Our Heritage: The secret World War One surprises found in Bentham

David Johnson studying the WW1 exhibition at Low Bentham church.
David Johnson studying the WW1 exhibition at Low Bentham church.

The decision to promote an exhibition about Bentham’s part in the Great War produced one or two surprises.

One was the unexpected and exciting news that a Victoria Cross (VC) was awarded to a soldier born in Bentham and the other was the dramatically large number of Conscientious Objectors in Bentham.

Details of these discoveries can be seen at an exhibition at St John the Baptist Church, Low Bentham, between 10am and 4pm throughout the month of August.

The exhibition will be enhanced by a floral tribute to the soldiers entitled Flowers for Remembrance illustrating Bentham’s part in the Great War.

Research into the part played by Bentham men in WW1 began with St John the Baptist Roll of Honour together with the names on the plaque outside the town hall in High Bentham.

It was soon evident that more was necessary and extensive research followed.

The display focuses on all those who served their country. There is a list of all 209 Bentham men who it has been possible to identify, together with a brief summary about most of them.

There is much more detail about most of the 55 who died. Some of the information has been based (with permission) on the website ‘Craven’s Part in the Great War’ but this has been expanded to add as many personal details as possible using the census, newspaper reports etc.

In addition there are ‘pen portraits’ of some Bentham men and their war-time experiences based on information provided by proud families. One contribution is an article by Monsignor Paul Hypher about Rev Theodore Bayley Hardy VC MC DSO.

Hardy was the headmaster of Bentham Grammar School between 1907 and 1913 and was the most decorated non-combatant of the war.

It is a puzzle that despite his service to the community and country his name was omitted from the town war memorial.

The surprises mentioned earlier came from two different sources.

The work of Cyril Pearce, together with local information, has revealed a list of 31 Conscientious Objectors from Bentham.

This was an unusually high number in proportion to the 209 who served in the forces and from a total Bentham population of approximately 2,300.

The figure is largely explained by the powerful Quaker influence in the area and the support provided by the Ford family, prominent Quakers, who owned the local silk mill.

The most recent surprise came ‘out of the blue’, from David Carter who has researched a book entitled The Stockbrokers Battalion in the Great War.

He discovered that Charles Graham Robertson, awarded the VC for gallantry at Poderhoek Chateau Belgium, was born at 17 Millhouses, Wenning Avenue, High Bentham.

The story is complicated because his name changed three times and he moved from Bentham to Penrith at an early age and then on to Dorking (Surrey) and that probably explains why Bentham has been blissfully unaware of his existence until now.

The town should now qualify for a high-tech QR commemorative paving stone in his honour. Full details at the exhibition!