Benjamin PHILLIPS
Rank: Private
Number: 83296
Unit: 216th Company MACHINE GUN CORPS
Date of Death: 20 November 1917
Age: 26
Cemetery: Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium

Ben's parents, John Thomas and Elizabeth Alice Phillips, had  lived at 12 Lockside, Marple and he lived there with his brothers, George & Ernest and their sister, Matilda. They later moved to 1 Derby Street.  In the summer of 1908, Matilda married a friend of her brothers, Arthur Lovelock. Sometime after this, George, Benjamin and Arthur emigrated to Canada. It's not known if Matilda accompanied them. Ben had been working as a spinner at the local Goyt Mill.

When war was declared, on 4 August 1914, the men decided to return to Britain to join up and enlist into the Cheshire Regiment. George seems to have come back almost immediately but Ben's service number, 59070, confirms he didn't enlist until around November 1916. By then, George had already been killed.

Ben didn't serve abroad with the Cheshires but was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps after he had finished his training and went overseas with the newly formed 216th Company in March 1917. The Company operated 16 heavy Vickers guns, each with a seven man team. One of its key roles was to support attacks by the British infantry battalions. Some of the gun teams would go forward with the infantry to give close support. Others would remain in the British trench line, firing a barrage over the heads of the infantry and on to the German trenches. If the attack failed, these "barrage guns" would switch to a defensive role, shooting across inter-locked fields of fire to cut down the German attackers.

10 November 1917 would be later designated as the last day of the Third Battle of Ypres (known to many as Passchendaele). It had started on 31 July and many lives had been lost on both sides. In Ben's sector there would be one final small push. At 6.05am, the 1st Battalion, South Wales Borderers and the 1st Battalion, Munster Regiment attacked from Tournant to a position known as Vocation Farm, almost on the top of the Passchendaele ridge. The attacking units captured their objectives but the Germans were quickly re-enforced and the British were forced to withdraw.

The Company's War Diary records that the weather conditions were extremely bad. It started to rain just as the attack was getting underway and continued throughout the day. It made the task of filling the ammunition belts very difficult. The first counter attack came at about 7.15am and there would be several more occasions when the machine gunners had to open a defensive barrage which succeeded in deterring more determined assaults. Two of the Company's guns were destroyed by shellfire and 2 men were killed and 8 wounded during the day.

Ben was one of those wounded. He was evacuated to 17th Casualty Clearing Station (a field hospital) some miles away at Poperinge. Men did not usually spend more than a couple of days at a CCS. Their condition had either been stabilised sufficiently for them to be further evacuated to full hospital facilities  on the Channel coast, or they were dead. The fact that Ben held on for 10 days must be an indication not only of the severity of his wounds but the strength with which he clung to life.

Further information about Ben, including a photograph, can be found in the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

Arthur Lovelock and Ernest Phillips are believed to have survived the War. Ernest undertook an unknown act of bravery for which he received the Military Medal. He is presumed to be the E Phillips, service number 17681, recorded in the honours list of the regimental history.

   
           
   
     
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