Arthur Webb Butler Bentley was born on 1st January 1884 to Dr Arthur Bentley and his wife Letitia. The oldest of five children, they were a well-travelled family. Dr Bentley had been born in Devon, but his and Letitia’s first two children were born in Singapore, while their second two were born in Ireland, where Letitia herself had been born.
By the time of the 1891 census, the family were living in Paddington, London, where Arthur’s father was a medical practitioner.
Arthur Jr looked set to follow in his father’s footsteps; becoming a student of medicine in Edinburgh, although it seems his life was destined to take a different route.
By 1905, his father was working at a practice in Egypt. It was around this time that his mother made the newspaper headlines.
VICTIM OF CHROLODYNE
A painful story was told at the Clerkenwell Sessions when Letitia Bentley, the wife of a doctor holding an official position in Cairo, pleaded guilty to the theft of a diamond and ruby ring from the shop of Messrs. Attenborough, Oxford Street [London]. It was stated that Mrs Bentley was addicted to the drinking of spirits and chlorodyne, and that 240 empty bottles which had contained the latter drug had been found in her rooms in Bloomsbury.
Dr Bentley said he would keep his wife under strict supervision in the future, and she was bound over.Shetland Times: Saturday 3rd June 1905.
The ring concerned was valued at five guineas (around £700 in today’s money), and another report confirmed that her husband “supplied her with ample means” [financially].
In the 19th century, chlorodyne was readily used as a treatment for a number of medical conditions. Its principal ingredients were a mixture of laudanum (an alcoholic solution of opium), tincture of cannabis, and chloroform, it readily lived up to its claims of relieving pain and a sedative.
Letitia does not appear in any other contemporary media; sadly, however, she passed away “at sea” in June 1907, presumably on the way to or from Cairo, where Arthur Sr was still working. She was just 47 years old.
Arthur seems to have taken the decision to move away, and he emigrated to Canada, settling in Winnipeg. Leaving England behind, he left the idea of medicine with it, finding work as a lineman instead, constructing and maintaining telegraph and power lines.
Arthur’s father is the next member of the family to appear in the local newspapers. Working in Cairo during the winter and Llandrindod Wells in the summer, he travelled to Wales in April 1911. One evening he collapsed and died while in the smoking room of his hotel. The media reported that he was “formerly Colonial Surgeon to the Straits Civil Service, Singapore” and that “he was going to deliver a lecture at Owen’s College [now the Victoria College of Manchester] on tropical diseases, upon which he was an expert.“
Arthur Jr was now 27, and had lost both of his parents. War was on the horizon, though, and he seemed keen to become involved. He enlisted in December 1915, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His sign-up papers gave him as just short of 32 years old, standing at 5ft 8ins (1.72m) tall, with a fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. The document also recorded his next of kin as his brother, William, who was living near Cairo.
Arthur arrived in England on 25th September 1916; during his time in the army he remained on English soil, primarily at a signal base in Seaford. Transferred to a reserve battalion in January 1917, he was eventually discharged seven months later, although the is no record as to why happened.
It may well be that the reason for Arthur’s discharge was his transfer from the Canadian Expeditionary Force to the Yorkshire Regiment. He is recorded as enlisting the latter with a commission, although there is no confirmation of when this happened.
Second Lieutenant Bentley was assigned to the 3rd Special Reserve Battalion but never saw action in Europe. The troop’s main duties were to train men for service overseas and to provide coastal defences. While there is no confirmation of exactly where Arthur was based, there were units in and around Hartlepool, County Durham.
Sadly, there is little further information about Arthur. By the end of the war, he was living in Taunton, Somerset, where his younger sister Eileen had settled. Second Lieutenant Bentley survived the war, but passed away not long afterwards, on 2nd December 1918. There is no cause given for his death. He was just 35 years old.
Arthur Webb Butler Bentley lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset.