Laurel Beechey - Special to the News
101 years ago, on Oct. 26, 1914 Benjamin Ledbury, who attended Tillsonburg’s St. John’s Anglican Church, signed up in Woodstock to serve with the 18th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Two years later on Oct. 9, 1916 he died of gunshot wounds at the No. 11 Stationary Hospital in Rouen, France.
Benjamin was a very new Canadian. He had been born in Dilton Marsh, Wiltshire, England on Jan. 30, 1889 one of eleven children, which is perhaps why at 19 years of age, he set sail on the SS (Steamship) Royal Edward, in steerage, to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and from there to Toronto.
Now, why Ben decided to come to Tillsonburg is another question, perhaps answered on his attestation papers where he listed himself as a railroader. One thing Tillsonburg had back then was railroads.
From what I could find, without paying for official documents, is that after his arrival in 1911 he joined the 22nd Oxford Rifles, a small militia in Oxford County.
Ben was only in Canada for three years when England went to war on August 4,1914. Ben signed up Oct. 26th with the 18th Battalion of Western Ontario. This was an infantry battalion, which was recruited, trained and mobilized in London, Ontario. They did not ship out to Great Britain until April 18, 1915, where they received more intense training. They left for France on Sept. 15, 1915, where it fought as part of the 4th infantry Brigade, 2nd Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.
The question is why did Benjamin stay in Canada and sign up with other Canadians? Why did he not take a ship back home to England quickly, and join with the local units in the Dilton Marsh area? But he did not. Perhaps he had been in Canada long enough to appreciate the country and the people?
My own grandfather, also British, signed up in Canada, intending only to use it as a means back to England, for he hadn’t a farthing, yet when he arrived on his home shores he decided to stay with his Canadian unit because he liked the lads so much. Perhaps Ben had a similar experience.
Ben’s unit arrived in France in September 1915. While Ben was alive, the 18th Battalion’s Battle Honours included Ypres in 1915; Festubret in 1915, Mount Sorrell; Somme 1916; Fleurs-Courcelette September 1916 and Ancre Heights.
We know Ben died Oct. 9th from wounds, while in the No. 11 British Stationary Hospital in Rouen. It was one of many Stationary and General hospitals the British established on the Champ de Courses on the southern outskirts of Rouen. The hospitals sent their dead to be buried in one of two cemeteries. Ben resides in St. Sever Cemetery, which originally help 3,081 after which an extension was added to bury 8,656 more fallen.
But where did Ben Ledbury get wounded?
Unfortunately once again without paying for his war records we don’t know. It could have been at Fleurs-Courcelette, part of the Battle of the Somme, where after a week of fighting 93 men died and hundreds more were wounded. They had only advanced over 2,300 metres (2,500 yards). The battle is very significant for it saw the first use of the tank in warfare and was the debut of the Canadian Division on the Somme battlefield.
Ben could have also been shot in the battle at Ancre Heights, near Courcelette. No matter which battle, we know that Ben was shot in the left shoulder and both arms. He would have been taken to a first aid hospital, and then a Casualty Clearing Centre, where they would have patch Ben up as best as they could with their limited resources and ship him off to a Stationary Hospital where they could properly address his wounds. That was some distance away in Rouen where he died on the 9th of October. That day while the rest or the 18th Battalion was resting in Bonneville, France, Ben was laid to his eternal rest in Grave 59, Plot B, Row 16 at St. Sever.
Why did I write about Private Ledbury No. 53480 when I had so little information?
Because, he didn’t have to fight and die for Canada. Because, I want to continue to honour the men from Tillsonburg and area who died in WW1 over the next three years of the 100th Anniversary. And because there is a chance that someone right here in Tillsonburg, may remember the name and give us more information.
Perhaps one day we can get the records from Ottawa for all of our WW1 fallen to add to the little we know about them.
But, most of all I don’t want Benjamin Ledbury’s name and sacrifice forgotten.