b. 18/03/1891 Stowmarket, Suffolk. d. 03/05/1977 Hackney.
Spencer John Bent (1891-1977) was born at Spikes Farm, Stowmarket, Suffolk on 19th March 1891. His father, William Bent was born in Worcestershire and was employed as a groom in London in 1881. He then served as a Driver in the Royal Engineers, enlisting at Exeter on 27th December 1888 and transferred to the 1st Class Army Reserve on 26th December 1891. His father later served in the South African War of 1899-1901. Spencer’s mother was Gertrude Mary Ann nee Baker. His parents had married on 23rd November 1889 in Paddington, London. Spencer spent his early childhood at Spike’s Farm where his mother’s parents owned a market garden. From 1898, he lived with his uncle and aunt, William and Ellen Baker near Ipswich. Spencer had two sisters and a brother, and the whole family lived in Chatham and then Farnham, Surrey whilst their father was away in South Africa.
Spencer enlisted in the Army at the age of 14 on 19th July 1905 at Ipswich as a Drummer. He was known as “Joe” in the Army, a corruption of the name of a famous northern boxer, “Chow” Bent. He represented his Battalion in the Army Championships as a lightweight. He served at the Curragh, Ireland from 1905-1908, Woking until 1912 and Colchester until the outbreak of war in 1914.
He went to France with his Battalion, sailing from Southampton aboard SS Braemar Castle on 22nd August 1914. He took part in the retreat from Mons, Battle of Le Cateau, advance to the Marne, Battle of the Aisne and First Battle of Ypres. On the night of 1st/2nd November 1914 near Le Gheer, Belgium, when his officer, the platoon sergeant and a number of men had been struck down, Drummer Bent took command of the platoon and with great presence of mind and coolness succeeded in holding the position. He had previously distinguished himself on two occasions, on 22nd and 24th October by bringing up ammunition under heavy shell and rifle fire. Again, on 3 November, he brought into cover some wounded men who were lying, exposed to enemy fire, in the open.
He was wounded in the right leg and head and evacuated to England on 10th November 1914, where he was in hospital in Oxfordshire before being transferred to 15 Northern General Hospital in Leicester. He was promoted to Corporal on 1st January 1915 and was involved in recruitment whilst recovering. His VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th January 1915. He was presented with a cheque for £50, in a casket made from material from Queen Victoria’s yacht Osborne, by the mayor of Ipswich. He was also awarded the Cross of the Order of St George 3rd Class (Russia) on 25th August 1915. He was then promoted to Sergeant and attached to the Reserve (Training) Battalion at Laira, Plymouth and Plympton, Devon.
He returned to France in 1916 and took part in the Battle of the Somme and was evacuated with rheumatic fever in November 1916. He married Alice Helena nee Powell on 16th January 1917 at St Andrew’s, Plymouth. She was a nurse known as “Chum” in the family. They had three children – Spencer Powell (born 1920), Beryl Helena (born 1922) and Pauline Patricia (born 1929).
He returned to France in 1917 and served with 7th Battalion. At Messines he was promoted to Company Sergeant Major and took part in the Third Battle of Ypres. He rejoined the 1st Battalion on 7th February 1918 when the 7th disbanded and took part in the Second Battle of Cambrai in October 1918. He was then awarded the Military Medal for his action north of Semperies on 29th October 1918 when he led two patrols to reconnaissance the enemy.
He left France in December 1918 and was based at Blackdown, Surrey. He became a recruiting officer in Blackburn in March 1920 operating from the Territorial Army Barracks. He was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920. While serving with the Battalion in the West Indies, he carried the medals of Sergeant William J Gordon VC at his funeral in 1922. He was discharged from Malta in July 1925. He became a school keeper at Paragon School, New Kent Road, London, a commissionaire with Mond Nickel Council in 1956 and a Courage Brewery commissionaire at Tower Bridge Road, London from 1962 until retirement in 1976. 7
He became a Freemason in the Aldershot Camp Lodge in 1920. In 1958, he became a Joining Member of the Cyclists Lodge meeting at Surbiton, Surrey and was appointed the Provincial Grand Standard Bearer for Surrey. In August 1968, he opened a new public house in Chatham, Kent, named “The Victoria Cross”.
He died at his home in Hackney, London on 3rd May 1977 and was cremated at West Norwood, where his ashes were scattered on Rose Bed 41. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the Military Medal, 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal, George VI Coronation Medal of 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal of 1953, Army Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and the Russian Cross of St George 3rd Class. His VC was displayed in the Imperial War Museum until it was sold at Sotheby’s for £11,000 in June 1985. It was purchased by the Ashcroft Trust at Dix Noonan Webb for £80,000 in June 2000 and is now displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON
BURIAL PLACE: WEST NORWOOD CREMATORIUM, LONDON. ASHES INTERRED ROSEBED 41
Spencer Bent's medals including his VC on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (NOT MY IMAGE).
Spencer Bent VC's memorial stone in Stowmarket, Suffolk.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Spencer Bent VC, MM memorial at the West Norwood Crematorium (Picture courtesy of Derek Walker)
War Illustrated, 24th March 1917
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)