A Late Casualty of Beaumont Hamel

It can be funny how research can lead you down different paths. Years ago I tracked down where my great-grandparents were married. So I went to the Archives and found the register for St. Thomas Church in St. John’s. They were married in St. John’s and not somewhere in the southwest arm of Trinity Bay like I figured. Later this made sense because it was 1917 and my Great Grandfather was on his way back overseas.

All the information was there, date, the minister who performed the ceremony and the witnesses. Being curious I later looked up one of the witnesses, who I figured would have equated to the best man. His name was Eleazer Benson. Mr. Benson was another veteran of the Great War who was in St. John’s at the time. I believe he was originally from Trinity Bay[i], but unlike my great grandfather he was not in the Navy and he was not on leave. Eleazer Benson was back in Newfoundland for another reason. He was home because of Beaumont Hamel.

Eleazor or Eleazer Benson regimental number 688 went overseas with the Newfoundland Regiment and had served at Gallipoli before going to France. On July 1st 1916 he was one of the men that went over the top into the withering storm of German machine gun fire. He did not answer the roll call the next day.

What Private Benson faced on that day on the Somme was an invention of an American living in England and built in Germany. Hiram Maxims killing engine-the Maxim model 1908 machine gun. Both Germans and the British entered the war with machine guns of Maxims design. The German version was more true to the original; the British Vickers was a simplified redesign.[ii] The Germans had many more than the British.

The German set-up including water and tripod weighed in at 152 pounds fully loaded. It was watercooled by means of a jacket that surrounded the barrel, which meant that it was capable of long periods of sustained fire. Its theoretical rate of fire was 5-600 rounds a minute. I call the maxim a killing engine because of how it worked. If an engine works as long as fuel is put into the cylinders the maxim gun continued firing as long as ammunition was fed to it. The recoil from each round cocked and reloaded the next round and as long as the butterfly shaped button that acted as the trigger was depressed, it kept firing.

The projectile of the MG 08 weighed around 10 grams depending on the type of cartridge being used, 10 grams of lead coated with copper and nickel. Flying at close to 3000 feet per second that little ten gram projectile could inflict terrible damage. I don’t know how Private Benson was wounded, but there is a pretty good chance it was from one of these 7.92mm diameter 10 gram projectiles from Mr. Maxims killing engine.

My initial search for Private Benson turned up an obituary. You see not all of those killed at Beaumont Hamel died on July 1st. Some lingered on in field hospitals and succumbed to their wounds in the ensuring weeks. Some would be plagued by their wounds for years, including Eleazer Benson.

Eleazer Benson came back to Newfoundland, married and had 8 children. He became either a master carpenter or master carter, I can’t tell because each transcription has a different profession, though I am inclined to think master carpenter.

Eleazer Benson was one of the last casualties of Beaumont Hamel. He 25 years later of illness attributed to the wounds that he received on that day in France. The Daily news reported on his funeral:

The funeral of the late Eleazor Benson (Sandy) Benson, took place yesterday afternoon from his late residence, 146 Campbell Avenue, and was attended by a very large number of mourners, and was a sincere tribute to the esteem in which he was held in St. John’s.

Deceased who had reached middle age, went overseas with the original “C” Company, and was No. 688 in the Royal Navy, a veteran of Gallipoli and one of “Ours” wounded in France. He had been suffering for some time from his war disabilities, and underwent serious operations last year at the Grace Hospital, where he was a patient for quite a long period, under the care of Dr. W. Roberts, to whom with the Nurses, he always accorded high praise.

He had been most successful in latter years as a Master Carter, and gave great satisfaction to the business firms with which he was associated; all though his illness he received much sympathy from his numerous friends, relatives and family, by whom her is survived, including his wife (nee Miss Horwood) eight children, mother and two sisters.

Outside the Campbell Avenue residence yesterday, the S.A. band played feelingly, two favorite hymns of the deceased; then the cortege formed up, with a detachment of the G.W.V.A. wearing poppies, following the band, under Sergt. Geo. Gulliver, two hearses, one being filled with beautiful floral tributes and the other bearing the casket, which was covered with the Union Jack, and had many wreaths; there was a guard of honor from the Truckmens’ Protective Union; Dominion Vice-President, W.R. Dawe, and Secretary W.R. Martin, representing the G.W.V.A., with a long procession of citizens, concluding with S.A. representatives and numerous motor cars. Mr. Wm. Lawrence was undertaker.

At the S.A. cemetery, the service was taken by Major Abbott; the scriptural lesson was read by Major W. Cornick, and the final prayer by Major J. Hewitt. The Silver Bands of the three Citadels accompanied the hymns, which were most impressive.

Capt. C. Murphy recited the War Veterans Ritual at the graveside, and the Ex-servicemen filed past solemnly, dropping the poppies of remembrance; and thus in the beautiful sunshine of a delightful July Sabbath, was another soldier laid to rest.

A Memorial Service for the late Mr. Benson was held at No. 1 Citadel, S.A., last night, and there was a large congregation present.[iii]

25 years later Eleazer Benson was one of the last casualties of Beaumont Hamel. He Newspaper stated that he was 43 which meant he would have been a teenager at the time of the Battle.

[i] His address on his enlistment was St. John’s, but Benson is a common surname in the South West Arm area as well as Grate’s Cove. He may have been a relative of my Great Grandmother.

[ii] Simplified and the mechanism was upside down compared to the German Maxim.

[iii] http://nl.canadagenweb.org/dailynews_miscnews1941b.htm

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5 comments

  1. I am at Beaumont Hamel now! We do the ceremony tomorrow !! Regards, Frank RNR Better than the Best!!

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  2. We were at the Ceremony at BH on July 1 here in France It was very well done I send pics later Better Than The Best Frank

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  3. Eleazer (he went by Sandy) Benson was my Grandfather. His father (Eleazer) and Mother (Susannah) and brother (Joshua) are buried in the old United church cemetary in Hillview, TB. They were from Grates Cove but moved to Northwest Brook, TB. The family moved again to St. John’s after his father died in 1911.
    I visited BH a few years ago and attended the centenary ceremony in Ottawa this past year. The Rooms had a picture on display that shows my GF, Rendell and Donnelly on Caribou Hill in Gallipoli (they were all Company C).

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      • The family actually lived in Northwest Brook so you are likely correct that they knew each other. My GF would have been only about 12 or 13 when his father died and they moved into St. John’s. He was only 16 when he enlisted (contrary to his “declared age” of 19 on the enlistment papers). His release papers 4 years later stated he was only 20 years old. My uncle told be that my GGF had a water driven saw mill in NWB. You can find my GGF’s will online.
        The MG bullet that hit my GF shattered the bone in his left arm just below the shoulder. He lost 90% use of the arm. He spent a long time at Wandsworth Hospital in London before returning. My GM said he had 7 operations connecting the separated parts of the arm using metal plates. So yes, the projectile did inflict terrible damage. My uncle told me he was left for dead for an extended time before they were able to retrieve him from the battlefield.
        BTW- My GGF/GGM were also married in St. John’s but I assume this was because the railway was finally completed and there was a station at NWB, so it had become an easy yet special trip for a wedding & honeymoon.

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