Major George W. Bennett

George W. Bennett was born on May 8, 1864 to Irish immigrants Joseph and Jane (Graham) Bennett. He was the youngest of eight children, all of whom grew up on Bennett Farm, located six-kilometers west of Peterborough in the tiny township of Monahan, Ontario.

Prior to enlisting for World War One, Bennett’s life consisted of working on the family farm and school. Education was a major priority in his life, as he attended Peterborough Collegiate and Central School, before travelling to Owen Sound to study medicine, following in the footsteps of one of his older brothers.

Tragically, his brother passed away during Bennett’s time in Owen Sound, causing Bennett to return home to the family farm in Monahan. Upon his return, Bennett juggled through several jobs eventually becoming the Superintendent of Colonization of Roads along the Northern Shore of Lake Superior, North Bay, and Timmins. He would maintain this job until 1914, when he and 128 other Peterborough men would leave for WWI.

Bennett’s military career began as a teenager, and continued throughout much of his adult life, so he was familiar with the military prior to WWI. He served three years in cavalry and 31 in defence, clearly demonstrating a commitment to his country. When enlisting for WWI, he listed his brother John F. Bennett, who lived in Peterborough, as his next of kin.

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

On Aug. 12, 1914, the 128 Peterborough men began their tough and tiring training regimen. Ten days later, they would depart for Quebec where they would join the 2nd Battalion and continue their training. Despite being 49 years old, Bennett proved he was fit for service with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and officially enlisted for WWI at Valcartier, Quebec, becoming part of the 1st Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 57th Regiment of Canada. Training would continue until Oct. 3, 1914, when the 2nd Battalion sailed off to England, and later France, aboard the S.S Cassandra.

Though information on his time in the war is limited, Bennett began the war as a Lieutenant and while he quickly rose through the ranks, one of his bravest moments of the war occurred during his time as a Lieutenant. Under his lead, the 2nd Battalion took out one of the most dangerous machine gun nests of the war. People have since described Bennett as showing determination, gallantry, and devotion to duty for his role in the attack. He would be awarded the Military Cross for his efforts.

He regularly wrote home, often with a positive mindset and sense of humour. A cablegram from Bennett dated Dec. 22, 1914 read,

“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)”

In February of 1915 Bennett, by this time a Major, and the 2nd Battalion moved from Armentieres to Sailly-sur-la-leys in relief of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The Battalion quickly joined the front lines during the Battle of Neuvre Chapelle in March, and were then sent to Belgium to join the Battle of Ypres. The 2nd Battle of Ypres would tragically be Bennett’s last. While leading the 1st Company into battle at St. Julien, nearly the entire Company was killed. In total, approximately 160 men were wounded and 70 died during the attack, including Bennett. Fellow soldiers documented that 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.”

German soldiers buried Bennett’s body in a marked grave, which was later moved to New Irish Farm cemetery in Belgium.

Back in Peterborough, Maj. Bennett was remembered and celebrated for his act of bravery. He had ties to many in the community, including members of parliament and ministers, all of whom mourned his loss greatly. 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.























Major George W. Bennett left a legacy that will always be remembered. He received much praise and remembrance for his acts of courage. The Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) named a chapter after Maj. Bennett citing that he was one of the first local men to enlist in the 57th Regiment. There are also two plaques in Peterborough, one in the Peterborough armories, and another located in Maj. Bennett Industrial Park which was donated by IODE, dedicated to remember the life of Bennett.


Researched by Victoria Pancucci and Alexi Fox


Bibliography
  
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.

  
  






  
The 2nd Battalion with Maj. 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, Aug. 7, 1964:20.