Topic: Walter Leslie Bennett

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Walter Leslie Bennett (Service no. 6/3621) was a First World War soldier and is remembered on the Hornby Primary School War Memorial.

Walter Leslie BennettWalter Leslie Bennett was a New Zealand soldier who took part in the First World War at a very young age. He was only a teenager when he joined the army and he returned to New Zealand with three foreign decorations.  Information gathered from various historical records, when put together portray a remarkable story of courage and determination of a very young soldier.  

According to his BDM record, Walter Leslie Bennett was born in Doyleston, Ellesmere, Canterbury on 11th Oct, 1898 to John Bennett and Margaret Hannah. The online cenotaph maintained by the Auckland Museum gives Walter Bennett’s service number as 6/3621 for his involvement in WW1.  His military personnel file from Archives New Zealand, shows that he was born on 5th Oct 1895 and that he was 5’4”tall with blonde hair and blue eyes. W.L. Bennett had some military training as a senior cadet in Levin before going to the war.    

Walter’s parents John Bennett and Margaret were married in 1888.  Walter was the 5th child, having an older sister called Margaret Julia and three older brothers Thomas Henry, Frederick William, and Frank Gresford. Walter also had two younger sisters Sarah Tunstall and Phyllis May, and a younger brother Arthur James Harold ( BDM historical records ). 

Star , Issue 12701, 24 July 1919, Page 4An article from the Fielding Star showed Walter was only a teenager when he was recruited to the C Company of 5th Reinforcements in May, 1915.  The same year, he came under fire at Gallipoli. Barely a year later, in August 1916, he was wounded with shrapnel in the leg at Armentieres.  He made a speedy recovery, and went through Passchendaele, where he was wounded again, this time with a bayonet in the right thigh. After his recovery in 1918, he returned to the battle front from Cambrai. To his misfortune, he was seriously wounded by the explosion of a shell. He lost his bottom jaw and chin, together with half of his tongue in that explosion. He had to spend several months in hospital in England, before returning to New Zealand on April 30, 1919. This was only the fifth year of his service.

During his tenure abroad, he received three decorations between March and September 1918. These distinguished medals were (i) the Belgian Croix de Guerre received from King Albert in Gonzeaucourt, for gallantry in capturing German machine-guns, (ii) the French Croix de Guerre for his assistance in capturing a German patrol near Rheims, and (iii) the Medaille Militaire of the First class which is the highest decoration in the gift of the French Republic, for saving the life of a wounded French soldier.  Both the French honours were conferred on him by the then President of France, Poincare in the Boulevard de la Concord. The last of these medals, the Medaille Militaire was a silver star with an inscription on the reverse which read "Valeur et Discipline".  This medal is considered as the equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

After returning to New Zealand in 1919, Walter reported to the Jaw Hospital in Dunedin for further treatment.

Walter passed away on 1st November 1963, and is buried at the Papakura Cemetry in Auckland.

 Since he had his early education at Hornby Primary School, his name can be found inscribed on the wall of   Hornby Primary School War Memorial.

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Walter Leslie Bennett

First Names:Walter Leslie
Last Name:Bennett
Place of Birth:Doyleston, Ellesmere, Canterbury