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In the early 1900s Ben Marks moved from London to a small house in Stoughton Street, Leicester. The house was crowded as there was his mother, Alice, father, Isaac, and nine children and Mary, their Welsh live-in servant living there but at least it was within walking distance of the Synagogue. Soon after moving to Leicester, Ben left school to start learning the photographer’s trade from his father.
Had war not broken out, Ben may have followed his father’s trade, but the First World War changed everything. He enlisted in the Machine Gun Corps and volunteered as a despatch rider.
Riders must have been urgently needed as sixteen days later he was in action in France. Transferred from unit to unit, he ended up in the Royal Army Service Corps, attached to the French forces and was caught up in the Battle of Champagne. During weeks of intense shelling in April 1917 he was carrying messages, day or night. His brave contributions came to the notice of the French officers and in early May he was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Star, presented on the battlefield by a French general.
He continued as a despatch rider after being sent to Italy, this time attached to the Italian army. In June 1918, following the cutting of all communication wires, he had to carry messages by motor bicycle to the British batteries, despite heavy shelling and many casualties. For his work during this action, he was decorated by the King of Italy, receiving the Merito di Guerra.
He finished the war as a sapper in the Royal Engineers and returned safely to Leicester along with his brothers, Emile and Lionel, who had also served.
Benjamin Marks was the grandfather of Gerald Cemmel, a current member of the LHC and author of this article.