The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. G W Benn
Gordon William Benn was born in July 1912 in East Preston, Sussex and joined the RAF on 16th October 1930 at the age of 18 as an Aircrafthand. After three months of training at Uxbridge, Benn was posted to a Vimy bomber squadron at Hawkinge.
In July 1931 he went to 423 Flight aboard HMS Furious, operating Fairey Flycatchers. The unit was transferred in 1932 to HMS Courageous of the Mediterranean Fleet based in Malta.
He returned to the RAF in 1933, presumably his earlier service was responsible for the nickname 'Sailor' by which he was known from then on, serving firstly at RAF Gosport before going to HMS Hornet, a repair unit for Air-Sea Rescue boats.
He went east in 1935 to Ambala in India and joined 28 Squadron under S/Ldr. CJS Dearlove. The squadron operated Westland Wapitis and Benn remustered as a trainee Air Gunner, taking part in the RAF’s main function of suppressing tribal unrest on the North West Frontier.
In 1937 he moved with the Squadron to Manzi where unrest had been fomented by the Fakir of Ipi. Benn earned an India General Service Medal for this campaign.
Benn returned to the UK in January 1938 and joined 217 Squadron as a Corporal Air Gunner, flying in Ansons. It operated from Tangmere, Warmwell and Carew Cheriton where detachments were engaged in observing submarine activity.
Prior to the outbreak of war the squadron was heavily involved in evacuating VIP's from the Channel Islands.
At the outbreak of war he was posted to 219 Squadron, then being reformed at Catterick with Blenheims. On 15th August the aircrew had been assembled 'in best blues' for a squadron photograph. For the first time a major raid was detected approaching the Yorkshire coast from bases in Norway and they were scrambled to intercept 42 Ju88’s that were approaching Flamborough Head.
At about 1300 six Blenheim’s took off, Benn crewed with Sgt. FG Nightingale in L1240. They engaged one enemy aircraft and set it on fire but had to break away after being attacked by Spitfires. During the ensuing violent manoeuvres Benn was knocked out when thrown around the gun turret.
He flew with the squadron throughout the Battle of Britain.
After flying operationally for three years, Benn came off operations in 1942 and went to 53 MU Charlwood, a depot supplying bombs to squadrons on a 24-hour basis.
In August 1945 Benn went to Singapore with 5353 Airfield Construction Wing, to build metal runways at Changi. They were needed to enable PoWs to be ferried home using York aircraft. After this he joined 314 MU at Seletar, where fourteen RAF men, with the aid of two hundred Japanese PoWs, were dismantling or disposing of Japanese bombs.
Home again in 1948, Benn was posted to a Radar/Signals Unit at Chicksands, to RAF Luqa in Malta in 1949, returned to the UK in 1952 and was discharged to pension on 16th October 1954 as a Warrant Officer.
On 15th December 1954 Benn had obtained temporary employment working on HMS Talent, a submarine being refitted in drydock at Chatham. The retaining gate collapsed and the submarine was swept out of the dock, across the River Medway and into the mudflats at the far side. Thick fog, nightfall and high tides hampered the search and she was not found until the next day. Four men were killed and Benn was lucky to be rescued from the river.
He was employed by the Orient Line in 1956.
Benn died on 2nd February 2005.
In early 2004 Gordon Benn, whose existence or whereabouts were totally unknown by the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and other interested bodies, responded to the early publicity for the London Monument. We were fortunate that ex-Sgt. John Keatings of 219 Squadron was still with us and he was able to establish in a phone conversation that it was indeed his old squadron comrade.
About a month later John Keatings and his wife Jill were able to team up with another ex-219 gunner, Howard Duart, and meet Gordon in London.
Above: Benn (left) with 'Bugs' Keatings
In discussing the upcoming monument-related functions Gordon mentioned that his war medals had long ago gone missing. To rectify this a print of 219 aircrew at readiness was produced by Roger Rogers, an artist who has been of great assistance to the monument fund-raising effort, with copies signed by six surviving members of 219 Squadron.
Above: Benn with his copy of the print.
The prints were then sold at one of the airshows at Duxford. The medals, genuine and not replica, were duly acquired and professionally engraved and mounted by Benson and Clegg of Piccadilly.
The full entitlement was; North West Frontier 1936-37, 1939-45 Star with Battle of Britain clasp, Aircrew Europe star, War Medal, Defence Medal and the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.
The remaining funds were sufficient to purchase a Fighter Association tie.
On Friday 16th October 2004 Gordon was presented with the medals by Howard Duart’s daughter Pauline (below).
Above: the medals and tie, the Battle of Britain Clasp was issued later.
Thanks are due to all involved :
Gerry Burke, who instigated the project, David Lawton, Roger Rogers, Wing Commander Dick Summers, Flight Sergeant John Keatings, Flight Lieutenant Terry Clark, Flight Lieutenant Albert Gregory, Flight Lieutenant Howard Duart and Pauline Duart.