A century on from the end of World War I we acknowledge their service …
Lest we forget.
Trooper Benjamin Turner
Born: April 1884 Bradford, England. Died: 5 February 1971 Heidelberg.
Enlisted: 13 July 1915 aged 31.
Served: Egypt and Western Front.
Known to his family and friends as “Benj”, Ben Turner was born in England and for a time, he worked in the carriage stables of “Moulton Paddocks” a horse stud and racing stables near Newmarket owned by Sir Edward Cassel, a close friend of King Edward VII. Presumably it was there that Ben prepared hunting horses for the future King George V.
He migrated to Australia in 1912. He then worked as a labourer on John Wadsley’s farm in Pakenham South and boarded with the Blackwood family. Ben came to regard Mary Blackwood as a second mother. He also taught Sunday School at Pakenham South. One of the other teachers was Violet Stephenson, who became his sweetheart.
On 13 July 1915, Ben enlisted in Melbourne with his friends Andy and Arch Blackwood. As his parents were in England, he listed Violet as his next of kin. Ben, together with Andy and Arch Blackwood, were assigned to the 6th Reinforcement, 13th Australian Light Horse. Known as “the Devil’s own”, the 13th Light Horse had been a local Gippsland militia regiment.
Ben was taken on strength with the 4th Division cavalry. The winter of 1917/18 was a particularly harsh one and Ben came down with influenza, which saw him spend the New Year period in a field hospital. Later in January, Ben also had problems with his knee, which saw him hospitalised again.
In October 1918, when the majority of Australian forces on the Western Front were being rested, Ben was given leave in the UK. Although he returned to France later that month, the War was now almost over and Ben was discharged after 1350 days with the Army.
Ben was one of the returned soldiers officially welcomed home at Pakenham South in November 1919. He obtained a job picking potatoes at Kooweerup and applied for two blocks of land on Ballarto Road under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. Ben and Violet (who was now his fiancé) well knew the blocks was seeking. Indeed, Ben had lived on the farm next door! Hewas granted a conditional purchase lease on the land, over which he eventually received freehold title in 1947.
In October 1920, Ben and Violet married. Violet was the daughter of Samuel Butcher Stephenson of “Standish Park”, Ballarto Road Kooweerup North, one of the district’s leading farmers. Besides farming, Ben was active in the local Kooweerup RSL, including helping to organise the annual Kooweerup Diggers Carnivals in the late 1920s.
Ben enlisted again during WWII serving as a private in Australia with the 11th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps. Ben and Violet remained on their Ballarto Road property until 1950, when they sold it to one of Violet’s nephews. They then retired to a property in Woods Street Beaconsfield.
Ben died at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in February 1971 aged 86. He had been a member of the Kooweerup RSL for 51 years. Of Ben, the Pakenham Gazette wrote: “Ben Turner was honoured and respected by everyone whom he came in contact”. At his funeral in Pakenham Cemetery, the RSL service was read by Les Cochrane OBE, who had been a member of the Kooweerup RSL with Ben for many decades, while the last post was played by Graham Treloar.
This is an extract from Patrick Ferry’s book A Century After The Guns Fell Silent – Remembering the Pakenham District’s WWI Diggers 1914-18.
For more details on this and other profiles in the book, head to the website www.pakenhamww1.com