A remarkable story of heroism during the bombardment of Scarborough in 1914 from the Scarborough Mercury 24th December
WYKEHAM STREET TRAGEDY - FAMILY PRACTICALLY WIPED OUT - A SON'S HEROISM - VAIN EFFORTS TO SAVE MOTHER AND CHILDREN - EYE-WITNESS'S VIVID STORY
In all the tragic story of the stricken town no episode will stand out more as a striking blend of ghastly destruction and human heroism than the antragedy at 2 Wykeham-street. In that home lived a family of six, and an old lady, an invalid. Now only the father and one son and the old lady remain, and their residence is a ruin.
In this instance, the cruel catalogue, is afforded horrifying evidence of the German gospel of frightfulness, and their utter disregard of human life in their sacrifice of defenceless people.
When the bombardment commenced there were in the house: Mr J Bennett, Mrs Bennett, Christopher Candler Bennett aged 25, Albert Bennett, aged about 23 (sons), John Christopher Horace Ward (aged 9, Mrs Bennett's grandson), George James Barnes (aged 5, nurse child), and Mrs Edmund (aged nearly 90).
Details of the deaths of about four of these Mrs Bennett, Albert and the two children, and of the wrecking of the house in which they were killed were learned from a "News" representative from Mrs Agar - living immediately opposite - who, with her husband and little boy were the ONLY WITNESSES OF A TERRIBLE OCCURRENCE and from the one surviving son, Christopher, whose narrative is a pathetically moving one in its awful simplicity.
Our representative found him helping to clear away the wreckage of what was once his home, limping as a result of injuries to his legs, dazed by the tragedy which has robbed him so swiftly of those nearest and dearest, and unable to grasp its tragic significance.
"I had just got out of bed", he said, "and was beginning to dress, when what I should say was the fourth shot from the last came crashing in. It hit the house fully, and I fell through the bedroom floor down into the kitchen. Everything fell on top of us all."
Father and mother and the two children were downstairs in the kitchen, and the father had called out to me 'Come on, lad, let's away downstairs. It's the German's. Come and look after mother.
"But before I got downstairs it had all happened".
"It was a long time before I realised anything or where I was. I was practically buried in stuff.
"When at last I could look around me I had only a shirt and one slipper on".
"I had to butt in and do the best I could, and if I asked one I asked a dozen, but I COULD NOT SEE A SOUL TO HELP ME. There was not one who could come, bar two or three territorials, who got Albert out and took him to the hospital. They were good chaps, and I shan't forget them.
"Well, I found mother and the children all up in one corner. Albert was with them, and they were all crowded together, buried beneath it all.
When I found them, mother was sat on a chair nursing the children, and she had lost her hand.
"Father was also in the kitchen. They had not been downstairs above seven minutes before it came. Father was covered with debris, but somehow he pulled himself out.
I don't remember much about what happened after that - it was too terrible - but my father and I got the others out as best we could.
Eventually we moved mother into the yard, with little Jack and little George - but it was all too late.
Mother was not dead when I was pulling them out, but she was gone by the time I got her into the yard.
I then carried George into the next house, but he DIED AS I PUT HIM DOWN. I had been to see about Mrs Edmunds before that, she was sat on the bedside, and I told her "sit there till I come back. I will get mother and the children out. They are worse than you." She did what I asked her, and after I moved mother and the children, I helped her into the next house, where I had taken George. She was uninjured, with the exception of shock, of course.
As soon as I got into the yard, I asked some men to go for the doctor. But we could not get one, and never did get one.
"The ambulance men did come, but it was too late then."
"Mother and the children were living when we got them out, but that was all. Albert was terribly injured, and died about twenty minutes to five in the afternoon. Father was cut badly about the head and neck and thigh. He was bathed and bandaged by P.C. Taylor and ambulance men, and went to the Hospital but did not stop.
This story of a son's heroism to save his mother and the little ones is surely the most moving of all recorded in these columns. He makes hardly any reference to himself, but it should be set down that he performed a terrible task, practically unclothed, and sustained numerous wounds and scars, which he would not allow being attended to in his anxiety for others.
A glowing tribute to this brave young fellow is paid by Mrs Agar, who lived opposite, and saw the destruction of the Bennett's house - a sight she will never forget - before herself fleeing for safety from the scene.
"I was standing at the corner of St. Johns-road," she told the writer, "and saw it all."
"The shell, or whatever it was came FLYING STRAIGHT OVER THE RAILWAY BRIDGE. It smashed a lot of windows in Gladstone-road school and went clean through Mrs Bennett's house. The place was blown up and things went flying in all directions. A lot of it was carried into my house on the other side of the road. My windows were smashed, and glass and brickwork I afterwards found littered all over the place. One remarkable thing was that my husband's waistcoat was hanging u in the passage, and a piece of brick had found its way into the pocket.
Just before it all happened, I saw Mr Bennett, 'For God's sake' I said 'Get up!' and with that it was all done, I shut our door and ran, I had just come downstairs, and something hit me on the leg, a bit of brick also striking my little boy who was standing at the end of the bridge with his father. How I dressed I don't know, and we were lucky to be alive.
"We were the only three who saw what happened across the road, everybody else was running. I saw Christopher Bennett drop through from the top bedroom into the kitchen. He only had his shirt and a sock on, and would you believe it people were laughing at him, and not one man would go up and help him. He dropped through the bedroom as he was in the ct of putting his trousers on, and I never stopped to see what happened after that. I ran to the Klondyke.
ALL HE THOUGHT ABOUT WAS HIS MOTHER.
But when we came back we found him. And that man is a hero. All he thought about was his mother and the others. With only his shirt and a sock on, he got them out all by himself, and not a soul to help him. It was a sight I shall never forget so long as I live. Albert Bennett, who died in the hospital, was riddled with bullets. He seems to have been doing something by the fireside and was petrified on the spot. Mrs Bennett was killed, and also the two children, who were found clasped round her knee. Poor little George was nearly blown to pieces, and Mrs Bennett was terribly mutilated.
The most remarkable thing about it all was the escape of Mrs Edmunds, who was unhurt, despite the fact that she was upstairs close to Christopher Bennett's room. She has been an invalid for two years, but when my husband and son got up to help her she got up and walked!
"But the thing I shall always remember is Christopher Bennett. He is a hero - a hero indeed!
To this well earned tribute to a noble son has only to be added that paid him by his father, who, labouring under distressing difficulties, and badly cut about the head and neck, rendered what help he could.
"There were only me and my poor father for it," were Christopher Bennett's parting words to our representative, "and he stuck it like a gentleman."
Thus closes the moving record of the tragedy of Wykeham-street, with which will always be linked the bravery and fidelity of Christopher Bennett, the only surviving son.