Harry hits 100 in explosive life

MILESTONE: Harry Bennett, who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday, attributes his longevity to regular exercise.
MILESTONE: Harry Bennett, who is about to celebrate his 100th birthday, attributes his longevity to regular exercise.

HE turns 100 on Monday but there were times when Harry Bennett thought he'd fall well short of that lofty mark.

Like the time during World War II when he was teaching men how to throw hand grenades.

"They had to pull the pin, then hold the handle to the grenade until they threw it," Harry recalled.

"If you got somebody a bit nervous who dropped it at their feet, you had four seconds to drag them behind the wall to safety."

Part of the training involved sheltering close to an exploding grenade, just to get a sense of its awful power.

"Once you experienced a grenade explosion, you never forgot it," he said.

But one day, one of these display grenades failed to explode.

While it lay inert on the ground, Harry had to look up the army manual.

"It said you had to pick up the grenade, screw off the base, take out the detonator and put it in your pocket."

Harry wasn't keen but, with 30 men standing around, he had little choice.

"I walked in, took a deep breath and picked up the grenade, hoping the base wasn't screwed on too tight. It came off, I pulled out the detonator and pocketed it.

"Then I breathed out."

The other narrow escape was another instructing experience.

This time it was assault training, crawling under a barbed-wire fence.

"The webbing holding my rifle got caught on the wire," Harry said.

He backed up, rolled over and gently eased the rifle free, while pushing up on the bottom strand of jagged wire.

"What I didn't notice was that the wire had snagged the safety catch. I was just gently slipping the rifle down between my legs when I saw the explosion in the muzzle."

The rifle was loaded with a ballistite (blank) cartridge, he said. But, even though there was no bullet, the discharge chipped his chin, his nose and his forehead, and tore most of the skin from the palm of one hand.

Harry also served on small ships during the war, before returning to the teaching profession in 1946 and marrying his first wife, Ruth.

During his eventful life, he taught in many parts of northern NSW and the Hunter.

Harry - who is the uncle of well-known Newcastle businessman Richard Owens - now lives in Jesmond with his second wife, Bet.

He attributes his longevity to his insistence on regular exercise.


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