IT was 2.30 on the afternoon of Sunday, October 3, 1915, that the Germans launched their deadly attack on the 1st Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, holed up in trenches near the ‘Quarries’ at Vermelles, in the Pas-de-Calais.

The unrelenting bombardment lasted for two horrific hours and included a deadly concoction of 8-inch high explosive shells, Minenwarfers and aerial torpedoes.

Young 2nd Lieutenant Bentall, of ‘D’ Company, became seriously concerned for the welfare of his platoon and left the relative safety of his shelter to try and find a stretcher-bearer for a badly wounded, blinded man.

Just as he did so, a shell exploded overhead.

That was the last anyone saw of 18-year-old Ernest Hammond Bentall.

He had only been in France for three months. Gazetted on May 12, Ernest was always destined to be an officer – a product of Stone House Preparatory School, of de Havilland’s House, Eton, and of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

Not only that, he was clearly from a very well-to-do family.

In fact his father, Edmund Ernest Bentall JP, was the managing director of the successful firm of iron founders, engineers and agricultural manufacturers, EH Bentall & Co Ltd, of Heybridge.

It was with a heavy heart that Edmund Bentall read the letter from Ernest’s commanding officer.

“His death”, wrote Major Armytage, “was a great loss to us; he was always so cheerful and full of spirits – full of pluck and he had no fear.”

But even those words were of little comfort when, in the opulent drawing room of The Towers Mansion, he broke the news to his wife Maude that they had lost their second son.

The war ravaged for a further three years, but when it was all over, demobilisation gradually took place and, in February 1919, the RAF’s 37 Home Defence Squadron withdrew from their Flight Station at nearby Goldhanger.

Edmund and Maude Bentall knew that the folk of Heybridge Basin, some of them their employees, had been renting an upper room from the shopkeeper-cum-tallyman Samuel Purkiss for their Sunday church services.

Suddenly a number of things seemed to come together – peace, remembrance, personal loss and strength from faith.

The Bentalls decided to purchase an Armstrong hut that had been used as Goldhanger’s sergeants’ mess and had it moved to a field on a bend off the Basin Road.

Once in situ, the simple wooden building was plastered, a small bell tower was added along with a vestry at the west end, and simple wooden benches were fitted by May and Butcher’s Ltd.

St George’s, as it became known, was finally dedicated for worship on March 4, 1920, and has served that time-honoured purpose ever since.

The first baptism took place there on the February 11, 1923, the first wedding – by Archbishop’s licence – years later in 2008.

Over the intervening years, successive generations of parishioners have cared for the much-loved little church, leaving their mark in various ways.

There is a beautiful stained glass panel, designed by talented local artist Andrew Fawcett, in memory of Joan McCready, of Jacob’s Farm.

A community room, kitchen and toilets were added in 2015.

Evidence of the hut’s Great War heritage is also all around.

The original sergeants mess name-plate. A memorial plaque (formerly in the URC church just down the road) remembers 60 Basin men who gave active service during 1914-18 and the three who did not return are recorded on the lectern.

But most poignant of all is the east window.

Attributed as the work of Arthur Anselm Orr (1868-1949), it depicts St George, mounted on a white charger and slaying a dragon.

The legend is based on the real-life saint (who died in 303) defeating a fictitious serpent-like creature that lived off human sacrifices.

The narrative could be as early as the 11th century but clearly has resonance with the victory, at huge human cost, of the First World War.

To reinforce that touching association, the dedication at the bottom is taken from 2 Timothy 2:1-3: “Thou therefore, my son... endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

Then look carefully on the face of the saint. It is said to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain beloved son, who in the words of the inscription on his headstone in Vermelles British Cemetery, gave his life “pro rege et patria” (“for king and country”) and, of course, for the close-knit church community that he continues to watch over.

St George’s Church centenary (1920-2020) will be marked by a series of events in March, including a Taizé service on Sunday, March 1, a rededication service on Wednesday, March 4, a talk on Congregational singing on Friday, March 6, and a communion service on Sunday, March 8.

n For further information, contact Joy Norman, on 01621 857004, or email