The Airmen's Stories - P/O G H Bennions
George Herman Bennions was born at Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent on 15th March 1913. At that point, Bennions, his father and other family members had the surname 'Bennion'. However, from early in his RAF career George Herman started to use 'Bennions', apparently after a mistake was made on an emergency passport. Both versions of the name appear in official documents referring to him. The rest of this entry refers to him as 'Bennions'.
GH Bennions’ father, Edward Bennion, worked in the pottery industry and served in the North Staffordshire Regiment in the First World War, reaching the rank of Sergeant. During the third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) in 1917 he was severely wounded by a sniper’s bullet which hit him in the head. He spent several years in hospital and undergoing rehabilitation. He later worked as a school caretaker, assisted by his wife Mary, whose trade was also in the pottery industry.
GH Bennions went to North Road School, Moreland Road School and Longton High School. He was a keen sportsman who played at left back in school football games. He took a great interest in the flying aces of the First World War and paid for a flight with Sir Alan Cobham from Meir aerodrome not far from his home.
Bennions joined the RAF at Halton in January 1929, as an Aircraft Apprentice, his friend Ralph Carnall joining at the same time. Bennions passed out as an LAC Engine Fitter in December 1931.
Later recommended for a cadetship at RAF College, Cranwell, Bennions did his initial flying training there but the cadetship did not materialise.
Bennions later applied for pilot training, was accepted and in 1935 he continued his flying training at 3 FTS Grantham. After qualifying in January 1936 he joined 41 Squadron at Khormaksar, Aden as a Sergeant-Pilot.
Promoted to Flight Sergeant in November 1938, Bennions was commissioned in April 1940. In June he was detached to the School of Air Navigation at St. Athan for a course. He rejoined 41, then based at Catterick, on the 30th.
On 28th and 29th July 1940 he claimed Me109s destroyed. On the 29th Bennions was himself shot down over Dover and he made a crash-landing at Manston with damaged flaps, in Spitfire N3264.
On 15th August Bennions claimed a Me110 and another damaged, on 5th September a Ju88 destroyed, a Me109 probably destroyed and a Ju88 damaged. On the 6th he claimed two Me109s shot down and on the 7th his undercarriage collapsed on landing at Rochford after combat, in which he probably destroyed a Me109.
Another Me109 was claimed on the 9th and he damaged a Me110 on the 11th. On this day Bennions landed at Hornchurch with a shell splinter in his heel.
A Me109 was claimed as destroyed and a Do17 damaged on the 15th, a Me109 shot down on the 17th and a Me109 destroyed, two more probably destroyed and one damaged on the 18th. Bennions destroyed another Me109 on the 23rd, probably two more on the 28th, probably another on the 30th and his final victory, another Me109, came on 1st October 1940.
On this day, in combat with Me109s over Henfield, Bennions had a cannon shell explode in his cockpit, blinding him in one eye and wounding his right arm and leg. He baled out, landing at Dunstalls Farm, and after emergency treatment at Horsham Hospital, he was transferred to Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.
His Spitfire, X4559, crashed on Heatenthorn Farm, Alborne.
Bennions was a founder member of the Guinea Pig Club when he underwent plastic surgery by Archie Mclndoe. His DFC (gazetted 1st October 1940) was awarded on the day he was shot down.
When recovered, Bennions was anxious to fly again and after a test at CFS he was given an A2B non-operational category, which allowed him to fly only by day and with a passenger, who could look out.
In 1943 Bennions was posted to North Africa, where he was appointed Liaison Officer to an American Fighter Group which had recently received Spitfires. In Sicily he flew Spitfires on convoy patrols but took no part in combat.
In October 1943 Bennions was commanding a Ground Control Interception unit. He suffered shrapnel wounds, when the landing craft he was in, at Ajaccio, Corsica, was sunk by enemy action.
He returned to the UK and was once again a patient at East Grinstead. After release from the RAF in 1946, as a Squadron Leader, Bennions briefly worked as welfare officer for a building contractor before undertaking a year of teacher training and becoming a schoolmaster for 28 years, much of the time at the school at Catterick Camp. His main subjects were metalwork, woodwork and maths. He also took physical education. He maintained his interest in aviation, acting as co-pilot of his friend Bill Meynall’s Tiger Moth, including in air races and performing aerobatics at shows.
In 1974 Bennions was present when the remains of the Spitfire he had been flying on 1st October 1940 were recovered from the crash site by the Wealden Aviation Archaeology Group.
Not long before his death Bennions was involved in a family dispute, attracting national publicity, relating to his accommodation. Litigation was begun but the matter was settled out of court.
Bennions died on 30th January 2004. He was buried at St Anne’s Church, Catterick Village. At the funeral on 7th February the pall bearers were Tornado aircrew from RAF Leeming.
Bennions Way, Catterick Village, is named in his honour.