SECOND LIEUTENANT HARLEY BENTHAM
DUKE OF WELLINGTON'S WEST RIDING REGIMENT
16TH SEPTEMBER 1918 AGE 23
BURIED: SUNKEN ROAD CEMETERY, BOISLEUX-ST. MARC, GERMANY
I have just watched a television programme where one of the commentators was spitting with rage at the fact that officers got a clothing allowance and extra pay despite the fact that they were already all so much better off than the soldiers. The commentator was wrong; all officers weren't necessarily better off.
Harley Bentham was the son of a Midlands Railway Company signalman who had begun his working life as an assistant railway porter. The family lived in a small terraced house at 7 Thorndale St, Hellifield, Yorkshire.
Bentham attended Giggleswick Grammar School and left work to become a clerk in the Bank of Liverpool in Settle. He enlisted in January 1916 as a private in the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. In December 1916 he was recommended for a commission and in August 1917 was gazetted second lieutenant.
On 13 September 1918 Bentham was wounded in action by shellfire "whilst gallantly leading his men" in a successful attack, which captured the town of Havrincourt. Bentham's lieutenant colonel reassured his parents that their son had not suffered and that he'd died shortly after reaching the Casualty Clearing Station. There's always been a suspicion that such reassurances were mere words, especially as we know that Bentham didn't die until the third day after he'd been wounded.
Thomas Bentham chose a very gentle inscription for his son, who was his parents' only child - 'He loved to do a kind action'. One such action was a letter he wrote to the sister of one of the men in his regiment. This was whilst he was still a private so it was not his job to do so but as he says to her: "I have been asked by some of the lads to write to you and tell you how sorry we are and how we sympathise with you in your great loss". Bentham tells the sister how her brother was killed when a shell burst on the parapet right beside him. He assures her that death would have been instantaneous and that he wouldn't have suffered. In this instance it's possible to believe him.