Spencer John "Joe" Bent was born on 18th March 1891 in Stowmarket. He arrived in France on 22nd August 1914 as a member of the 1st Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The first battle of Ypres started on 19th October and by the 21st the Germans had taken the village of Le Gheer (8 miles to the south). The East Lancashire Regiment were ordered to retake this position and over the next week and a half, Joe Bent was injured a number of times, sustaining a gunshot wound to his leg, shrapnel injuries to both arms and hands and a head wound. He was sent back to England after injuries sustained on November 3rd and only learnt he had been awarded the Victoria Cross when he read about it in a local paper. His decoration was announced in the London Gazette on December 9, 1914. He was 23 years old.....
The citation read:
"For conspicuous gallantry near Le Gheer, on the night of 1/2 November 1914 when after his Platoon Sergeant and Section Commander had been struck down, he took command and with great presence of mind and coolness succeeded in holding the position. Drummer Bent had previously distinguished himself on two occasions, 22 and 24 October, by bringing up ammunition under heavy shell and rifle fire and again on 3rd November when he brought into cover some wounded men who were lying exposed in the open".
Drummer Spencer Bent received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 13th January 1915. Click on the image left for a larger view of this event. Unusually, the rear of Bent's Medal is engraved with all 4 days mentioned in his citation, recording his multiple acts of courage. As the first professional musician to be awarded a Victoria Cross, the Musicians' Company decided to recognise the honour by awarding
Bent a suitably engraved Gold Watch. Before the presentation was arranged, two more musicians had been awarded VCs (William Kenny and Edward Rendle). It was agreed that all three would be presented with their Gold Watches by the Lord Mayor (Sir Charles Johnston) at Mansion House on 8th March 1915 (sadly, Rendle was eventually unable to attend as he was kept in hospital).
To the right is a page from the Birmingham Gazette of Tuesday 9th March 1915, click the image for a close up of the photograph of Bent and Kenny - the caption says it took place at Guildhall, but that is a mistake, it was Mansion House.
The Musicians' Company Court Minutes give a full account of the presentation. Click Here for MB10 and look at pages 24 onward.
Another picture and write-up of the Gold Watch presentation event, appeared in the Daily Graphic of 9th March 1915. The two recipients can also be seen studying the Watch. The Master Musician at the time was Captain Adrian Charles Chamier who read out the citations for all three men.
Bent returned home in May 1919, having served with distinction throughout the war. After 21 years of Service, he retired from the Army in 1926 as Warrant Officer Class 2, Company Sergeant Major S.J.Bent, VC, MM. His Medal Group is pictured right and is on show at the Imperial War Museum in London.
Photo: © Lord Ashcroft Collection / IWM
Pictured left is Spencer Bent VC in 1976 (grateful thanks are due to THCL Books of Blackburn, Lancashire for the photo). He died peacefully in his sleep in Hackney, London, on May 3, 1977, aged 86. He was cremated at West Norwood Cemetery and Crematorium, London, where there is a plaque in his memory.