The British armed forces in the Great War took in men with a vast array of skills and experience. Many men ended up in combat arms, but where they had skills that could be useful in other parts of the military machine, they were often moved into roles where those skills could be used. Benjamin Adams was one of those.
Benjamin John Adams was born in Poplar in 1893, the one of the 13 children of boilermaker Robert Adams and his wife Mary. In 1911, he was living with his parents and his surviving siblings: five brothers and three sisters; two of his brothers were boiler makers like Robert, while Benjamin was a riveter.
On 15 April 1915, Adams enlisted in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at Poplar. In December that year, he was sent overseas. He was not sent to the Western Front, Gallipoli or another war zone, though: Private Adams was sent to Belfast to work for Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilding company responsible for building the Titanic. In the years leading up to the war, the company had successively built six ships that where – at the time of their launching – the largest vessels ever made.
During the war, Harland and Wolff continued to build ships, including the ‘mystery ships’ – warships designed as civilian shipping. According to Grace’s Guides, they and one other company were the main builds of the standard warship designs.
After three months in Belfast, Adams returned to the DCLI before being sent away in April 1916 to County Durham for more non-military work. In July, they found him suitable employment in the army, but not in the DCLI: Adams was transferred to the Railway Operating Division of the Royal Engineers. He soon qualified, unsurprisingly, as a riveter.
In September 1916, Adams was finally sent overseas with the RE. He served on the army’s vital railway system for three years, before returning to the UK on 8 November 1918.
Benjamin Adams may not have had an exciting war, nor a particularly dangerous one, but his work was vital. It was also an example of the army making good use of the skills of the men who ended up in its ranks.