Pte Albert Henry Bennett
2nd Bn. The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)

Town Memorial P1.R2.C1

Albert H. Bennett
1st Royal West Surrey [CWGC 2nd Bn]
Dec 14 1914 [CWGC 18 Dec 1914]

Taken, Not Given, Liam Sumption, L&DLHS

Albert Bennett's name was Henry according to the records of the Queens. He was born in Warnham, Sussex and had enlisted into the Queens at Guildford. When killed in action he was serving with the 2nd Battalion of his regiment ¹.

Like Sergeant Albert Maspero of the Royal Warwicks (22 May 1916) he was killed in one of the savage trench raids which were a characteristic of the Western Front. Consequently more is known of his death than if he had been killed in a larger offensive.

The War Diary of the 2nd Queens includes a well drawn sketch map [Liam Sumption's own sketch shown below] of the raid which it describes in some detail. The raid was sufficiently successful to warrant congratulations for the battalion. ²

According to the sketch the main extended German trench line had an advanced abbreviated trench in front.

On 13 December [1914] "volunteers were called" for a trench raid to secure prisoners. There must have been an excessive number of applicants because the War Diary states the "23 NCOs and men were selected" and that "every detail was explained to each NCO and man".

Dressed in dark fur waistcoats and wearing Balaclava helmets, the raiding party left the British trenches at midnight under the command of 2nd Lt Ramsey of the Royal Sussex Regiment. Lance-Corporal Middleton was placed in charge of six men who were to give supporting fire. Unfortunately this detail was mistaken for Germans and fired upon by their own side, incurring casualties (i.e. 'friendly fire').

The raiders returned at 1.30am (i.e. on the morning of 14th December) having lost 3 men killed, 5 wounded and 3 missing, but with prisoners taken from 4th Koenigin Augusta Garde Regiment and personnel from the 55th Regiment. Nevertheless almost half the raiding force had become casualties.

1. Records in the Regimental Museum of the Queens', Clandon Park, Surrey
2. File WO95/1664 War Diary of 2nd Bn. Queens Regt., PRO

However, CWGC records a different date of death to that on the Town Memorial and researched by Liam Sumption:

Rank: Private
Service No: L/10378
Date of Death: 18/12/1914
Age: 19
Regiment/Service: The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment) 2nd Bn.
Panel Reference: Panel 1 and 2.
Additional Information: Son of William and Ada Bennett, of Shirley Goss Cottage, Caterham Valley, Surrey.

Yet again, as with the other two 1914 casualties on the Memorial more work needed to be done with the War Diaries of The Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment), in this case of the 2nd Battalion. Given the narrative it is not difficult to for it to have been on this day that Albert Bennett's life was lost:

18th [Dec 1914] RUE DE BIACHE

At 10am the COs of S STAFFORDS, ROYAL WARWICKS & 2/Queen's met at Brigade Hdqrs. The WARWICKS were ordered to attack enemy's line in front of our right E of LA BOUTILLERIE. The front to be attacked was 500x. The 2nd Queen's were to support the attack. The attack was to commence at dusk 4.30pm. The Warwicks had to close up into 3 lines of men on the 500x front. 2 Coys of the Queen's had to hold The Warwick trenches vacated by them on the E of WELL FARM & 2 Coys had to take their places in the trenches on the W of WELL FARM after these 3 lines had advanced.

Owing to the short time given to prepare for an attack against a strongly entrenched position & at night the details of the scheme were not circulated to each individual man as they should have been. Owing to the difficulties of getting men through communication trenches & other Coys were sent off from Local Reserve at once they were not actually in their places until 4.45pm. The Artillery opened a terrific fire on the enemy's trenches from 4.15 to 4.45pm to cover the advance of the WARWICKS. This artillery fire apparently did no damage to the enemy but wounded a few of our own men & let the enemy know that we were going to attack them.

At 5pm an NCO of WARWICKS came back asking for reinforcements C Coy & D Coy were at once pushed forward in support, ½ Coy being kept back in case of a counter attack 3 Platoons from one of the left Coys was ordered to take the place of C Coy.

In the meantime several attempts had been made to obtain information as to what the attacking line was doing. At 5.50pm a message came from C Coy Queens that WARWICKS line was half way to enemy's trenches; reinforcements of WELSH FUSILIERS were then sent for to carry on the attack.

A report came in at 6.12pm that one Coy WARWICKS had got to enemy's trenches but had to retire. As neither the WELSH FUSILIERS or the 3 platoons from B Coy had arrived at 6.38 all Coy Cmndrs were warned to be prepared for a counter attack & it was not until 6.50pm that the first reliable information of the whereabouts of the WARWICKS was obtained: Sgt SPILLER (Queens) had just returned from the 1st line of the WARWICKS & stated their casualties were very heavy that they had got close to the first lot of wire & that they were scattered in groups all over the place & that there was no line behind them.

In the meantime it was ascertained that our 1½ Coys were also close to the enemy's position & had suffered heavily.

At this time 1 Coy of WELSH FUSILIERS had arrived & I [? LM Crofts Major Cmding, 2/Queens] decided that it would be madness to push the attack further & informed Hdqrs. At 7.52pm I withdrew the remainder of attacking party, sent out parties to collect wounded. Owing to the arrival in the trenches of 2 more Coys Welsh Fusiliers as well as wounded & also Queens & Warwicks returning, the trenches were very congested & great difficulty was experienced in reorganising the firing line & evacuating wounded. This was accomplished by about 2am. Search parties were out all night collecting wounded.

The fire was terrific 4 Machine Guns to our front & one enfilading attack to a certain extent. The fire dropped a bit towards midnight & altogether about 5am.
22 officers 958 other ranks.

19th At daybreak Germans were seen beckoning to our men to come out & collect wounded & bury dead. Several of our officers including the MO & 30 men went out. About 50 Germans & 10 German officers also came out & there was a local armistice. A sniper on our right killed one officer of S Staffords but there was no firing from our front.

The Germans buried a lot of our dead & we collected wounded, some of whom were taken into the German trenches & others into ours. As our dead & wounded were mostly near the German wire the enemy took possession of their rifles etc.

Our officers conversed with the German officers 2/Lt Rought & 2/Lt WALMISLEY were enticed into the German trenches & taken prisoners, so also were 7 stretcher bearers. These officers & men were not missed until after Armistice. The Armistice was brought to a sudden close owing to one of our guns shelling the enemy's trenches.

Our losses were:-
Queens C Captain Fearon wounded
Queens D Captain LEE wounded
Queens C Lieutenant ALLAN wounded
Queens C 2/Lt BUTTERWORTH wounded
Queens C 2/Lt BURKETT wounded
Queens D 2/Lt RAMSAY killed
Queens C 2/Lt ROUGHT captured
Queens D 2/Lt WALMISLEY captured

NCOs & men
27 killed
16 missing
39 wounded
7 captured

Total 8 officers & 89 other ranks
9 to Hospital. 2 to Prison
14 officers. 858 other ranks.


His Life

He was the son of William and Ada Bennett, who were living at Shirley Goss Cottage, Caterham Valley, Surrey at the time the Imperial War Graves Commission was enquiring of next of kin what inscription if any they wished to be on the foot of the headstone if there was a burial, or to inform them of the IWGC Memorial if there was, as in this case, no known grave. He was aged 19 when he was killed and is named on the Ploegstreet Memorial, Panel 1 and 2 (image via findagrave.com).

He is listed among the War casualties on the Church Lads Brigade tryptich at All Saints, Leatherhead. He is also on the WW1 Memorial Plaque in Leatherhead Methodist Church.

His father was William Bennett (born 1869, Horsham, Sussex, son of Henry Bennett), described as a Brickmaker in the 1901 Census.

His mother was Ada Chennell or Fuller (Chennell was Ada's paternal grandmother's surname, her father was William Chennell Fuller).
Ada was born at Warnham, Sussex on 26 February 1869. She died on 3 June 1941, when living at 34, Bridge St, Leatherhead, Surrey.

They were married on 26th January 1889 in Warnham, Sussex.

Albert Henry Bennett was born in November 1895 and baptised on 26th January 1896 in Warnham, Sussex.

In the 1901 Census, when Albert was 5, the family were living at Chapel Cottage, part of Holmwood Ward, Dorking, in the parish of St John [Holmesdale Terrace is on same page]:
William Bennett, Foreman Brickmaker (32, born Warnham, Sussex)
Ada Bennett (32, born Warnham, Sussex)
Archibald E Bennett (8, born Warnham, Sussex)
Albert H Bennett (5, born Warnham, Sussex)

In the 1911 England Census the family were living at 3 Waverley Cottages, The Crescent, Leatherhead:
William Bennett, General Labourer, (43, born Warnham, Sussex)
Ada Bennett (42, born Warnham, Sussex)
Archer [Archie] E Bennett, Motor Engineer, (18, born Warnham, Sussex)
Horace W Bennett (5, born Ashtead, Surrey)

Albert would have been aged about 15 at the time of this Census, and his whereabouts that night are still to be traced.

Soldiers who Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 records:
Name: Albert Henry Bennett
Birth Place: Warnham, Sussex
Residence: Leatherhead, Surrey
Death Date: 18 Dec 1914
Death Location: France & Flanders
Enlistment Location: Guildford, Surrey
Rank: Private
Regiment: Queen's (Royal West Surrey Regiment)
Battalion: 2nd Battalion
Number: L/10378
Type of Casualty: Killed in action
Theatre of War: Western European Theatre

He is not listed in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1924.

So far it has not been established whether Albert's older brother Archibald [Ernest] Bennett was a WWI casualty. At least he is not on the Leatherhead Memorials.

Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser
Saturday 9 January 1915
The first week in the New Year has been a somewhat fateful one among the gallant Leatherhead men who are now serving with the colours.  Pte Victor E Wright is one of the missing men of H.M.S. Formidable which was sunk in the Channel and information has been received that Pte Albert Bennett was killed in action on Dec. 18th.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, of The Crescent, Leatherhead, received notification from the War Office on Tuesday that their son. Pte. Albert Bennett, had been killed in action on Dec. 18th. The deceased had been in the West Surrey Regt. nearly two years and was sent out to the front with a draft on Oct. 26th last. He was nineteen years of age.

The sympathy of a large circle of acquaintances has been extended to the parents in their sad loss.

In Lorraine Spindler's book Leatherhead in the Great War Albert Bennett was one of several men covered in depth:

At the beginning of the war Leatherhead’s residents shared the nation’s determination to play their part in winning the war. Families had proudly said goodbye to their sons, fathers and brothers, then keenly watched the Royal Fusiliers (UPS) come into the town to train. In some small way the University and Public School soldiers offered them a window into the military world of their own family members.

The honeymoon period for Leatherhead’s residents was short lived as the death of Captain Henry Gratten Elliot [youngest son of the Elliotts of The Marches, Epsom Road, Leatherhead, but not on the Leatherhead War Memorials] was announced in late September 1914, followed on 18 December by the death of Private Albert Henry Bennett. These two families became the first of many in Leatherhead to mourn the loss of a son.

The 1911 Census tells us the Bennetts were living at 3 Waverley Cottages, The Crescent, Leatherhead. Albert’s parents, William and Ada, had begun married life in Warnham, Sussex before moving to Leatherhead. William was a bricklayer and labourer. The family had four children but by 1911 only three sons had survived childhood — Archie, Albert and Horace.

The War Office confirmed to Mr and Mrs Bennett in January 1915 that Private Albert Bennett of the 2nd Battalion of Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment had been killed, aged 19, in the Ploegsteert area of the Ypres salient.

Albert been in the West Surrey Regiment for nearly two years when he was sent to the front on 26 October 1914. The local papers spoke of the sympathies of a 'large circle of acquaintances' demonstrating how widely Albert's loss was felt in the town. He was especially well-known locally as a member of the Church Lads Brigade.

Albert's body was never recovered from the battlefield; his name is joined to the 11,000 missing servicemen listed on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium. Most of those commemorated on the memorial did not die in major offensives, but were killed in the course of the day-to-day attrition of trench warfare which characterised this part of the line, or in small-scale engagements, usually carried out in support of major attacks taking place elsewhere.

After the War the Bennett family moved to Caterham. Alfred's [sic - Albert's] name was added to the Leatherhead War Memorial although his date of death was recorded as 14 December 1914.

Albert Bennett is remembered on these memorials
Leatherhead Town Memorial
Leatherhead RBL Roll of Honour, Leatherhead Parish Church
Ladies War Shrine, Leatherhead Parish Church
Church Lads Brigade Memorial Tryptich, All Saints Leatherhead
Surrey in the Great War
Leatherhead Methodist Church


Map showing Fleurbaix

The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment

the website editor would like to add further information on this casualty
e.g. a photo of him, of his
name on the Ploegstreet Memorial
and of any recollections within his family

last updated 26 Feb 14: CWGC update 7 Nov 17: content 21 Jul 20, with thanks to Lorraine Spindler for her extract: 31 Dec 20