Benjamin Oldfield, QMS B/3507, 7th Battalion Rifle Brigade
Died of wounds 4th November 1915 in Etaples, France, aged 46
Benjamin Oldfield was baptised on 12th May 1869 at St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield, the son of Rachel and Benjamin Oldfield, a silk weaver of Macclesfield. In 1871, 2 year old Benjamin was living at 5, Anderson Street, Macclesfield with his parents and siblings Sarah Jane Lovatt (13), and Ann (4). Ten years later the family were at the same address and had two more daughters: Mary Elizabeth (10) and Frances (2).
On 5th May 1885 Benjamin joined the 3rd (Reserve) Manchester Regiment at Ashton-under-Lyne, receiving service number 1491. He stated that he was aged 17 years 10 months (overstating his age by about 2 years) and was employed as a grocer by the Co-operative Society in Macclesfield. He was described as 5 feet 5 inches tall, with a 32 inch chest, blue eyes, light coloured hair and a fresh complexion.
Benjamin married Jane Ash on 3rd February 1901 at St Michael’s (temporary) church – the church building was undergoing repairs in 1901. Benjamin and Jane stated that they were living at 96 Brock Street, and Benjamin’s occupation was now ‘Colour Sergeant – Rifle Brigade’. Benjamin served for a total of 21 years.
By 1911 Benjamin had returned to civilian life, running his own drapery business with his wife and living at 43 Bond Street with his children Hector Duncan (9; born Rochdale), Millicent (7; born Portsmouth), Mabel (5; born Malta), George Frederick (4; born Malta) and Norman (1; born Macclesfield). Benjamin’s army postings can be deduced from the places where his children were born.
At the outbreak of hostilities Benjamin resumed military life, rejoining the Army as a reservist with the 7th (Service) Rifle Brigade, (which formed part of the 41st Brigade in the 14th Division) on 5th September 1914 at the age of 46 years and 4 months; he was initially accepted as an instructor to the Battalion at Winchester. His army service papers incorrectly recorded that he was born in Ardwick. He was now described as 5 feet 8½ inches tall, weighed 138 pounds and had a 35 inch chest, with blue eyes, grey hair and a scar on the left side of his chest. By this time the family had moved to 3 Grove St., Rusholme, Manchester and included five children: Hector, Mabel, George, Norman and Phyllis. Another son, Victor, was born in March 1915.
Benjamin later went to Aldershot for training and whilst there on 10th November 1914 he was severely reprimanded for ‘neglect of duty’. He left Britain with his battalion on 19th May 1915, departing from Folkestone and landing at Boulogne. The batallion then proceeded by train to Watten, and from there marched to Zuytpeene.
By mid-June they had moved to Poperinghe, near Ypres, and took part in various actions in the Ypres area over the following weeks, including the first use of flame-throwers by the Germans at Hooge on 30th July 1915.
Benjamin was allowed a short furlough in October 1915, during which he visited his father in Macclesfield. On returning to France, he was wounded and then contracted a chill which developed into Nephritis (kidney disease). He was admitted to No. 25 General Hospital in Etaples, where he died on 4th November 1915, aged 46. His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 12th November 1915:
… This is the third war in which he had taken part, the others being the Indian frontier and the South African. During his Army career he served for ten years in India. He was a splendid athlete and on February 6th 1895 was first both in the 100 yards race (time 10 3/5 sec) and the 440 yards race (53 3/5 sec), thereby gaining the greatest number of points and winning the Sir George White Challenge Shield and the Championship of the Indian Army. The 100 yard race, which was run on a grass track, was open to all non-commissioned officers and men of the Regiments of India.
Unusually, Benjamin’s army records include a statement of his effects which were returned to the family after his death. These include: 4 small photos, some stamps, a shaving brush, 3 razors in cases, 1 brass horseshoe charm, a prayer book, a wrist watch, and a packet of letters and private papers.