Private Benjamin Thomas DeVoil
Thank you to Lorraine Spindler for the following research.
Benjamin was born in Brixton in 1889 and baptised on the 27th July 1889 at Tulse Hill Holy Trinity. The 1911 census shows Benjamin living with his father Benjamin Snr and mother Henrietta Mark DeVoil in Dorking at ‘Woodside’ in Harrow Road. Benjamin, aged 21 in 1911, was the eldest of four siblings including Eustace Richard (14), Amy Edwina Alexandra (8) and Donald Harry (6).
At the time of the 1911 census Benjamin was working as a clerk at a corn merchants and his father was a domestic gardener. Benjamin Snr. Had been married to Henrietta for twenty two years and in that time they had suffered the loss of four children. The Eastbourne Gazette records the death on 13 January 1902 of May DeVoil aged ten years and nine months.
Benjamin’s siblings were all at school. The family had moved around as the census shows Benjamin senior was born in Hertfordshire, Henrietta was from Eastbourne, Benjamin Jnr had been born in Brixton, Eustace and Amy in Eastbourne and Donald in Dorking – suggesting that the family had lived in Dorking at least since 1905.
The DeVoil family were active members within the Dorking community; pre-war papers indicated that Benjamin Thomas DeVoil was the Hon. Secretary of the local St. Paul’s football club, suggesting he may also have been a player for the team. A Mr. B DeVoil is also shown as a member of Dorking Rifle Club which may account for his choice to join the Queen’s Westminster Rifles. Plus he is shown playing for the St Paul’s Chess Club.
Benjamin’s service number suggests he joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles (QWR) in September 1914. The Dorking Roll of Honour reproduced in the Epsom District Times and County Post shows Benjamin had been posted to H Company of the 2nd Battalion QWR.
At the outbreak of war the QWR’s trained at Leverstock Green in Hertfordshire. Benjamin may well have joined as the QWR as a volunteer with the Territorial Army – their pre-war annual camp took place in Abergavenny in 1913. As a result of their training it the QWR was one of the few territorial regiments thought fit enough for overseas service at the outbreak of war in August 1914. However, Benjamin’s medal card indicated that he entered overseas military service in France on the 4th July 1915.
On 11th September 1915, some seven months after Benjamin’s arrival in France, the Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser carried an article entitled “Shrapnel Breakfast” For the Huns – Trench Life in Flanders. The article was the reproduction of Benjamin’s letter to his eighteen year old brother Eustace.
Benjamin was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of the Somme 1 July 1916 and buried (plot IV.B.24) at Gommecourt Wood New Cemetery, Foncquevillers, France – he was twenty seven years old.
His medal card includes the comment ‘Death Pres. 1.7.16’ indicating that at first he was listed as missing in action. His body was later found and his grave marked. Benjamin qualified for the Star, Victory and British medals.
On the 1st July 1916 the Queen’s Westminster Rifles stepped into No Man’s Land in the face of a curtain of German bullets from machine gun fire. Many of the German trenches were captured but of the 750 officers and men who went over the top that day, 600 were killed, wounded or missing. There was so much spoke it would have been exceptionally difficult for Benjamin to make out their attack objectives, most of the German’s had withdrawn but not before setting several traps in the dug outs.
Foncquevillers was in British hands in 1915 and 1916. On 1 July 1916 Benjamin took part in the attack on Gommecourt Wood and village by the 46th (North Midland) Division and the 56th (London) Division. The attack was initially successful but could not be maintained and revert to a salient in the German line until 27 February 1917 when the German’s evacuated the area. During the March 1918 German offensive the area was still part of the British front lines. Benjamin was buried in July 1916 as part of the battlefield clearance.
The war memorial in Great Dunmow, Essex also lists Benjamin’s name.
Son of Benjamin and Henrietta DeVoil of Woodside Harrow Road, Dorking
Regiment 16th London Regiment (Queen’s Westminster Rifles)
Date of Death 1st July 1916
Place of Death France
Cause of Death Killed in Action
Cemetery Gommecourt No. 2 Cemetery, Hebuterne, Somme, France