b. 29/06/1891 London. d. 26/05/1976 Niagara, Canada.
Benjamin Handley Geary (1891-1976) was born at Streatham, London on 29th June 1891, the youngest of eleven children. His second name was after his godfather, Handley Carr Glynn Moule. His father was the Reverend Henry Geary who was ordained as a priest in 1862 and was Curate of All Saints’, Dalston from 1862-1863, St James’, Piccadilly 1863-1864; Christ Church and Herne Bay, Kent 1864-1874. He then became Vicar of St Thomas’, Portman Square, London from 1874 until his death in 1891, the year Benjamin was born. His mother was Blandinah “Blanch” Kesiah Ellen nee Allport who married Henry in 1870 in Blean, Kent.
Benjamin was educated at Dulwich College Preparatory School and St Edmund’s School Canterbury from 1904-1910. He was a Lance Corporal in the Officer Training Corps and won the Music Instrumental Prize from 1907-1909 and the Stocks Memorial Prize for Mathematics 1909-1910. HE was awarded a scholarship to Keble College, Oxford in 1910, earning his BA on 8th August 1914, just prior to World War One.
When the war broke out, he was working as a teacher at Forest School, near Snaresbrook, Essex from 1913. He was commissioned into 4th East Surrey (Special Reserve) on 15th August. He was based at South Raglan Barracks, Devonport prior to deploying to France on 26th September where he was attached to the 1st Battalion. In November, he removed a bayonet from an occupied German trench, for which he received the thanks of Divisional HQ.
On 20th and 21st April 1915 on Hill 60 near Ypres, Belgium, Second Lieutenant Geary led his men across exposed open ground swept by fierce enemy fire to join survivors of the Bedfordshire Regiment in a crater at the top of the hill, which he held against artillery and bomb attacks during the evening and night. Each attack was repulsed mainly owing to the fine example and personal gallantry of Second Lieutenant Geary. He deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to see by the light of flares the whereabouts of the enemy. He was severely wounded early on 21st April.
His wound was very severe, having been shot in the head, losing the sight in his left eye and the right eye was also seriously impaired. His VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 9th December 1915, having also been promoted to Lieutenant. He was then employed in a convalescent camp at Eastbourne from late 1915 and with the RFC on ground duties. He returned to France in September 1916 as a Squadron Recording Officer with the RFC. He was appointed Acting Captain in August 1917 while Assistant Instructor at a School of Instruction. He then served in the 7th Battalion at some time and rejoined the 1st Battalion in Italy in January 1918, although medically still unfit for service. He then served in France in August 1918, and was wounded while commanding D Company. He was carried back by German prisoners and a blood transfusion saved his life before he was evacuated to England. He was forced to retire from the Army on 29th May 1919, retaining the rank of Captain.
He was awarded a MA in 1918 and studied theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford from 1919-1921. While at Oxford he was General Secretary of the Student Christian Union. He was ordained as a deacon at Chelmsford Cathedral in October 1921, as a priest the following year, and became Assistant Curate in West Ham until 1923. He married Ruth Christiana nee Woakes on 10th June 1922 in Marylebone. Her father was a Surgeon at Charing Cross Hospital. They went on to have two sons – Nevill John (born 1924) and David Victor (born 1927).
Benjamin returned to the Army as Temporary Chaplain to the Forces 4th Class (Captain) on 5th October 1923 and became Chaplain to the Forces on 17th November 1926. In early 1927, he was involved in a serious car accident, and suffered severe concussion. He left the military and resigned his commission on 1st October 1927. The family emigrated to Canada in May 1928 and settled in Toronto, and Benjamin held several different jobs, but his wife struggled to adapt. She left Benjamin in 1930 and returned to England alone. The divorce was agreed on 1st August 1934.
Benjamin re-married Constance Joan nee Henderson-Cleland in St Thomas, Ontario on 2nd May 1935. Benjamin was presented to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their tour of Canada at Queen’s Park, Toronto on 22nd May 1939. During the Second World War, he served in the Canadian Army as a Major from 2nd September 1940. He commanded an educational unit at Camp Borden, Ontario until 27th December 1946. Back in civilian life, he became Sergeant at Arms of the Ontario Legislature 1947-1972 and its Official Historian until 1962.
Benjamin died at Niagara Hospital, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario on 26th May 1976 and was buried in St Mark’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the Canadian Centennial Medal. The medals disappeared following his funeral and it was not until September 1994 that they were returned having been discovered in a friend’s attic. The family presented them to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARK’S CHURCH, NIAGARA ON THE LAKE, CANADA.
Bill Mullen – Image of Geary’s VC Grave in Niagara on the Lake, Canada.
Canadian War Museum – Images of Geary’s VC medal group.
Mark Sanders – Image of his medal card.