Courtesy of Bruce & Laurence Stephenson
Trooper Benjamin Turner
Pakenham & District War Memorial & Pakenham South Hall Roll of Honour
Born: April 1884 - Bradford, West Yorkshire England
Enlisted: 13 July 1915 aged 31
Unit: 13th Light Horse, 6th Reinforcement SERN: 1188)
Served: Egypt & Western Front
Died: 5 February 1971 - Heidelberg, Victoria
Known to his family and friends as “Benj”, Ben Turner was born in England, the son of Mark and Sarah Turner. He was part of a large family, and spent part of his childhood in the towns of Saltburn by the Sea and Southowram. 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 (1). Presumably it was there that Ben prepared hunting horses for the future King George V (2). 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 (3). Ben also taught Sunday School at Pakenham South. One of the other teachers was Violet Stephenson, who became his sweetheart (4). Immediately prior to enlisting, Ben was working as a farm labourer for Mr W. Peters of “Sea View” Koo Wee Rup and was paid £2.10.0 ($5) per week (5).
On 13 July 1915, Ben enlisted in Melbourne with his friends Andy and Arch Blackwood. He had been previously rejected for service on account of his height as he was only 5 feet 3.5 inches (1.61m) tall. However, he passed this time, as the minimum height for the AIF had been lowered to 5 feet 2 inches (1.57m). As his parents were in England, he listed Violet as his next of kin (6). 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 (7). A special send-off was organised at Pakenham South for Ben, Arch and Andy before they headed overseas, but they could not attend due to an outbreak of meningitis, presumably in the Army camp (8). Ben left Melbourne on 25 October 1915, headed for Egypt. There, in March 1916 he was taken on strength with the 4th Division cavalry. In June 1916, Ben was sent to the Western Front, where he was transferred to B Squadron, 1st Anzac Army Corps, Light Horse Regiment (9). On the Western Front, Light Horse units performed tasks such as traffic control, guard duty, prisoner escort, and where possible, reconnaissance (10). Many also fought as infantry reinforcements or were assigned to anti-aircraft units.
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. During 1918 the 13th Light Horse took part in the operations to halt the German “Spring Offensive”, and was later involved in the Allied push towards the Hindenburg Line. With the Front rapidly opening up, the Light Horse even had the chance to operate as mounted cavalry: in September 1918, the Battalion provided the advance guard for other Australian units which successfully captured the “outpost line” of the Hindenburg Line (11). In October, 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. Ben was sent back to England in March 1919 for repatriation to Australia. He arrived back in Australia on 5 July 1919 and was discharged from the Army the following month (12). Ben had served a total of 1350 days with the Army (13).
Ben was one of the returned soldiers officially welcomed home at Pakenham South in November 1919 (14). He obtained a job picking potatoes at Koo Wee Rup (15) and applied for two blocks of land on Ballarto Road under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. In his application, Ben stated that he was looking for 60 acres of land to undertake mixed farming. In terms of farming experience, he explained that had been farming all his life, including near Ealing in Cambridgeshire, which he said was similar to Koo Wee Rup. Ben and Violet (who was now his fiancé) also well knew the blocks was seeking. Indeed, Ben had lived on the farm next door! He also had £150 ($300) at his disposal. Ben was granted a conditional purchase lease on the land, over which he eventually received freehold title in 1947 (16).
In October 1920, Ben and Violet married. Violet was the daughter of Samuel Butcher Stephenson of “Standish Park”, Ballarto Rd Koo Wee Rup North, one of the district’s leading farmers. Besides farming, Ben was active in the local Koo Wee Rup RSL, including helping to organise the annual Koo Wee Rup Diggers Carnivals in the late 1920s (17). Ben enlisted again during WWII serving as a private (V355255) in Australia with the 11th Battalion, Volunteer Defence Corps (18). 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 St Beaconsfield. Their nephew Bruce Stephenson has fond memories of spending school holidays there. Ben would take Bruce to collect briquettes from along the railway line for the home fire. Bruce also remembers that Ben and Violet loved gardening, playing cards and socialising with their friends. Violet was also active in the local Country Women’s Association (19).
Ben died at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital in February 1971 aged 86. He had been a member of the Koo Wee Rup RSL for 51 years. Of Ben, the Pakenham Gazette wrote: “Ben Turner was honoured and respected by everyone whom he came in contact” (20). At his funeral in Pakenham Cemetery, the RSL service was read by Les Cochrane OBE, who had been a member of the Koo Wee Rup RSL with Ben for many decades, while the last post was played by Graham Treloar (21).
The assistance of Ben Turner’s nephews, Bruce and Lawrence Stephenson, is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) & (19) Information provided by Bruce Stephenson
(2) (20) & (21) Pakenham Gazette 12/2/1971 p. 10
(3) Information supplied by Laurence Stephenson
(4) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 5/2/1914, p. 2 & DA 1/4/1915 p. 2
(5) NAA B73 M70561 BC21371586
(6) (9) & (12) NAA B2455 TURNER B
(7) Ian Good (2011) p. 65
(8) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 2/9/1915, p. 2
(10) & (11) “13th Australian Light Horse Regiment” - www.awm.gov.au/collection/U51047
(13) (15) & (16) PROV VPS 5714/P Unit 930 File 1245/12
(14) Pakenham Gazette 28/11/1919 p. 3
(17) The Age 26/1/1934 p. 3
(18) WWII Nominal Roll - www.ww2roll.gov.au