01/10/1940 No. 41 Squadron Spitfire Ia X4559 EB-J P/O. Bennions
Date: 01st October 1940 (Tuesday)
Unit: No. 41 Squadron
Type: Spitfire Ia
Base: RAF Hornchurch, Essex
Location: Heatonthorn Farm, Alborne, Sussex
Pilot: P/O. ‘Ben’ George Herman Bennions DFC 43354 RAF Survived - injured
REASON FOR LOSS:
Mid afternoon, 3 slightly smaller groups of Me109s and Me110s came across the Channel from behind Calais. 4 RAF squadrons were scrambled, all of which were involved in some serious combat.
A dive bomb attack on Uxbridge that afternoon killed 13 people and damaged 400 houses.
It was announced on the morning of this action, as he was preparing to go on leave, that he had been awarded the DFC. The citation published on the 01st October 1940 in the London Gazette reads:
"Pilot Officer Bennions has led his section with great distinction. He has destroyed seven enemy aircraft and possibly several others. His determination and coolness have had a splendid influence on his squadron as a whole."
Words from one of his pupils, Mr. Chris Paul who requested a page to be created for this wonderful man:
"Firstly I must pay tribute to the team who have created this site. A noble cause to great men and women whose shadow we all walk grateful in for the freedom they bestowed upon us.
My part of the story surrounding Mr. Bennions (Ben) was when I joined School in Catterick. I was an “Army Brat” as was so called and this was my father’s last posting before his retirement.
I would have been about 12 or 13 and in what can be typical form for boys of that age, all testosterone - mouth and trousers. I spent curricula lessons in the metalwork and woodwork shop with Mr Bennions.
He was definitely old school and an obvious ex forces candidate with strict requirements and an immediate authority graced with politeness and good manner.
We weren’t bad but we were certainly boys and not the easiest to teach. I can remember being taught by him how to properly hold a metal fie and draw it across metal. There was always a pot of bone glue boiling away in the wood work area. Somewhere I believe at my Mums house I still have the garden trowel I made. “Forged tang and hand riveted blade”
I never knew at that time who’s company I was in and he with his good grace never once let on.
It was several year ago and as a grown man and with a family that I was watching a TV programme of the exploits of the wartime pilots. Low and behold and who should be featured but Ben Bennions.
Almost at will I felt a strange embarrassment creep through my body. That amazing man who I had had the privilege of being taught by, had been treated with somewhat disregard all those years ago.
I have spoken with Kelvin Youngs (Director of this site and my close colleague) of this short snippet of our lives and it has stayed with me for many years. I wish I had been a man when I met Ben and understood his journey, I wish I could have known him and shaken his hand and then I could have said “Thank you for my freedom”.
I could have also said thank you for teaching me how to “Draw the file squarely across the metal” (amongst many things) which I recall each time I do those things in my own workshop. Perhaps people do live on!
Sincerity and respect, Chris Paul"
P/O. Bennions was hit after shooting down a Bf109E. Suffering severe injuries to his left eye, right arm and leg when a cannon shell hit the cockpit of his Spitfire. Despite his injuries he managed to bale out of his stricken aircraft at 14:55 hrs with the aircraft crashing at Heatonthorn Farm, Alborne. He landed at Dunstalls Farm. Found in a field he was quickly taken to the hospital at Horsham for emergency treatment. The surgeons managed to save his right eye but tool ate to save the other. He recovered and continued to serve. A few days later Bennions was transferred to Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where he became one of the first pilots to come under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe, the plastic surgeon who pioneered the treatment for severe burns. Bennions became one of "Archie's Guinea Pigs", the name which the severely burned or otherwise disfigured casualties gave themselves. Later, McIndoe's patients formed the Guinea Pig Club, Bennions was a founder member. By using a parachute to save his life, he had also become eligible for membership of the Caterpillar Club
Ben Bennions had a lucky escape on the 29th July 1940. Taking part in a patrol in Spitfire Ia N3113 his Spitfire was hit damaging the flaps. Forced to return to the base where he carried out a crash landing on the airfield at 08:00 hrs - aircraft
Bennions's time as a patient at East Grinstead had a profound effect on him. Years later, he wrote of his feelings at the time: "Flying had meant everything to me. I had lost an eye, couldn't even write or walk, and felt that my whole life was finished. But Archie was such a marvellous man, and seeing people around me who were much worse off than I was gave me a sense of proportion."
George Herman Bennions was born on March 15th 1913 at Burslem, Staffordshire; but he was a Yorkshireman by adoption, spending almost 60 years living at Catterick, in North Yorkshire. He joined the RAF in 1929 as an aircraft apprentice at Halton, graduating three years later as an aircraft engine fitter. In 1935 he was selected for pilot training and qualified as a sergeant pilot in 1936. He joined No 41 Squadron flying Demon fighters from Khormaksar airfield, Aden, where the squadron was involved in policing operations; it returned to England later in 1936, when it was re-equipped with the elegant Fury fighter.
Left: George Herman Bennions 'Ben'.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, No 41 was operating the Spitfire, and based at RAF Catterick. Bennions was commissioned in April 1940, and three months later his squadron was transferred to Hornchurch. He claimed his first success on July 28th , when he destroyed an Me 109. He repeated this success the following day over Dover, before his Spitfire was badly damaged and he was forced to crash land in Kent.
For a brief spell, No 41 returned to Catterick, and, on August 15, it was heavily engaged against the most concentrated bombing raid so far mounted by the Luftwaffe against northern England. The squadron met a force of 90 bombers off the Yorkshire coast, and inflicted heavy damage on the enemy. Bennions destroyed one aircraft and damaged another. Within days, the squadron had returned to Hornchurch in time for the crucial phase of the Battle.
Other successes followed quickly for Bennions. It is notable that, with the exception of one German bomber, all his 12 victims were fighters. He probably destroyed five more aircraft and damaged a further five.
Once he had recovered from his serious injuries, Bennions regained a limited flying category, but was unable to fly in combat. He became a fighter controller in the North of England and was promoted to squadron leader. In January 1943 he was mentioned in dispatches.
In May 1943 Bennions was posted to Algeria as a senior controller and liaison officer with an American Fighter Group which had recently received Spitfires. He was able to fly on convoy patrols, but was not allowed to take part in combat operations. He commanded a GCI (ground control interception) unit to be sent ashore on Corsica in October. As he descended the ramp of the landing craft, a glide bomb launched by a German bomber exploded, and he was blown on to the beach at Ajacciowith shrapnel wounds. For the second time he became a patient of McIndoe at East Grinstead. For the rest of the war, Bennions was a senior fighter controller at various units in the North of England.
Bennions left the RAF after 17 years service in 1946, and completed a year's teacher training course. The skills learned during his days as an aircraft apprentice provided the ideal basis for him to specialise in technical drawing, metalwork and woodwork.
Right: Risedale School.
He became head of department at Hipswell County School (now Risedale School) at Catterick before he retired after 28 years. He gave up "when it became no longer fashionable to enforce discipline in the educational system".
Bennions was very proud of his service as a "Trenchard Brat" - the nickname given to those trained as aircraft apprentices. He always maintained that the atmosphere of strict discipline, and the first-class training he received, were the foundations for all that he achieved later.
He was a skilled worker in silver, and had his own hallmark. A keen golfer, he was elected captain of his local club at Catterick before being made an honorary life member. With colleagues, he built a dinghy, which he sailed regularly, and for many years he owned a share in a Tiger Moth aircraft, which he continued to fly well into his seventies. A row of new houses built at the nearby RAF base at Catterick was named in his honour.
During the celebrations for the anniversary of the Battle of Britain in 2002, Bennions was invited, with his youngest daughter, to the nearby airfield at RAF Leeming by the Tornado fighter pilots. At the celebration dinner, he was thrilled when a Spitfire flew over the officers' mess in his honour.
Ben Bennions, died on January 30th 2004 age 90, married Avis (née Brown) in March 1935, she died on the 9th June 2000, age 84. They had three daughters, and a son, Tony who died aged 11 months on August 14th 1951.
Left: Nick Thomas: Ben Bennions DFC ISBN: 978184881451.
List of confirmed claims (courtesy Chris Shores):
28th July 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Dover-Calais - Flying Spitfire N3264
29th July 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Dover - Flying Spitfire N3264
15th August 1940 - Bf110 (Destroyed) - Seaham Harbour - Flying Spitfire R6604
15th August 1940 - Bf110 (Damaged) - Seaham Harbour - Flying Spitfire R6604
05th September 1940 - Bf109E (Probable) - South Gravesend - Flying Spitfire R6684
05th September 1940 - Ju88 (Destroyed) - Isle of Sheppey - Flying Spitfire R6684
05th September 1940 - Ju88 (Damaged) - Isle of Sheppey - Flying Spitfire R6684
06th September 1940 - 2 x Bf109E (Destroyed) - East Eastchurch - Flying Spitfire R6684
09th September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Maidstone - Flying Spitfire X4343
11th September 1940 - Bf110 (Damaged) - Maidstone - Flying Spitfire X4343
15th September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Ashford - Flying Spitfire X4343
15th September 1940 - Do17 (Damaged) - East London - Flying Spitfire X4343
17th September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Maidstone - Flying Spitfire X4317
18th September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - West Gravesend - Flying Spitfire X4317
18th September 1940 - 2 x Bf109E (Probable) - West Gravesend - Flying Spitfire X4317
18th September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - West Gravesend - Flying Spitfire X4317
23rd September 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Dover - Flying Spitfire R6619
28th September 1940 - Bf109E (Probable) - Canterbury - Flying Spitfire R6619
28th September 1940 - Bf109E (Probable) - South of Brighton - Flying Spitfire R6619
01st October 1940 - Bf109E (Destroyed) - Enfield, Sussex - Flying Spitfire X4559
None - survived this and the war.
Researched for Mr. Chris Paul and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to sources quoted below as well as the Daily Telegraph, Winston G. Ramsey: Battle of Britain, Then and Now ISBN: 0-9009- 13-19-3. Chris Shores: Aces High.ISBN: 1-898697-00-0. Pathe News. Nick Thomas: Ben Bennions DFC ISBN: 978184881451.