CWG: Stoker John Benson

Stoker John Benson

John Benson was born on 29th April 1892, the second of eleven children to Thomas and Annie Benson. Thomas was from Grays, Essex, and this is where the barge captain raised his growing family. While it is likely that John would have also experienced life on the water, by the time of the 1911 census, he was recorded as being a labourer at the town’s brewery.

When war broke out, it’s evident that John wanted to play his part. On 18th November 1914 he enlisted as a Stoker in the Royal Naval Reserve, and was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

Stoker Benson’s service records show that he was 5ft 3.5ins (1.61m) tall, had blue eyes and a fair complexion. He was also noted as having a number of tattoos on his forearms, including clasped hands, a bird and a lady’s head.

While John was primarily based at HMS Pembroke, he also served at sea; this included two years on board the cruiser HMS Grafton. In July 1917, however, he returned to Chatham again.

The Royal Naval Dockyard was a busy base that summer, so much so that temporary accommodation was set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall: this is where Stoker Benson found himself billeted.

On the night of the 3rd September, the German Air Force conducted the first night time raid on England. Chatham came in the firing line, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Stoker Benson was among those to be killed. He was just 25 years of age.

John Benson was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.

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