b. 04/06/1892 Stroud, Gloucs. d. 06/04/1970 Vicenza, Italy.
Eugene Paul Bennett (1892-1970) was born at Church School House, Cainscross, near Stroud, Gloucestershire on 4th June 1892. His father, Charles, was a railway clerk and later a schoolmaster. His mother was Florence Emma Sophia nee Ody, a barmaid in her father’s public house in Bristol before her marriage. Charles and Florence married at St Werburgh, Bristol. Charles later became Headmaster of the National School in Cainscross from 1894. Eugene had five siblings – Leonora Florence, Alexander George Amos, Harold Stanley, Leopold Charles and Theodore John. Sadly, Theodore was killed in action in Palestine in 1918, whilst Harold was killed in an accident in Penarth, near Cardiff in 1915 aged just 26. Leopold also died young, at just 23 in 1914.
Eugene was educated at Uplands Council School, from where he won a scholarship to Marling School, Stroud from 1905-1908. He was then employed at the Bank of England as an assistant in the Accountant’s Department from 1909-1914.
He enlisted in 28th London (Artists’ Rifles) in October 1913 and was embodied on 4th August 1914. The Battalion guarded German prisoners at Olympia initially and moved to the Tower of London for public duties in September. The Battalion embarked from Southampton on SS Australind on 27th October and arrived the following day in Boulogne. Eugene underwent officer training in Bailleul, and was commissioned into the Worcestershire Regiment and posted to 2nd Battalion on 1st January 1915.
He was involved in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 and was the only officer in his company to survive. He was wounded at Festubert in May when his trench was mined and he had to be dug out. He was promoted to Lieutenant in August 1915. For his actions on the night of 10th-11th November 1915 near Cambrin, France, he was awarded the Military Cross. The Battalion had just taken over the line when the Germans exploded a mine, destroying 60 metres of trench held by D Company. He led rescue parties over the debris and set about digging out those trapped. The enemy were firing from only 30 metres away, but work continued until the survivors were rescued. The Military Cross was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 10th May 1916.
On 5th November 1916 at Le Transloy, France, Temporary Lieutenant Bennett, of the Worcestershire Regiment, when in command of the second wave of the attack, found that the first wave had suffered heavy casualties. Its commander had been killed and the second line was wavering. Lieutenant Bennett advanced at the head of the second wave and by his personal example of valour and resolution reached his objective with but sixty men. Isolated with his small party, he at once took steps to consolidate his position, under heavy rifle and machine gun fire from both flanks, and although wounded, he remained in command, directing and controlling. He set an example of cheerfulness and resolution beyond all praise, and there is little doubt that, but for his personal example of courage, the attack would have been checked at the outset.
He was evacuated to England due to his wounds. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 5th February 1917. He was then attached to the War Office in September and was at Aldershot before returning to France. He sustained severe shell splinter wounds on 18th October 1918 and was treated at No 8 Stationary Hospital, Wimereux, near Boulogne. He was in hospital until October 1919 and relinquished his commission due to ill health on 11th June 1920. He was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920.
On 26th July 1922, he married Violet Regina nee Fuerst at Kingston, Surrey. The family name was changed by deed poll in 1916 to Forster due to their Germanic surname. She was a songwriter. Violet and Eugene had two children – Anne and Jonathan. Eugene returned to work with the Bank of England until 1921 and then studied law. He was called to the Bar in October 1923. In April 1930, he appeared at Southwark County Court as opposing barrister to Brett Cloutman VC. He served in the Air Training Corps as an Acting Pilot Officer in the RAFVR from September 1941.
Eugene retired in 1961 and he and his wife moved to Vicenza, Italy and lived at “Villa Violetta”. He died at his home on 4th April 1970 and was cremated at Vicenza, where his ashes were interred in Niche 116 of the Mausoleum. In addition to the VC and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His medals are held by the Worcestershire Regiment Museum, Worcester.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WORCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, WORCESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: VICENZA CREMATORIUM, VICENZA, ITALY. ASHES IN NICHE 116
Eugene Bennett's medals including his VC and MC on display at the Worcestershire Regiment Museum, Worcester. (Oct 2014).
Gilbert Holiday painting of Eugene Bennett VC in action.
Worcester Cathedral (courtesy of Sarah Kellam Ansdell)
Cainscross, near Stroud, Gloucestershire (Steve Lee)
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)