Benjamin was born in the Ancoats area of Manchester in the closing months of 1875. He was the second child of Benjamin and Georgina Hartley, who had married in 1873. Little is known about the details of his early life but, in the late summer of 1903, he married Alice Whittaker. The couple moved to Reddish and, by the time of the Great War, were living at 36 Brighton Grove.
Benjamin was a mechanic by trade and when War was declared in August 1914 he would have been too old to enlist. However, by the end of that year, there was an urgent appeal for skilled mechanics to join up to become Armament Artificers, maintaining the guns of the Royal Artillery. He will have travelled to London for a week long trade test and, having passed, would have been enlisted into the Army. By April of 1915, he had been attached to the newly formed 124th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. His rank was now Staff Sergeant and he was, effectively, the chief mechanic for the Brigade. The Brigade went overseas in the July and spent its first weeks in reserve near the French town of St Omer.
By June 1916, Benjamin and his comrades had moved to the village of Bienvillers. This was just north of what was to be the area on which the Battle of the Somme would be fought. Although the infantry supported by 124th Brigade would not be involved in the attack scheduled for 1 July, the artillery would be active to prevent the Germans working out exactly where the attack would take place. And, to maintain the diversion, battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment planned a raid on the enemy trenches opposite for the night of 28/29 June.
The artillery would have three important targets that night and Benjamin would have been on duty ready to deal with any problem with the guns. First, they would shell the German front line so that the Germans could not man their machine guns. Secondly, they would shell the support and communication trenches, so that reinforcements could not be sent. The final target would be the enemy's own artillery positions. This would be to try to ensure that the German's could not shell No Man's Land, catching the Leicesters in the open.
It cannot be known exactly how Benjamin died but, in such circumstances, the German artillery would fire back, hoping to knock out the British guns. During the day, Benjamin and two other men were killed. He was buried not far from the gun positions in a small military cemetery behind the village church at Hannescamps. Over the course of the War, the actual position of his grave has been lost or was destroyed by shellfire and Benjamin is now commemorated on a special memorial in the cemetery. Perhaps his grave is one of the 19 that are now marked “Known unto God”.
(Note: Benjamin Hartley was my great uncle. A more detailed article about my discovery that I had a relative killed in the War can be found at Tom Morgan’s Hellfire Corner website - http://www.fylde.demon.co.uk/uncleben.htm. John Hartley)