The Bennett Family

The Bennett family

The Empire Called -

William Hebden Bennett and his wife Margaret Marian Bennett (nee Hughes) moved to Plimmerton about 1920 to retire, [1] their address was ‘Sonia’ Plimmerton [2].  William Hebden Bennett was active in the Plimmerton community. He was involved in the building of St Pauls Church in Karehana Bay, establishing the Plimmerton Boating Club, the building of the Plimmerton Pavilion and Victory Park and the setting up of the Plimmerton Sporting Club.

William Hebden Bennett was born in December 1855, six months after the death of his father George White Bennett. George White Bennett was the first lighthouse keeper of the Wellington’s Pencarrow Lighthouse and drowned in June 1855 when he was thrown out of the Wellington pilot boat as it crossed Barrett’s Reef [3]. William’s mother Mary Jane Bennett was subsequently appointed to the position of Lighthouse Keeper, the only women to hold a position as a lighthouse keeper in New Zealand [4]. In 1865 Mary Jane and her five children moved back to England, reportedly for the education of her children. The three boys, Frank, George and William returned to New Zealand in 1870.

The Bennett Family c1864 WH Bennett bottom centre.

William’s 1929 obituary notes that William was trained as a surveyor and was involved in the laying out of Palmerston North [5] and it was in 1879 at Crofton, Rangitikei that the first son of William and Margaret was born, William Darce Bennett [6]. William Hebden Bennett, like his father and mother, then became a lighthouse keeper.

His second son Leo Percy Bennett was born in 1880 at Pencarrow, Wairarapa [7]. There were two daughters born while William was keeper at Pencarrow, Lilian Margaret in 1882, and Ina Leslie Bennett in 1884. Both births are registered at Manakau, Otaki [8]. In 1885 William was transferred to the Portland Lighthouse at Mahia where, in 1886, Oswell Hughes Bennett was born [9]. In 1887 William quit the lighthouse service and returned to Manakau where in 1888 Francis Lionel Bennett [10] and 1890 Hubert Warwick Bennett [11] births were registered.

The outbreak of the Boer War saw the first of the Bennett family enlist to serve the Empire. In 1902 Leo Percy Bennett, then a 21 year old survey labourer working for a Mr Hughes in Kaikoura, signed up. Leo’s service record show he had previous military experience completing 12 months of his compulsory military training as a trooper in the Kaikoura Mounted Rifles. Leo Percy Bennett sailed as 5767 Corporal Signaller with the 8th New Zealand South Island Contingent to serve in the Boer War. Leo Percy Bennett’s next of kin is listed as Mr W H Bennett of Manakau, Otaki [12].5767 Corporal Signaller Bennett was awarded the Imperial South African War Medal with clasps for; Cape Colony, Transvaal and Orange Free State [13].

In 1929 Leo Percy Bennett is listed as a factory manager in Norsewood, Hawke Bay [14].

    Leo Percy Bennett C1940

With the declaration of war in 1914 the Bennett family again answered the call.

The official military service World War One records of Hubert Warwick Bennett are limited but he is listed as a sheep farmer, born in Otaki, his next of kin was Mr W. H. Bennett of Te Waikopiro, Wairoa, Hawkes Bay [15]. On 14 February 1915, 10/1416 Private Bennett departed for overseas service in the 3rd reinforcements for the Wellington Infantry Brigade [16]. The 3rd reinforcements arrived in Egypt in March 1915 and were incorporated into the Wellington Infantry Brigade prior to the Gallipoli Landings. The Wellington Infantry Brigade landed at ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915 and remained in the sector until 5 May 1915 when it was transferred to the Helles area at the southern area of the Gallipoli Peninsular. The Wellington Infantry Battalion was in action from 8 May 1915 in the Second Battle of Krithia. Private Bennett was wounded in this battle being evacuated to Malta arriving on 17 May 1915 with gunshot wounds to his thigh [17].                

 (See also the Krithia story - Private France, Wellington Infantry Battalion,  also wounded and arrived in Malta on 17 May 1915, )

    Hubert Warwick Bennett C1920

It was on Malta that there was a ‘Happy Meeting’ with New Zealand nurses as reported    

 ‘As soon as I got ashore, an untidy, bedraggled looking man in khaki rushed across the road and greeted me. He turned out to be Dr Simpson [18], a Scotch boy who was at Porirua, and once came into hospital (Wellington) with typhoid. He bought over his dilapidated pal, a bundle of cheerful rags, who turned out to be Dr Trotter [19], from the South. They had returned two days ago with a hospital ship of wounded soldiers and how they had to work! They have scarcely any garments but what they stand up in but are perfectly happy. We were more than pleased to see them. They are both Captains but wear no badges, and look like two dirty soldiers boys straight from the trenches. We spent a long time hearing of all our friends at the front, and of the nerve and bravery of our dear boys. We stopped every boy we met in Malta with New Zealand on him, as all they are permitted to draw in hospital is 2s per week. One of our nurses heard her brother was wounded before she left New Zealand, and had not been able to hear anything of him since. The first boy I spoke to happened to be named Bennett so I asked him if he had a sister who was a nurse, and he turned out to be the missing brother. You should have seen the meeting. He had no idea the New Zealand nurses were here... [20] 

This was Private Bennett’s sister 22/14 Nurse Ian Leslie Bennett, New Zealand Army Nursing Service (NZANS)

By 21 July 1915 Private Bennett was considered to be fit enough to be sent back to the front [21]. On 28 July 1915 Private Bennett arrived at Gallipoli, however Private Bennett was again wounded and evacuated back to Malta on 13 August 1915 with a wound to the thigh [22]. Coincidentally, the letter about the ‘Happy Meeting’ was published in the same edition that reported this second wounding. This most recent wounding having conjunctivitis and enteric fever were all considered serious enough to have him returned to New Zealand to convalesce with his father in North Auckland. He was subsequently discharged as unfit for duty. Hubert Warwick Bennett married Marguerite Daphne Carruth, in North Auckland, June 1916 [23]. In 1929 Hubert Warwick Bennett is listed as living in Tauranga [24].

    May 1915 1st Nursing Contingent on board SS Rotorua
Ina Leslie Bennett enlisted in the New Zealand Army Nurses Service on 6 April 1915, as 22/14 Nurse Bennett. Nurse Bennett’s papers indicate that her last employee was the Palmerston North Hospital and her next of kin was Mr W H Bennett, Wharau Russell, Bay of Islands [25]. 22/14 Nurse Bennett sailed on 8 April 1915 with the first contingent of New Zealand nurses. Initially based in Egypt the New Zealand Army Nurse Service Corp provided nursing to the wounded from the Gallipoli campaign. The ‘Happy Meeting’ letter indicates at some stage between May and June 1915 Nurse Bennett and others from the NZANSC were based on Malta as more serious cases were evacuated from the peninsular. On 1 July 1915 Nurse Bennett is listed as nursing at the Abassia Hospital, Cairo, Egypt [26].
    May 1915 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett on board SS Rotorua

Tragedy was to strike New Zealand’s nursing staff when on 23 October 1915 the transport ‘Marquette’ from Egypt to Greece was torpedoed. 94 officers and men from the New Zealand Medical Corp and 35 nurses from the NZANSC were onboard the boat, 19 men and 10 nurses were to lose their lives in the sinking. Also onboard was a cargo of equipment and stores for the No 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital.

(For more details on the Marquette see webpage ‘the Marquette Angels’)

On 1 January 1916 newspapers reported the appointment of nursing staff for a reformed No1 Stationary Hospital for service in France “After the nurses who were wrecked in Marquette returned to Alexandria and were refitted, a new staff was formed to go out again. All who were well at all were eager to go, but some were not considered fit, and others were drawn from the New Zealand nurses in Egypt,” Nurse Bennett was one of those drawn [27].

Nurse Bennett was initially based in England and promoted to Sister on 30 July 1916 before being posted to the No1 Stationary Hospital in Amiens.

“Twenty-seven sisters and staff nurses left England on July 30th, 1916, to join the staff of the No. 1 New Zealand Stationary Hospital at Amiens, France, some fifteen miles from the front line, this hospital had been without sisters while in Salonika from the time of the Marquette disaster. After a couple of days spent in Boulogne, the party was divided, one half going to a British hospital at Abbeville, and the other half to Amiens to the No. 1 Stationary Hospital [28].”

Sister Bennett remained at Amiens [29].

“For nearly ten months the No 1 Stationary Hospital was used as a casualty clearing station in conjunction with other British hospitals and when work slackened, surgical teams, consisting of a surgeon, an anaesthetist, a sister, and one, perhaps two, men, were sent up to casualty clearing stations for the big offensive [30].”

The Somme Battle started on the 1st July 1916 with British and French forces engaged. It was not until September 1916 that firstly New Zealand artillery and then New Zealand infantry were committed to this battle of attrition. Sister Ina Bennett was listed to be notified if her younger brother became a casualty and would have been informed of his death while nursing at Amiens [31].

Sister Ina Bennett was admitted to hospital in Amiens 18 November 1916 with chronic pulmonary catarrh (pneumonia) [32]   possibly the result of working long hours in cold and damp conditions and the stress of war time conditions. Ina was then moved to the New Zealand General Hospital London to be finally discharged on 13 January 1917. Sister Ina Bennett’s service record does not indicate where she nursed from this date but at the end of the war in January 1919, she was nursing returning troops on RMS Ruapahu. Sister Ian Bennett remained on active duty until March 1920 when she was transferred to the territorial Nurse Reserve and nurse at Hamilton Hospital [33]. Sister Ina Bennett transferred to Apia, Samoa [34] in 1924, serving as a Matron before returning to New Zealand in October 1925 [34].

In 1929 Ina is listed nursing at Nuhaka, Hawkes Bay [35]. Ina Leslie Bennett died in 1950 [36]. Oswell Hughes Bennett was born in 1886. At the time his father was serving as lighthouse keeper at the Portland Lighthouse Mahia, Hawkes Bay. In 1885 Oswell’s father had purchased land in Manakau, Otaki [37]. The family returned to Manakau after Oswell’s father resigned from the Lighthouse service.

Oswell Hughes Bennett is recorded as attending the Manakau School from 1894 to 1902 [38] and then went farming with his father, initially in Manakau and then in Russell, Bay of Islands which was his address when he enlisted [39]. As 2338 Rifleman Oswell Hughes Bennett left from Wellington on 27 May 1916 as a member of the 13th NZEF Reinforcements in E Company, 1st Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade [40].  Rifleman Bennett trained at Sling, England and was transferred to France on 19 August 1916, to serve in 15th Company, 1st Battalion of the Auckland Infantry Regiment [39]. The Auckland Regiment was part of the New Zealand Division. The Battle of the Somme began on 15 September 1916. At this stage the Auckland Regiment had moved up to Mametz Woods and remained in reserve.

    September 1916 Auckland Regiment in the Switch Trenches

Up until 24/25 September 1916, the 1st Battalion of the Auckland Regiment “had played a very small share in the battle. They had been in the line once for a short while only, and for the remainder of the time had been doing working parties or waiting in the reserve areas. The battalion was now committed to exploit the advances made in the previous ten days with the aim of punching through the remaining German positions so that the masses of cavalry in the rear could be used.”

Private Bennett’s regiment moved up into the Front occupying 750 yards of the Flers Trench system with Canterbury on one flank and Otago on the other. No-Man’s land was wide at this point so a preliminary advance was made 25th September with little opposition and few casualties. The Zero Hour for the main assault was set for 2:15 p.m. 27th September with the New Zealand battalions following a creeping barrage. The Canterbury Battalion, with the wire in front of them cut, was able to reach the Grid Trench with no major issues. The Auckland and Otago Battalions came up to uncut wire, held up by this unexpected obstacle they were delayed and while the barrage passed on, were exposed to the German gunfire. There were desperate attempts by the Auckland Battalion to rush gaps but German machineguns cut the attackers down. Eventually enough of the Auckland companies pushed through to force the Germans back to take the Grid Trench and the support trench but at a huge cost.

Eight hundred men had taken part in the assault with six hundred casualties [41].  On 28th September 1916 the remaining men of the 1st Regiment, Auckland Battalion, were relieved from their positions and moved back into reserve. It was while they were in reserve that Courts of Enquiry were conducted for all those missing. Private Bennett was one of thirty who were declared ‘missing believed killed in action’ by the court on 30th September 1916. On Private Bennett’s service record there is a final note that he had been buried south of the Le Sara – Martinpuich Road, about 1000 yards NE of Martinpuich [42].

The area continued to be fought over so Private Bennett’s grave was not found at the end of the war but he is remembered on the Caterpillar Valley (NZ) Memorial, France and on Manakau School memorial.

    Manakau School Memorial

On 25 December 1887, Francis Lionel Bennett was born in Otaki[43]. Like many of his siblings he went to Manakau school before going into farming. Francis Lionel Bennett married Mary Ann Smith in 1915[44]  and when he volunteered in 3 February 1917, is listed as a butter maker working for the Otaki Dairy Company. Francis Lionel Bennett’s service medical history lists a missing finger on his right hand, flat feet and an ankle that had been crushed by a cow. These issues meant that he was rated as only fit to serve in New Zealand [45]. There are no details of duties he performed but on discharge in 1919, Francis Lionel Bennett is listed as having the rank of Sergeant.

The First World War would have a huge impact on New Zealand’s tight-knit communities.  Manakau north of Otaki was a small town but there were five cousins of Privates Oswell Hughes Bennett, Hubert Warwick Bennett and Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett who also served in France. Those cousins were from the D’Ath family; Rifleman William Joseph D’Ath was killed in the opening stages of the Battle of the Somme, 15 September 1916 [46]. Rifleman John Benedict D’Ath [47] and Private George Michael D’Ath both returned to New Zealand at the end of the war. From the family of Francis (Frank) Bennett, Private Francis Hebden Bennett [48] would survive the war but his brother 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Llewellyn Bennett was killed on 12 October 1917, the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele [49].

Updated March 2015 - Allan Dodson



[1] Obituary William Hebden Bennett: Evening Post 9 November 1929.

[2] Service Record 23338 Private Oswell Hughes Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[3] Pencarrow Lighthouse Keepers: NZ History Online.

[4] Pencarrow Lighthouse Keepers: NZ History Online.

[5] Obituary William Hebden Bennett: Evening Post 9 November 1929.

[6] William Darce Bennett:

[7] Leo Percy Bennett:

[8] Lillian Margaret & Ina Leslie Bennett:

[9] Service Record 23338 Private Oswell Hughes Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[10] Service Record 1506 Sergeant Francis Lionel Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[11] Hubert Warwick Bennett:

[12] Service Record 5767 Corporal Signaller Leo Percy Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[13] Service Record 5767 Corporal Signaller Leo Percy Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[14] Obituary William Hebden Bennett: Evening Post 9 November 1929.

[15] Service Record 10/1416 Private Hubert (Herbert) Warwick Bennett: Archives New Zealand

[16] 10/1416 Private Hubert (Herbert) Warwick Bennett: Nominal Roll, Auckland Cenotaph Database.

[17] Wounded at Malta 10/1416 Private Hubert Warwick Bennett: Dominion 18 May 1918.

[18] Happy Meeting 3/445 Captain John Cormack Simpson, 2nd Reinforcements: Auckland Cenotaph Database.

[19] Happy Meeting 3/155A Captain Alexander Meiklejohn Trotter, Medical Corps, Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance: Auckland Cenotaph Database.

[20] Happy Meeting: Evening Post 13 August 1915.

[21] Wounded – recovered and sent to the front: Evening Post 29 July 1915.

[22] Additional casualties: Evening Post 13 August 1915.

[23] Marriage Hubert Warwick Bennett & Marguerite Daphne Carruth: BDM NZ Department of Internal Affairs

[24] Obituary William Hebden Bennett: Evening Post 9 November 1929.

[25] Service record 22/14 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[26] Kai Tiaki: The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, 7 July 1915.

[27] Kai Tiaki: The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1916.

[28] New Zealand Hospitals in England and France: Nursing in New Zealand –NZ Electronic Text Collection.

[29]Service record 22/13 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[30] New Zealand Hospitals in England and France: Nursing in New Zealand – NZ Electronic Text Collection.

[31] Service record 23338 Private Oswell Hughes Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[32] Service record 22/13 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[33] Service record 22/13 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[34] Kai Tiaki: The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, 1 January 1924.

[35] Kai Tiaki: The Journal of the Nurses of New Zealand, 10 October 1925.

[36] Obituary William Hebden Bennett: Evening Post 9 November 1929.

[37] Manakau School Centenary 1888 – 1988.

[38] O H Bennett: Manakau School Roll, Kiwi Heritage.

[39] Service Record 23338 Private Oswell Hughes Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[40] Rifleman Bennett: Nominal Rolls, Auckland Museum Cenotaph Database.

[41] Auckland Regiment, First Battle of the Somme: NZ Electronic Text Collection.

[42] Service Record 23338 Private Oswell Hughes Bennett: Archive New Zealand.

[43] Service Record 1506 Francis Lionel Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[44] Bennett / Smith: BDM 1915/7252 Department of Internal Affairs.

[45] Service Record 1506 Francis Lionel Bennett: Archives New Zealand.

[46] 24/1365 Rifleman William Joseph D’Ath, Machinegun Section, 2nd Battalion, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade: Archives New Zealand.

[47] 56750 Rifleman John Benedict D’Ath, 4th Battalion, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade: Archives New Zealand.

[48] 41725 Private Francis Hebden Bennett, 7th company, 1st Battalion, Wellington Regiment: Archives New Zealand.

[49] 22142 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Llewellyn Bennett, D company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade: Archives New Zealand.




c1864 Pencarrow Lighthouse Family: NZ History Online.

c1940 Leo Percy Bennett: Unknown contributor to

c1930 Hubert Warwick Bennett: Unknown contributor to

1915 1st Contingent NZANS at sea 15 May 1915: Alexander Turnbull, PACOLL-0321-001.

1915 Nurse Ina Leslie Bennett: cropped photo of PACOLL-0321-001.

1916 2nd Battalion Auckland Regiment in the Switch Trench, on the Somme: Imperial War Museum Q194.

2013 Manakau School Memorial: Allan Dodson photo.






Last Updated: 27/03/2015 12:39am