 2009.

“Major Bennett.” Trent Valley Archives. Funds 25, scrapbook 169.

“Major Bennett.” Trent Valley Archives. Funds 25 scrapbook 173.

“Major Bennett’s Attestation Papers.” Library and Archives Canada. RG 150, accession 1992/93/166, Box 647-16, item number 38099. Retrieved from http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B0647-S016.

“Major Bennett Chapter.” Trent Valley Archives. Funds 25, series, vol. 1 #13.

“Major George W. Bennett.” Trent Valley Archives. Funds 25, series 4, vol. 3-5 #59.

“Memories Reviewed as 2nd Battalion Hold Reunion.” Peterborough Examiner, November 15,1930. Republished in Heritage Gazette of the Trent Valley vol. 14.1 , 2009: 24-28.

Peterborough Examiner. “Major Bennett memorial re-dedicated”. 2018. Retrieved from https://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/news-story/8213615-major-bennett-memorial-re-dedicated/.

 “Peterborough’s Roll of Honour. Brave Bennett and those who followed him into St. Julien’s Battle Grim”. Peterborough Examiner, December 11, 1915: 9-16.

Pryde, Major David. Military Historical Diary, Peterborough and Surrounding Area. Peterborough: Peterborough Museum and Archives, 1986.

Veterans Affairs Canada. “George W. Bennett.” Canadian Virtual War Memorial. Retrieved from http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/451996?George%20W%20Bennett.