One of the joys of this project has been the correspondence that is has generated from the public, which has lead to new information coming to light about the LSO and its players during the war.
Recently we were delighted to receive an email from Sam Young, who had read this blog and had some information for us about his Great Grandfather George Bennett. Sam had been researching his Great Grandfather, a horn player with the Hallé Orchestra who sadly had not survived World War I, and had come across some evidence that he had also played with the LSO. Did we have any details, he asked?
George had indeed performed with the LSO, on the famous 1912 tour of America which we had covered in our documentary marking 100 years since the tour. We were able to send Sam the photos of the tour which featured George and furnish him with the intimate details of the tour that we had gleaned from a handwritten diary by the timpanist Charles Turner which we have in the LSO Archive.
In return Sam has sent us an enormous amount of information about George's life both before and during the war. Although George was not an official Member of the LSO, we have added him to our Community on Lives of the First World War in order to remember his sacrifice amongst that of the other musicians of the Orchestra, and are thrilled to be able to tell his story.
George Arthur Bennett was born in Birmingham on 27 August 1886 to George Samuel Bennett, an Auctioneer Caretaker, and Sarah Jane Halford. Somewhat controversially, George's parents did not get married until 1891, four years after George Jnr was born. His sister Ethel was born in 1894. He attended George Dixon Secondary School on Oozells Street - the building is now the Ikon Gallery, and the school is now an academy on a different site. By the age of 15 George had already taken a job as a Cabinet Maker, a fact which we can see from the 1901 census, but alongside this taught the French Horn at the Midlands Institute School of Music.
Before beginning his orchestral life with the Hallé, George spent a brief period with the Canadian Kilties Band, a Scottish-Canadian group ('Canada's Greatest Concert Band') whom he may have met during their tour of the UK in 1904. George toured with the band: immigration documents from Ellis Island, completed at the time of the LSO's 1912 tour and which had to list previous visits, suggest that this was around 1906, aged about 20.
George married Madeline May Wright in Kings Norton in 1909 (although Sam's grandfather, George's son John, reported that George's parents disapproved of the marriage). Shortly afterwards George and Madeline moved to Manchester as George had been invited to join the Hallé Orchestra in the 1910/11 season. The couple lived in Whalley Range, a suburb of Manchester, but also had a home in Llandudno, where it seems that George would play for the Llandudno Pier Orchestra during the summer break from the Hallé. George and Madeline's son John Leslie Bennett was born in Manchester in 1914.
George remained a member of the Hallé throughout the remainder of his life. Unfortunately the circumstances under which he was asked to join the LSO for their 1912 tour are unrecorded, although the conductor Hans Richter, who invited George to join the Hallé, was Principal Conductor of both the LSO and the Hallé between 1904 and 1911, so may have introduced George to his London colleagues. Some newspaper cuttings in the family's possession show that the Llandudno Pier Orchestra was conducted by A W Payne – the LSO's first Leader from 1904 to 1912. The two men were undoubtedly friends.
In 1915 George enlisted in the Army at Llandudno and was sent to join the 28th Battalion of the London Regiment, known as the Artist Rifles, where he was part of the Officer Training Corps. We know that there were two other members of the LSO who served in the Artist Rifles around this time: violinist Horace Ralph and flautist Eli Hudson, whom George may have know from his orchestral days, although none of our records show these men appearing on the same concert programme.
In the uniform of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment
He transferred to 2nd/6th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment where he served as a 2nd Lieutenant. The Battalion arrived in France on 21 May 1916, and took part in various battles, including The Battle of Albert, The Battle of Bazentin, The Battle of Delville Wood, The Battle of Guillemont, and Operations on the Ancre. In 1917 George was involved in the Battle of Cambrai. He was killed by a shell whilst leaving a dugout on 3 December 1917 during the German counter-attack. Sadly there were no remains found, and he is remembered on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval in France which was constructed specially for the purpose of remembering the men whose graves could not be marked. He was survived by his wife and his 3-year-old son John – tragically it seems that he had just managed to arrange a visit home for Christmas when he was killed.
George's death was recorded in several newspapers, including the local press in Llandudno where he had made a name for himself in the Pier Orchestra. The orchestra performed Mendelssohn's Funeral March at a concert in his memory – a press cutting notes that he was the orchestra's first man killed in the war, which must have been a shock to the community. He is recorded on the Llandudno Cenotaph, and his widow Madeline later retired there in the 1950s, although immediately after his death she remained in Manchester, where the Hallé Orchestra looked after her by paying her his pension.
It has been fantastic to receive so much information from George's family, about a man we knew next to nothing about, save for a brief entry in the 1912 tour programme. It is wonderful to see the family line continue, even though George was killed tragically young – Sam tells us that the musical gene has probably skipped his generation, although he learned trumpet at school: the brass gene certainly didn't skip anyway! We are indebted to Sam and indeed Sam's mum, George's Granddaughter, for digging through the suitcase of family photos and articles. Sam has put lots more information and photos on George's page on Lives of the First World War.