DUKE, Benjamin Robert
(Service number 25/967)
|First Rank||Rifleman||Last Rank||Rifleman|
|Date||21 February 1893||Place of Birth||Kaitangata|
|Date||9 August 1915||Age||22 years|
|Address at Enlistment||Wilson Street, Timaru|
|Previous Military Experience|
|Next of Kin||Mrs R. DUKE (mother), Wilson Street, Timaru|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Medical Information||Height 5 feet 7 inches. Weight 137 lbs. Chest measurement 33½-37 inches. Complexion fair. Eyes grey. Hair brown. Eyes both 6/6. Hearing good. Colour vision correct. Limbs well formed. Full and perfect movement of all joints. Chest well formed. Heart and lungs normal. Teeth fair. Free from hernia, varicocele, varicose veins, haemorrhoids, inveterate or contagious skin disease. Not vaccinated. Good bodily and mental health. No slight defects. To see dentist.|
|Served with||NZ Armed Forces||Served in||Army|
|Body on Embarkation||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|Unit, Squadron, or Ship||3rd Battalion, C Company|
|Date||5 February 1916|
|Transport||Ulimaroa or Mokoia or Navua|
|Embarked From||Wellington||Destination||Suez, Egypt|
|Other Units Served With|
|Last Unit Served With||New Zealand Rifle Brigade|
|Campaigns||Egyptian; Western European|
|Service Medals||British War Medal; Victory Medal|
Award Circumstances and Date
Prisoner of War Information
|Date of Capture|
|Where Captured and by Whom|
|Actions Prior to Capture|
|PoW Serial Number|
|Date||17 August 1919||Reason||On account of wounds?|
Hospitals, Wounds, Diseases and Illnesses
|Date||9 November 1966||Age||73 years|
|Place of Death||Christchurch|
|Memorial or Cemetery||Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch|
|Memorial Reference||Block 51D, Plot 359|
|New Zealand Memorials|
Benjamin Robert Duke was the second son of James Duke and his third wife, Rachel née McCutcheon, of Timaru. Mr James Duke was a coal miner, which occupation brought him to South Canterbury. In mid 1889 he took the lease of the mine in the Kakahu district where, for some years, it had been known that good coal existed. He was also connected with the opening of lime kilns at Kakahu. Mr Duke, who had worked in most of the New Zealand coal mines and had been a pioneer of the coal industry at Mt Somers, had much experience of colleries in the Old Country. At a meeting held in the school at Woodbury in May 1906, Mr James Duke was called upon to explain the position and prospects of a proposed coal mine to work deposits in the Waihi Gorge. He had made a detailed study and believed the prospects were very promising. The owners of the Te Moana coal mine, open in 1907, secured the services of Mr Duke to make a thorough prospect of their site. He was particular in his work and spoke highly of the samples found. James Duke(s) died on 11 March 1911 at the Timaru Hospital. The family was then living on the corner of Wilson and Cullman streets. He was buried in the Timaru Cemetery. It is apparent that the family moved about a great deal when the children (nine from three marriages) were at school.
Benjamin, perhaps known as Ben, was born on 21 February 1893 at Kaitangata and educated at various schools in the Canterbury district - Templeton, Springburn, Kaikoura, Cheviot, Hapuka, Amberley, Dalbeg (Eskvale). He enlisted on 9 August 1915, aged 22 years. He was a labourer for the Union Steam Ship Company at Timaru, single, of Church of England affiliation, and living with his mother in Wilson Street, Timaru. His mother, Mrs R. Duke, was his nominated next-of-kin. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighed 137 pounds, and had a chest measurement of 33½-37 inches. His sight, hearing and colour vision were all good, as were his limbs, heart and lungs. His teeth were only fair and he was to see the dentist.
B. R. Duke left Timaru to go into the training camp on 13 October 1915. He was one of a large group who received a very enthusiastic farewell when they assembled in the drill shed for afternoon tea. The Ven. Archdeacon Jacob said that they were going to answer the call of duty and to help the brave boys who had gone before them and who were doing such splendid work. They were going to fight for King and country, to fight in the cause of right. They marched to the railway station, with the 2nd South Canterbury Regimental Band playing some soul-stirring patriotic airs. “Brave lads,” said the Mayor in a voice broken with emotion, “. . . . . We are proud of you for the gallant way you have come forward to assist the Empire in its time of need, . . . . . You are going forward to fight . . . for truth, liberty and justice, . . . .”
Having embarkied with the New Zealand Rifle Brigade on 5 February 1916 at Wellington, Rifleman Duke disembarked at Suez, Egypt on 13 March. In the Christchurch Magistrate’s Court, on 15 February 1916, Benjamin Robert Duke was adjudged the putative father of an unborn illegitimate child. Because the defendant had enlisted, the Magistrate would not make an order for securities, and advised that a fresh complaint would have to be laid when the child was born. In April 1916 he had embarked for France. In 1916 he spent almost two months with the Australian Tunnelling Company. Benjamin Duke’s indiscretions did not cease when he was abroad. On several instances in 1916 in France he was absent without leave and deprived of pay. He again forfeited pay in August, for breaking out of billets. Using threatening language to a superior officer – “You may have a military cross but I’ll get even with you yet you cust” - on 7 November 1916, resulted in thirty days imprisonment without hard labourer. In December 1917 he was released from a prison sentence after one year of hard labour had been awarded in the previous February when he was found guilty of being absent from Tattoo Roll Call and Company Billets in the January. He had already spent time in detention while awaiting trial. The remainder of his sentence was remitted when he was released and entrained for the front. Twice in June 1918 he forfeited pay for absence without leave. The next month he was fined and had to make good damage to a window on private property. Two more episodes of absence without leave followed but he was not placed in custody.
Early in January 1918 he was admitted to hospital, sick, and discharged to Reinforcements Camp nine days later, rejoining his Unit on 22 January. Only three days elapsed. Rifleman B. R. Duke, 25/967, Rifle Brigade, of the Canterbury District, was wounded in action on 30 January 1918 and admitted to the Field Ambulance. The following month his was reported as a severe case. Gunshot wounds on 27 February 1918 resulted in a fractured femur. He was admitted to the Military Hospital at Tooting on 7 March to have his right leg amputated, then transferred to Walton-on-Thames Hospital. With an artificial limb fitted to his perfectly healed knee stump, he left Walton, only to be re-admitted to the 2nd New Zealand General Hospital at Walton on 27 May. Light boots were supplied. In November the shell wound necessitated the amputation of his right thigh, perhaps because the artificial had become rather tight. The outcome was 80% permanent disability, and only light or sedentary work would be possible.
The “Marama” departed from Southampton on 9 June 1919 and arrived at Wellington in mid July 1919, carrying 676 men, including amputee B. R. Duke, for 40 Hanmer Street, Christchurch. After nearly four years’ service, Rifleman Duke was discharged on 17 August 1919, on account of wounds. For his service in Egypt and Europe he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal, for which he was deemed eligible in 1920. Benjamin Duke’s post war history is somewhat chequered. In May 1922 he was charged with and found guilty of unprovoked, cowardly assault. He stated that he did not remember the incident at all. He received a sentence of two months imprisonment, plus a fine of 2 shillings for drunkenness. Benjamin was himself, the victim, when he was knocked down by a motor car at about 6.30pm on 18 November 1924. He was admitted to hospital with injuries to the face. Benjamin Robert Duke, “a man who had served for three years in the late war, and who had lost a leg during his service,” was, in March 1927, was charged with drunkenness, obscene language, and damaging a window (valued at 10 shillings, the property of Edgar Royal Cook.). Fines were imposed, in default imprisonment. After the war Benjamin, a baker and a pensioner, lived in Christchurch, initially with his mother. For some years from about 1928, Elizabeth Amorel Cook (the wife of Edgar Royal Cook) was his partner. Benjamin Robert Duke, a war pensioner, died on 9 November 1966 at Christchurch, aged 73 years, his next-of-kin being a niece. He is buried in the servicemen’s section of the Ruru Lawn Cemetery in Christchurch.
Benjamin’s older brother, Joseph Martin Duke died of wounds on 19 May 1918 in France; his step-brother, William Henry Duke, died of illness on 5 November 1918 in England. A Roll of Honour notice for Joseph in the Lyttelton Times of 25 May named his brothers Privates W. F. B. and T. Duke, on active service. Five brothers - William, Frank, Joseph, Benjamin and Taylor - were at the front at the same time. Two notices in the Lyttelton Times of 11 November 1918 recorded William as the step-son of Mrs R. Dukes (Rachel), and step-brother of Rifleman B. (Ben) and Private T. (Taylor) Dukes (on active service), R. (Rachel) and J. (James John) Dukes and Mrs Garlick (Mary Ellen, Nellie), James and Nellie being issue of the first marriage of James senior; and as the brother of Mrs Wallis (Beatrice) and Rifleman F. Taylor (returned from service) (Frank).
Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Cenotaph Database [13 November 2013; 24 June 2019]; NZ Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives NZ Ref. AABK 18805 W5537 0035881) [18 March 2015]; NZ BDM Indexes (Department of Internal Affairs) ; Star, 5 July 1889, Temuka Leader, 17 May 1906, 9 November 1907, Timaru Herald, 13 & 14 March 1911, 6 & 14 October 1915, 14 February 1918, Sun, 15 February 1916, Star, 16 February 1916, Press, 16 February 1916, 6 May 1922, 19 November 1924, 11 March 1927, Marlborough Express, 14 February 1918, New Zealand Times, 14 February 1918, Evening Post, 13 March 1918, Lyttelton Times, 25 May 1918, 11 November 1918, 9 July 1919, NZ Truth, 13 May 1922 (Papers Past) [14 November 2013; 05 October 2014; 21, 22 & 24 June 2019]; Ruru Lawn cemetery, Christchurch headstone transcription (South Canterbury Branch NZSG cemetery records microfiches) [29 June 2014]; Ruru Lawn Cemetery burial records (Christchurch City Council) [29 June 2014]; School Admission Records (Canterbury Branch NZSG) ; NZ Electoral Rolls (ancestry.com.au) 
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Researched and Written by
Teresa Scott, SC branch NZSG
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