Bob Bennett is convinced his father, Captain Benjamin W. Bennett, was deliberately killed by German forces in Guernsey for an act of defiance in refusing to take on board his ship the MV Spinel a number of soldiers at Granville.
Bob Bennett lives in St Helier No1 District and I met him canvassing. I found his story fascinating for a number of reasons. I let him recount his story here without judgment. All his life he has sought recognition for an act of resistance by his father and subsequent tragic death, which Bob is convinced are intimately linked.
Captain Benjamin W. Bennett (1889 -1941)
Captain Benjamin W. Bennett was born at Cheapside, St. Helier in 1889. His father was a coachman and ran livery stables.
“Ben” was not too keen on working with horses and ran away from home to serve on a Newfoundland trader at an early age and remained a mariner all his life.
At 20 in 1909, he was a sailor on the “Progress” of Sunderland which he seemed to intermix with service as mate on a couple of ketches for Renouf & Co of Jersey until 1914.
He moved around the coast of Britain working on sailing vessels or steamers as seaman, mate, master or AB as necessary. During the First World War he served on “trooping” ships such as the “Karnak” of Liverpool or SS “Buccaneer” of West Hartlepool, ferrying men and equipment across to Cherbourg and other ports.
He always received good references such as “a most trustworthy officer…always sober and most attentive to his duty,” from his employers.
Antarctic rescue mission - Ernest Shackleton
His service on Scott’s former “Discovery” ship occurred during four months of the summer/autumn of 1916. By then the historic ship was employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company but was released in order to rescue Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic team from Elephant Island. In fact, the Chileans beat them to it but “Ben” had seen some Southern oceans, been paid £40 (less deductions) and had been part of an internationally famous episode.
He passed as a Jersey Pilot for local waters in 1928 and continued serving on various commercial vessels until the Second World War.
From 1926 to 1932 he commanded Florence, Lady Trent’s motor yacht “Aphrodite.” His wage then was £4 per week in 1929 plus assistance with his railway fare “to and from Gorey.”
During the Occupation, in November 1940, he became Captain of the M.V. “Spinel.”
She was a small coaster, Scottish built in 1937 for Robertson’s shipping line of Glasgow, that had been sunk by German bombers at Dunkirk during the early days of evacuation. Raised and patched-up by the Germans she was offered to the Jersey States as a supply vessel to service the needs of the civil population.
"Bob" Bennett the Cabin Boy
Robert – sometimes “Bob” or “Ben” – his eldest son, joined the crew of about a dozen men as cabin boy. He was then sixteen. Now eighty-eight (in 2011) he features in the video interviews here.
As “Bob” explains, his father Captain Benjamin was killed at Guernsey on Saturday 22 February 1941 whilst trying to re-join the “Spinel” in harbour, on a low-tide. He is convinced that his father was deliberately killed as a result of refusing to transport German troops from Granville to Jersey and he describes that incident here.
“Bob” never attended his father’s funeral because the “Spinel” was ordered to Alderney but over 100 mourners did at St. James Church, St. Helier, including representatives from the German forces, the Guernsey and Jersey administrations, mariners, pilots etc. He was 52 years of age and interred alongside his father at Almorah cemetery.
John Leale, the President of the Guernsey Controlling Committee wrote to Captain Bennett’s widow – “Bob’s” distraught mother – a brief letter on 24 February 1941 expressing the very deep sympathy of the Committee and the Bailiff etc. He added “I hope it will be some consolation to you to realise that your husband met his death while doing his duty as a man should.”
Upon return to Jersey, in spite of words of caution from his family, “Bob” continued to repeat his allegations against the Germans. Friendly Germans also warned him he was becoming an object of official attention. It was not long before he was arrested by the German political Police and interrogated.
In February 1943 “Bob” was shipped out of Jersey along with 27 or so other Jersey “naughty boys” and others from Guernsey and Sark for detention in Poland. It would be nearly three years before he was able to return to Jersey, but that is a tale for another day.
Now, “Bob” Bennett only wants deserved recognition for his father, as many others have received, for doing his duty and giving his life, during the Occupation of the Channel Islands.
Thanks to the The Loftsman for information about MV Spinel