Private Benny James
Died 19th April 1916
Private Benjamin (Benny) James 5575 2nd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 4th. Platoon, A Company.
Benjamin (Benny) James was born in 1885 in Chepstow, Monmouth, to David James, a coachman, and Elizabeth James; one of seven children.
In the 1901 Census, now living in Brynhyfryd Terrace, Pontypridd, Benny was working as a hewer in the local coalmine. According to the 1911 Census, at the age of 26 he worked as a cab driver whilst boarding at 4 Jones Terrace, Pontypridd.
Following the declaration of war, Benny answered the call of King and Country and volunteered for Active Service, on 18th August 1914 in Tonypandy. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
However, it was not until 30th July 1915 that he sailed from Southampton on the SS Munich for Le Havre, where he joined the 2nd Battalion, R.W.F in August 1915, as part of the British Expeditionary Force
It is worth mentioning that he was a member of an infamous group called the OLD CONTEMPTIBLES, so called as those serving, at the time, in the British Expeditionary Force in France, were described by the German Kaiser as “ that contemptible little army”.
By late 1915 ,most probably due to his coalmining background, Benny had been seconded to the Royal Engineers who sought volunteers with mining experience to dig tunnels from the British lines to under the German trenches; plant explosives in large quantities, set a charge, return to base and then blow them up. By the time of Benny’s death, the British army had 25,000 tunnellers mostly taken from coal mining communities. This whole initiative was in response to the stalemate that had developed in trench warfare.
Tunnelling was one of the most dangerous occupations of the war, reflected by the fact that they received an extra 6d (2 ½ p) a day in their pay. They worked in near darkness, and as silently as possible, stopping to listen for sounds of any opposition tunnelling, with the constant fear that the enemy would break through from their tunnel and hand to hand fighting would take place in darkness, many feet below ground.
Though all facts are not known this is probably what happened to Benny as it was reported that he lost his life in action on the 19th of April 1916 at the age of 31, 4 months after taking up his duties as a tunneller with the Royal Engineers.
He has no known grave.
His name is carved, with many others, on a large marble wall panel at Loos Cemetery and remembered on the south east facing panel on the Chepstow War Memorial.
He was awarded the British War Medal, 1914-15 Star, and the Victory Medal.
*Information and photographs provided by Benny's great nephew,
Mr Malcolm Bennett, , now living in Porthcawl.