WW1 – The Battle for Hill 60: Second Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary VC



Hill 60 near Ypres in Belgium was actually a large spoil heap from the digging of a cutting on the Ypres-Comines Railway. The hill was a strategic landmark because of the view it gave to the surrounding area, and as a result it was fought over and changed hands numerous times. On April 17th, 1915, the British began a campaign to seize Hill 60 from the Germans, as with most battles of the period it would be a bloody affair, with many casualties on both sides.

Benjamin Handley Geary VC

Benjamin Handley Geary was born in Marylebone, London on June 29th, 1891. He was educated at Keeble College Oxford, and at the outbreak of war he was teaching at Forest School in Walthamstow. He was also a talented rugby player and played for England against France. When war broke out Geary immediately answered the call to arms and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. He proved to be a talented and efficient officer and was soon sent to the front.



In April 1915, the East Surrey Regiment was sent to Ypres to take part in the battle for Hill 60. Geary was attached to the 1st Battalion during the battle and on April 20th and 21st he found himself leading the defence of a large crater on the left of the British position. The crater’s defences were destroyed by a heavy German artillery barrage, and throughout the night was subjected to repeated bomb attacks leaving the area strewn with dead and wounded. With only his own platoon, a handful of men from the Bedford Regiment, and a few reinforcements who came up during the night, they managed to repel near constant German attacks. Geary himself used his rifle to good effect, as well as throwing grenades in order to beat off the attackers. In between attacks he spent his time arranging for the supply of ammunition and reinforcements.

Hill 60

Throughout the attack Geary repeatedly exposed himself to the enemy in order to use the light from flares to spot the enemy when they attempted to rush his position. Finally he was seriously wounded himself and had to be evacuated, but he had done his duty and the position was held. As a result of his wounds Geary lost the sight in one eye, and injured the other, forcing him to be evacuated back to England for treatment and recovery. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, and vowed to return to the front, which he later did as a Captain with the East Surrey Regiment. He was wounded again on August 21st, 1918, suffering a gunshot wound to the abdomen, he was treated by the 1st New Zealand Field Ambulance and later transferred from the front by the No. 16 Ambulance Train.

Victoria Cross

After the war Benjamin Geary followed in his fathers footsteps and joined the church. He was ordained at Chelmsford Cathedral on October 2nd, 1921, and later served as Chaplain to the forces from 1926 to 1927. He resigned in 1927 and moved to Canada. During World War 2 he again answered the call to arms and served with the Canadian Army, reaching the rank of Major. He died in Ontario, Canada on May 26th, 1976, aged 84, and was buried in St Mark’s Cemetery, Niagara-on-the-Lake.    

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