Herbert James Bentley was born in Wanstead in 1885.
Herbert’s father, William, was an agricultural labourer born in Wanstead in 1847 and Herbert’s mother, Martha, came from an Essex farming background.
By 1911, Martha had given birth to eleven children, including Herbert, although only six survived. They were living at 14 Mornington Road, Wanstead, and later moved to The Cottage, Woodlands, Cambridge Park Road, Wanstead. Herbert was now 17 years old and employed as a domestic coachman.
In 1903, Herbert married Lily Croucher of Leyton who was employed as a shirt maker. In 1911, they were living at 8 Laurel Bank, Nightingale Lane, Wanstead. Herbert was now a gardener and the couple had three children.
Herbert was conscripted into the army sometime after May 1916 and was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
In March 1918, they were in the Somme region of France, manning the front line.
At 4:40am on 21st March 1918, the Germans launched the ‘last gasp’ offensive that came to be known as the Kaiserschlacht, the ‘Kaiser’s Battle’. The Germans began an intense five hour bombardment of 1.16 million shells over an 80km front - over 3000 explosive and gas shells every minute.
At dawn a thick mist reduced visibility to 25 metres. At 9:35am, 500,000 German troops advanced through the mist. During the day, the shattered remnants of Herbert’s regiment withstood the attack but the Germans broke through.
Herbert was one of hundreds killed in this action on 21st March 1918. Herbert’s body was not recovered so he is commemorated on the Pozières Memorial, close to where he fell.
In 1918, Herbert’s widow, Lily, moved to Stratford with her three children. She never remarried.
Research by Wanstead United Reformed Church.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission