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Canadian twins visit restored Gainsborough memorial in tribute to great uncle

By Gainsborough Target  |  Posted: May 02, 2012

  • BROTHERS in arms: Twins James and Nicolas Bell finally pay tribute to their great uncle Frank Allyn Benitz, killed while protecting the town of Gainsborough from the Zeppelin attacks during the First World War.

  • TRIBUTE: Three current 33 Squadron members joined RAF Scampton commanding officer Wing Cdr Richard Turner, Trent Valley Academy student Jack Senescall and aviator's relative Chris Le Bas at the restored gravestones.

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PROUD Nicolas and James Bell made a 7,000-mile round trip from their homes in Canada to attend a poignant ceremony in Gainsborough.

The 56-year-old twins, both hard-working businessmen in their native Ontario, found time to honour their great-uncle – killed in action during an air raid in 1918.

Lieutenant Frank Allyn Benitz was only 25 when he was laid to rest in Gainsborough General Cemetery after his fragile aircraft crashed in the First World War.

Ironically, he was born in neutral Argentina – but volunteered to train as an RAF pilot after being educated at Malvern School and the University of Illinois.

His was one of four memorials – three Royal Flying Corps aviators also lost their lives defending Gainsborough from the Zeppelin airship menace – restored to their full glories and officially re-dedicated.

Lt Benitz' two great-nephews flew 3,500 miles to be present at a ceremony attended by more than 60 people who also honoured the trio of RFC men, all from Canada.

They had been contacted over the past few months by dedicated 'detective' and historian Peter Bradshaw, an assistant principal at the Trent Valley Academy.

Another relative – Chris Le Bas from Malvern – turned out to be a retired Group Captain who had commanded 70 Squadron before his retirement.

TVA head of history and Friends of Gainsborough Cemetery Chapels founder Mr Bradshaw has become a First World War specialist – and had led a campaign to have the damaged military headstones restored.

He traced missing relatives, persuaded them to contribute to the repair fund and was delighted when Lincolnshire Co-operative Society provided half the total cost and stonemasons to carry out the work.

"Peter contacted our cousin Peter Benitz, who lives in Florida, and he spread the word about the work being done on the gravestones," said Nicolas Bell, who works for Air Canada and owns a community newspaper franchise.

"We had to come when we heard because Frank Benitz was our grandmother's brother. Three of his nephews were each named Frank after him, all three served as pilots in the Second World War – and one of them was my dad."

Twin James, who owns a computer firm in Toronto, said his family were all very close and held reunions every five years.

"We know that Frank's sisters came to Gainsborough in the 1920s and planted the tree which is still growing next to his grave," said James.

"While we're in England for five days I want to visit the Imperial War museum to do research on the many members of our family who served during the 1939 to 1945 war."

Mr Le Bas said: "We think it's wonderful that Mr Bradshaw has gone to so much time and trouble to contact us and we're really grateful."

Gainsborough Town Mayor Harry Clarke said that turning back the clock more than 90 years was good for the children of both the Trent Valley Academy and Hillcrest Infants School who were present.

"The four memorials here remind us of the sacrifices made by young men from across the British Empire.

"They were so far from home, but we know that the townspeople of Gainsborough turned out in force to honour them at their funerals.

"We still remember them and the debt we owe them.."

Three serving officers from the current 33 Squadron, based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, joined the tribute alongside RAF Scampton commanding officer Wing Cdr Richard Turner.

Other civic leaders included Lord Lieutenant John Burke and West Lindsey District Council chairman William Parry – both local residents – and a contingent from Gainsborough branch of the Royal British Legion.

Trent Valley Academy principal Wendy Carrick, also born in the town, read John Bailey's poem Taking the Stand.

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