Bennett Southwell GC (Direct Recipient)

b. 21/03/1913 Rotherham, Yorkshire. d. 17/10/1940 Hoxton, London.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 17/10/1940 London.

Bennett Southwell (1913-1940) was born on 21st March 1913 in Rotherham, Yorkshire, the son of George Frederick and Sarah Elizabeth Southwell (nee James). Bennett had two sisters Gladys and Barbara, and his father worked on the railways, as a porter at the time of his birth. Bennett attended Meadow Hall Road School in Rotherham. Bennett’s first job was as a gardener working for the Micklethwaite family, before he gained employment with N Corah & Sons. Prior to the outbreak of war, he married Marion Halford and they had a son, Michael.

Bennett Southwell GC

On the 8th July 1940, Bennett volunteered for the Royal Navy and was at HMS Ganges until the 12th September receiving his basic training. He then transferred to HMS Vernon as an Ordinary Seaman, where he was trained in torpedoes and mines.

On 17th October 1940, a mine fell in Hoxton, East London, but failed to explode. A large area had to be evacuated. Jack Easton, together with Able Seaman Bennett Southwell, set off down the empty street to deal with it. The mine had crashed through a roof and was hanging by its parachute only 6in from the floor, swaying about. The room was very dark, and the door could not be opened more than a foot for fear of disturbing the bomb. Easton decided to dismantle the bomb where it was, and told Southwell to stay in the passage outside and hand him the tools. They started work but had only been at it for about a minute when the bomb slipped and there was the sound of falling brickwork as the chimney pot overhead collapsed. Easton heard the bomb begin to tick, and shouted to Southwell to run and ran himself, reaching a surface air raid shelter when the bomb went off. Easton was severely injured, breaking his back but made a full recovery. Sadly, Southwell was killed, and it was 6 weeks before they found his body.

Bennett was laid to rest in Gilroes Cemetery, Leicester in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission plot. His widow, Marion received his George Cross (London Gazette 21st January 1941) at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Sadly, his GC was later stolen, and the General Chancery issued a duplicate to Marion. A number of years later, the original GC appeared in an auction, and sadly, Michael, Bennett’s son, was forced to purchase the medal as it was deemed the seller had bought it in good faith. In 2013, both medals were purchased at auction by Michael Ashcroft for £74,500 and are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.