William Benson Returns Home From WWI After Fighting Abroad At The Age Of 56
William Benson was born in England the year the Civil War ended in the United States. He fought in WWI while a resident of Watertown, N.Y., but served as a Canadian having enlisted in Kingston, Ontario. He died in Watertown, a proud and decorated Veteran, at the end of WWII. Below is his story. Special thanks to William “Billy” Howard for sharing his great-grandfather’s story.
Reprinted in the Daily British Whig, June 22, 1917, from the Watertown Daily Times.
Veteran Returns Home
William Benson Was Nineteen Months In Trenches
Saw Great Artillery Preparation That Preceded Vimy Ridge – Says Americans Will Turn The Tide
William Benson, aged fifty-six years, of 318 High Street, Canadian overseas veteran, who returned from nineteen months active service in France Monday night, to-day advocated the establishment of a patriotic fund for the support of families of the American soldiers who leave for the front.
“While I was at the front my wife received $45 a month,” he said. “I can’t see how the families of the American soldiers or sailors can live on the salaries paid by the government, with the price of food and necessities of life high. I have heard of one member of the local division of the Naval Militia, who receives $17 a month and has a wife and child to support. How can they live? And how can a man fight when he knows that his family is starving? With the provisions of the Canadian government, it is impossible for any soldier’s family to exist in comfort.
“When I arrived in Cape Vincent Monday night on my way home from Kingston I was called upon to pay a head tax of $8. I have been a resident of Watertown for 15 years, and have been fighting for the past two years, the fight of the American people and her Allies, as a member of a Canadian battalion, and here I have to pay $8 to return home.
I’m not naturalized of course. But even if I were, I would have to take out papers again because of losing citizenship by entering the Canadian army. I have a son in the Naval Militia, and I wish I had a dozen to send, but it does seem unjust for a man who has fought as I have to pay an entrance fee to return home. It isn’t the paltry $8; it is the spirit of the thing.
“I was discharged being ‘medically unfit for further service.’ I Was not wounded, but I am 56 years old and I had to say that I was 45. I was a member of the 21st Battalion, A Company, and served two years three months and eighteen days, nineteen months of which was active service in France. I enlisted in Kingston, Ont.
I have lived in this city 15 years, and was employed as night watchman by the New York Air Brake Company. I enlisted at Kingston, Ont. I am a native of Woolwich, England and lived for twelve years in Kingston before coming to this city.
“In September, 1915, I went to France. I was at Ypres, St. Eloi, the Bluff, Ypres salient, and then the Somme one month during the British offensive. Then we went into winter quarters in France at Bullygrene.
“The credit to the Canadians in the recent success at Vimy Ridge must not be exaggerated. It was the artillery preparation that won Vimy Ridge for us, although the Canadians are to be commended. The French did not have the artillery and it was nothing but flesh and blood against the German guns. Now the condition is reversed, for every ten shells fritz throws into our lines, we throw 40 back.
We’ve got the most wonderful, magnificent guns, there are hundreds and hundreds and no scarcity of any kind of ammunition. The artillery fire from the German lines has greatly slackened since we went to France and ours has increased over hundredfold. The war cannot last two years more.
Following the war the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medals were sent to Mr. Benson. He passed away at the age of 80 in 1945 and is buried in Brookside Cemetery and his medals are at the Jefferson County Historical Society.