21 July 1916 – Paul to Gertrude


c/o G.P.O.


July. 21st


Dear Mother-

Very many thanks for your letter – you seem to have had a busy week end again – such heaps of strange people to me they seem to be- I’ve just had a long letter from Jane telling me all about it. I hear Sheina is going to help her when Chubbie goes on her holiday – rather nice for her eh!

The Bishop of London is coming to visit the Fleet on Sunday – & to hold a confirmation- Think I shall go & hear him speak – as I never have as yet.

We are having topping weather again – it’s such a dud place where we are though – no tennis or anything like that.

Awfully little news – I am very well & fit-

Best love to you all

Your ever loving son


Bishop of London (pic from visit to Fleet below)

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Posted by on 21 July, '16 in HMS Malaya, Rosyth


20 July 1916 – Richard to Gertrude

Thursday 20th.

on the old train still.


Dear Mother,

Many thanks for your letter. It is a shame about Topher’s leave. I do hope he has it by this time, but I suppose as long as the big push goes on no one will get any. Pathetic indeed his nearly crying when he got your letters. Fancy Paul shaking hands with the King, getting in with Royalty an’ all.

How exciting that motor accident sounds, but I wonder there are’nt more really, except I suppose so few people drive nowadays, is’nt petrol 2/10 a gallon or something. Guildford seems in the habit of having an annual fire. I know where you mean. Gates is where I get a Wensleydale cheese. It was lucky the hospital escaped.

I am glad Dreda enjoyed her holiday. Many thanks for the Bystander & London Mail & Daily Mirror.

Ted came down this time to see me at Amballa. His old C.O. was very stingy & he could only be with me a very little while. However it was awfully nice seeing him & he looked very well, but perhaps a bit balder. I did’nt tell him so, & don’t for goodness sake say I said so. He had dinner with me on the train, & we biked about Amballa on my old mo bike. Ted sitting on a cushion on the back. His train went at 2.15 that night. I was so glad to see him though & I hope he’ll be able to get down to Karachi.

I believe I may have to do another trip as the real O.C. Amb. train is not back yet.

We are just passing through the Sind desert and it’s getting hotter & hotter.

I hope to get some mail tomorrow but you never know.

Best love to all

Your loving son


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Posted by on 20 July, '16 in About


18 July 1916 – Ted to Gertrude



July 18/16


Dear Mother

Very many thanks for your letter last mail & the pink papers an’ all. I am just down here for a day to meet Dick, who is turning up tonight in his old hospital train; even if he’s absolutely punctual I shall only see him for a few hours, as I have to catch a train back tonight to make certain of getting back to Lansdowne tomorrow.

I came down yesterday and arrived here about 5.30 this morning. A good deal hotter than Lansdowne of course, but not unpleasant, very muggy & sticky as usual in the rains. But it’s an amusing little Jaunt & ought to be awful fun seeing Dick this evening. I rather fancy it’s his last trip in this train.

The Lieut-Governor of the United Provinces is coming up to Lansdowne on Sunday; he’s the biggest Civil bug of the U.P. so we are having parades & lunches & dinners for him, so that’s why I have to hurry back.

What rotten luck on old Topher not getting his leave yet; but I’m afraid he won’t be getting it now. We seem to be having good success still on the Western front, which speaks volumes for the new armies & the munition workers; the cost is great, & the casualty lists terribly long, but it’s got to be I’m afraid. So far I think the push has been wonderfully successful, everyone seems very confident.

Yes I saw the King has been to see the fleet. Paul’s moving in high society isn’t he, shaking hands with Royalty an’ all. What excitement you’ve had; I know the Grocer’s shop you mean, & the Abbots hospital must have had a very narrow squeak. I had a long letter from Rosamond last mail, she does seem to enjoy her farming I must say. Is’nt Ben going on to land too soon? I have an idea she said something about it.

What a splendid letter that was from our prisoner of war, thanks awfully for sending a copy, we were all most interested. I suppose they get a Hindustani-speaking German to write for them, & I think they treat our men fairly well too.

Thanks awfully for sending the food etc, they do appreciate it don’t they. I rather agree with you about the war being over this year. Is’nt Verdun wonderful.

Love to all- from your loving son



Lt-Gov of the United Provinces, 1912-17

Three Pigeons pub fire alluded to re Abbot’s Hospital

Podcast & poss info on Indian POWs


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Posted by on 18 July, '16 in About


13 July 1916 – Ivan Bennett, Ben’s fiancé, is killed in Trônes Wood

Benedicta Berryman, the eldest of the Berryman sisters, was engaged Ivan Bennett who was killed in Trônes Wood, on the 13th day of the Somme.

Ivan’s childhood

Ivan Provis Wentworth Bennett was younger than Ben, 25 to her 30, and working for a law firm when war broke out. Ivan’s background was similar to the Berrymans’: his father was a retired army officer, his grandfather was a gentleman landowner, his mother was the daughter of a clergyman and Ivan was the fourth of their five children. However, there had been a scandal; Ivan’s mother Eleanor (née Senior) initiated divorce proceedings which were finalised in 1907.

Researcher and local historian Mary Alexander says very fairly:

[Ivan’s father Frederick was] guilty of adultery, assault and cruelty to his wife. Divorce was very unusual, difficult to achieve, and shameful. Perhaps Frederick was a particularly unpleasant man, or perhaps Eleanor was unusually determined. Frederick seems to have retired early from the army, and this, with the family’s frequent moves, might suggest an inability to settle down. … [Or perhaps] Eleanor was difficult to live with, sending Frederick into the arms of Mrs McTavish, with whom he was accused of committing adultery, and provoking him to strike his wife.

Divorce did not lead to closure. Epitaphs of the Great War says about Ivan:

[Eleanor] was … widowed in 1908 when her [former] husband 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.

As a child, Ivan sometimes stayed with his extended family. Epitaphs of the Great War also says:

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.

As we shall see, this family connection remained strong even after Ivan’s death.

Romance, and war

The Berrymans all called Ivan “Wiggie” or “Wiggs”, the naval nickname of unknown origin for someone called Bennett. The obvious question is whether Paul gave him the nickname.

Ben and Ivan probably met in Guildford between 1908 and 1913. Her mother, Gertrude, disapproved of the romance. Gertrude had strong but narrow convictions and there were so many things about Ivan for her to disapprove of: his parents’ divorce and his father’s suicide, his age and relatively junior position in a law firm, and a possible connection with spiritualism which Gertrude, deeply religious as she was, would have disliked. And Ben mentioned that Ivan was “against soldiering” (perhaps he associated soldiers with his father’s domestic violence). So in 1913 Ben went (or was sent) to India to stay with her brother Ted and meet his much more eligible fellow officers. But war broke out, Ben came home and Ivan joined up.

In September 1914, Ben wrote

Wiggs tell  me he was inlisting (sic) into Kitchener’s 2nd Army, well it obvious the right thing to do, however much against soldiering one is. I do consider the civilians are fine all the same, as it’s not their job- after all one expects a soldier or sailor to live for a chance of active service, their whole training leads up to it, but with a civilian he has all the roughest part & none of the nice.

Within six weeks of Ben’s return, they were engaged and she wrote defensively to her mother:

I don’t know whether you’ll be pleased No I don’t suppose for a moment you will be I can’t quite expect it but Wiggs and I have decided that it’s best to be engaged. The unsatisfactory way in which we were going on was NO good, it isn’t all done on the spur of the moment, much thinking has been done & I’m sure it’s best. There are to be no great shoutings about it but anyone who wants to know can, you will I fancy think we are doing right, the other situation was rotten for me but I didn’t want to sort of rush Wiggs into anything so things had to wait.

Ben’s brothers mention Ivan occasionally in their letters. Their fondness for Ben led them to slowly accept the situation. The one photograph we have of him shows him with her brothers and laughing, so maybe they came to like him for himself.

When she saw this photograph, Ivan’s great-grand niece said:

I … couldn’t believe the family resemblance “Wiggs” has to my Father at the same age!

Ivan Bennett

Back L-R: Ivan Bennett, Ted Berryman, Richard Berryman
Front L-R: Topher Berryman, Jim Berryman
Spring 1915

The Wartime Memories Project provides context for Ivan’s military career:

7th Battalion, The Queen’s Royal Regiment (West Surrey) was raised at Guildford in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 55th Brigade, 18th (Eastern) Division. The Division initially concentrated in the Colchester area but moved to Salisbury Plain in May 1915. They proceeded to France in July and concentrated near Flesselles. In 1916 they were in action on The Somme …. including the capture of Trones Wood….

Mary Alexander gives us the specifics:

He became a 2nd Lieutenant on 12 September and a Lieutenant on 27 January 1915. Ivan went to France in July 1915 and was made a Captain on 12 November 1915.

In May 1916, Ivan was home on Leave. Ted reported:

Ben tells me his nerves were all wrong, so I’ve no doubt a few days at home did him no end of good.

100 years on, it is tempting to assume he had shell shock but he could have just been exhausted and jumpy.

The Battle of Trônes Wood

Mary Alexander continues:

[Ivan] was not there for the first day of the Somme in 1916, but took part in the attack on Trônes Wood on 13 July.

Wikipedia describes the terrain thus:

The wood had dense undergrowth which … made it difficult to keep direction and during the battle the trees were brought down by shell-fire, becoming entangled with barbed-wire and strewn with German and British dead.

It describes British movements of the 13th July as follows:

The battalion in the wood attacked north and lost direction again in the undergrowth and tangle of fallen trees, stumbling into the German posts along Central Trench and being engaged at close-range. …. About 150 British troops reached the east edge of the wood near the Guillemont track, in the dark and under the impression that they were at the northern end of the wood; when dawn broke, attempts made to advance north failed. The left-hand battalion advanced across the open ground from Longueval Alley, into massed German machine-gun and artillery-fire, preventing the British from getting closer than 100 yards (91 m) to the wood, except for small parties which were destroyed. Another British bombardment at 8:45 p.m. was ineffective and the survivors withdrew with their wounded.

At some point during this day, Ivan was killed. Mary Alexander says:

During gallant leadership he was shot in the head and killed. His batman, Private Courtman, helped him until he too was wounded.

Wikipedia goes on to say:

By …14–17 July… all the trees in Trônes Wood had been toppled, with only low stumps remaining. Tree trunks, barbed wire and human remains lay everywhere, the ground open and easily observed from German positions.

“Crowned with the sunshine of eternal youth”

Ivan was initially buried on the battlefield, possibly in the cemetery shown in this photograph.

Graves in Trones Wood just after the war: Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields

Graves in Trones Wood – Michelin Guide to the Somme Battlefields

His body was not identified until it was moved to Thiepval Anglo-French cemetery in 1931.

Epitaphs of the Great War  says:

If Ivan Bennett had not had such distinctive initials his body would probably never have been identified. … 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.

Mary Alexander says:

When he died his address was in Hove. Administration of his will was granted to his mother. He is listed on the parish memorial in Holy Trinity, Guildford, and on the Merrow war memorial, where he was living before the war.

It’s interesting his address was Hove. Did he see home as being with his aunt, uncle and cousins rather than with his mother in St Leonards on Sea? In 1931 his cousin, Mrs Dorothy Joyce Bousted (nee Husey-Hunt) chose his epitaph “Crowned by the sunshine of eternal youth”.

Epitaphs of the Great War says:

The lines come from ‘Rupert Brooke’, a poem by Alfred Dodd published in 1918 [which] 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.


My mother did not know who the “Wiggs” in Ben’s letters was and many people have helped me piece together his story. Chris Miller identified that “Wiggs” was Ivan Bennett. Rebecca Aubert confirmed his photograph. Mary Alexander and Charlie Eve sent me most of the biographical details here. Sarah Wearne curates the Epitaphs of the Great War website giving other biographical details and information about his epitaph. The photographs of Ivan’s grave and Thiepval come from the War Graves Photographic Project at Additional information is from Wikipedia, WW1 Battlefields, and The Wartime Memories Project.


13 July 1916 – Ted to Gertrude


July 13/16


Dear Mother

The mail is very late this week and won’t be in for 2 days yet, & that makes us 10 days without a mail. I don’t know why it’s so late, I suppose it got held up somewhere. We have had torrents of rain all the week, and hardly a fine interval, but I suppose we must expect this kind of thing at this time of year.

What stirring things are happening on the Western Front, are’nt they; but I’m afraid the casualty lists are woefully long. However we seem to be making good progress, though of course very slow & methodical; but it’s impossible for it to be otherwise; an advance must be slow & cautious, & we must feel our way along & make mistakes as few as possible by running no unnecessary risks. The new armies seem to be fighting splendidly; what a tribute to Kitchener, & I have no doubt his untimely death has spurred them on.

I’m afraid I’ve got a bit behind hand with my correspondence lately & I owe lots of letters; I must try & work them off this afternoon. I’ve just had a gorgeous swim in our tank at the mess; it was half raining at the time but of course that made no difference. It was pretty cold, the water, but gloriously refreshing : good exercise too.

We are all anxiously waiting Jellicoe’s despatch, which is now published I see. We have had bits of it in telegrams, but I suppose the whole thing will get out here eventually. From all accounts it’s very technical & somewhat hard to follow in parts.

Excuse a dull lettter only there’s no news. All work here; Dick & I are trying to fix up a one day’s meeting at Ambala now he’s on his ambulance train for a bit, but we have’nt managed it yet!

Love to all

From your loving son


Jellicoe’s despatch



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Posted by on 13 July, '16 in About


12 July 1916 – Paul to Gertrude


c/o G.P.O.

July. 12th


Dear Mother –

Many thanks for your letter – mine will take a bit longer now – and our little bit of gaiety will be at an end for some time.

Am so glad you have had good news of Topher up to date – & hope you have heard from him again. Never seen such a huge list of casualties as just lately – appalling is’nt it – but thank goodness most of them are “woundeds”

Sorry to hear about Specs’ brother. I saw the name but did not realize the relationship- -sorry [refers to smudge on the page]

I had a letter from Jim – awfully happy he is – a fine job he has got now I should say – & how ripping if he is made a Captain-.

I should like some sweet peas muchly- [only I don’t think they travel very well – anyhow you might try – as where we are now you can’t get any flowers at all – & I like them in my cabin so.

I believe I really am clear of all those comic spots of mine now – at least I hope so – thank goodness-

We’ve got 2 soldiers spending a fw days with us now – rather dull for them – because there does’nt seem much chance of another scrap in a few days – & that’s about all we can show them really – but they’ve never seen a ship or a Fleet before – so I suppose that is something.

With much love to you all

ever your loving son


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Posted by on 12 July, '16 in HMS Malaya, Rosyth


10 July 1916 – Richard to Gertrude

No 4 Ambulance train-

in the train. July 10.


Dear Mother.

Excuse this pencil, but it’s easier to write with. Many thanks for your letter June 14. I sent you a line last mail just after I had started a journey & now I am off on another. Lor the dust & the heat. Ben knows what it’s like as she had to do the same journey to get to Karachi, but it was cool then. The temp last time was 112 in the carriage & the water (you won’t believe it) which you have your bath in gets so hot from the sun, that I can only just sit down in it.

I am wondering if I shall see Ted this time. We go to Ambala & it’s not far away from him. I’ve wired him & he might possibly come down & have a                    We stay a day. There are 120 wounded natives on board. Of course they don’t mind the heat, but some Tommies just from home the other day had a rotten time of it. You ask Ben, she did the journey in a cool & clean part of the year!

Paul must have enjoyed his leave & I would have loved to have been with them all in town. I long to see that shop. I dunno’ who Miss Billie (is that it) is.

I hope Dreda enjoyed her holiday after all, anyhow the rest must have done her good. She tells me she can’t imagine she’s been only a year at the bank.

Really it is a shame about Topher’s leave. He does deserve some. I am so glad your flu is alright : Take care of yourself now, & don’t go rushing about too much. Any news of  Miss Sparrow?

I shall post this tomorrow. My lines are for a small block. Hence big margin. Thank Jane & Dreda for their letters. I will write when I have time. Best love to all

Yr loving son


“My lines are for a small block. Hence big margin.” – Richard had placed a sheet of paper with solid black lines on it under the top sheet of the block of thin writing paper he was using. This enabled him to write straight lines. in this case, the lined sheet was smaller than the writing paper.

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Posted by on 10 July, '16 in About