CAPTAIN IVAN PROVIS WENTWORTH BENNETT
THE QUEEN'S ROYAL WEST SURREY REGIMENT
14TH JULY 1916 AGE 25
BURIED: THIEPVAL ANGLO-FRENCH CEMETERY, SOMME, FRANCE
If Ivan Bennett had not had such distinctive initials his body would probably never have been identified. Shot in the head whilst leading an attack on Trones Wood on 13 July 1916 (this was the day of the attack in which he was killed even though the War Graves Commission gives his date of death as the 14th), his body was not recovered from the battlefield until it was discovered in December 1931. There was no identity disc on the body, which was wearing an officer's tunic with the buttons of The Queen's West Surrey Regiment, but among the effects discovered with it was a whistle, a cigarette holder and a pencil case engraved with the initials I.P.W.B.
Bennett was buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. This cemetery was designed to hold the bodies of 300 French and 300 British soldiers of which only 61 British and 57 French bodies were identified. The intention was to symbolise the joint sacrifice made in this region by the soldiers of both nations, especially the unidentified 'missing' whose names were among the 72,000 recorded on the memorial.
Ivan Bennett's inscription was chosen by his cousin Mrs Dorothy Joyce Bousted (nee Husey-Hunt). His mother was still alive, widowed in 1908 when her husband, from whom she was separated, committed suicide in Bournemouth. Following which, Ivan, who was 17 and in the Lower Sixth at Wellington College, left school and became articled to a firm of solicitors in Guildford. On the outbreak of war he took a commission in The Queen's, went to France in July 1915, and was promoted Captain that November.
Ivan was one of five children, three boys and two girls. One of his brothers, Vere Cyril Wentworth Bennett, died of pneumonia in Italy in October 1918 whilst serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery. His mother chose his inscription - "Honourable, loving and beloved". She was still alive when Ivan's body was discovered but neither she nor one of the sisters chose his inscription. In the 1901 census, ten-year-old Ivan is staying with his uncle and aunt and their five-year-old daughter Dorothy Joyce Husey-Hunt in Hove, Sussex. His parents and siblings were living in Bedford. Does this mean that his cousin had a particularly close relationship with Ivan, is this why she chose his inscription?
The lines come from 'Rupert Brooke', a poem by Alfred Dodd published in 1918 in a small collection called 'The Ballad of the Iron Cross'. The poem echoes the style and rhythms of Brooke's 'The Soldier' and outlines Dodd's belief in the survival of the spirit after death, not as in the Christian belief in eternal life but as in the world of Spiritualism.
"If I should die before I've reaped my mind
Of all its fruits - its tares as well as grain,
Think not half-empty hands have toiled in vain
A meagre harvest ... scattered to the wind!
Think not that destiny hath dealt unkind
With heart-emotions, ... surging thoughts of brain,
And that my sheaves are rotting in the rain,
Washed by the pitiless years I've left behind.
Think, rather, this: That I on other fields
Have joined the happy reapers who are free
To garner all the wealth that summer yields, ...
Thoughts beauteous with the fire of holy truth, ...
And, unafraid of winter, think of me,
Crowned with the sunshine of immortal youth."