Thinking of Sydney

Sydney Aldridge, my grandfather’s brother, that is.

He was born in Islington, London in 1896 as the first child of Samuel and Jessie. Samuel had moved from Froxfield in Wiltshire to London sometime between 1881 and 1891, staying at first with the family of his sister Elizabeth Fowler at No. 7 Chalfont Rd, and moving to live with Jessie at No. 20. Like many of his family Samuel was a groom, and carried his trade to London where he worked with the brewers’ and undertakers’ horses.

Sydney was presumably born at No. 20 Chalfont Rd, and in 1900 my grandfather Ernest was born in the same house.

In 1914 Sydney was 18, and joined the 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment at Tidworth, becoming Private Sydney Aldridge No. 5684.. Old family ties presumably brought him back there rather than one of the London regiments.

At 6:05am on Wednesday 5th of August 1914 the battalion received a wire stating that war had broken out with Germany. The batallion had begun mobilising in reponse to a wire received late the previous afternoon, a process that was to take the normal four days. The battalion left Tidworth on two trains on Thursday August 13th, numbering 1014 men of all ranks. They embarked on the SS South Western (sunk in1918) and the SS Princess Ena at Southampton that evening — the horses had to be boxed and slung, and all wheels and axles removed from the wagons. I wonder whether Sydney worked on that? The Battalion arrived and disembarked at Rouen, France the next day.

After a train journey and a series of night marches the battalion advanced across the River Loisne at La Couture on the 13th October, driving back the enemy at the cost of nine men killed and eight wounded. This was the beginning of their fight in the Battle of La Bassée.

They saw no action on the 14th despite an alarm at 6:10 pm, nor on the 15th. On the night of the 16th they advanced about five miles to Neuve Chapelle, relieving the S. Lancashires at the Bois de Biez southeast of the town — a difficult task on a very dark night with a new moon. On Saturday the 17th they started advancing at 6am, reaching Ligny-le-Grand at 10:30am and coming into contact again with the enemy. Overnight the battalion entrenched east of the village, and had suffered eighteen wounded.

The next day the battalion attempted to advance but only progressed 200-300 yards against a reinforced enemy, and despite another push at dusk they made little progress in the face of shelling, star shells, a search light and burning hay ricks. Three men were killed and twenty-two wounded.

On Monday October the 19th, ninety-two years ago tomorrow, the battalion war diary reads … “A & B Coys made a little ground but, shell and rifle fire very heavy. 2nd Lieut Lloyd succeeded in making a lodgement with one platoon of D Coy in the outskirts of ILLIES and was joined by 2nd Lieut Rose with his platoon. At dusk, enemy fired a rick close to B Coy line which prevented wounded and dead being brought in till late. Rain helped keep the fire down. Enemy used heavy guns during the afternoon. 2nd Lieuts Lloyd and Rose withdrew as their effectual support impossible.”

Sydney Aldridge was among twelve men killed, and twenty-one men were also wounded. He is commemorated with 13,478 other soldiers at Le Touret Memorial to the Missing, 286 of them from the 1st bn. of the Wiltshires.

His death came three days before the 14th birthday of his brother Ernest, so the telegram must have had quite an impact on the family. I can’t imagine that they thought then that the war would last long enough for Ernest to join the Army as well — as it happened he joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps shortly after his eighteenth birthday but on the last day of the war. He served in India and the Northwest frontier, where he was apparantly disguised as an officer occasionally so that he could compete in the officer’s pistol shooting team. Here he is in an unknown location at an unknown time:

He didn’t talk about his brother, but then he didn’t really talk about much else either.

So one common “character assessment” question seems to be “If you could go back in time to talk to someone then who would you choose?”, or “If you could have dinner with five people from the past, who would they be?”. I think that the standard answers are supposed to be Einstein, Jesus, maybe a philosopher or two. Never mind all the famous people though, I think that Sydney would be at the top of my list — it’d be good to catch up on some of the old family gossip.


6 thoughts on “Thinking of Sydney

  1. Ah, been there and done that :D Actually I didn’t find anything out about him from there except through the 1901 England census, and nobody in tha family knew anything other than Ernest having an older brother who died in the war — as I said, Ernest didn’t talk about it.

    I found some service details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s list of names on memorials here: The war diaries of the Wiltshire Regiment are also online.

    Other than that everything is rather obscure.

  2. He didn’t talk about his brother, but then he didn’t really talk about much else either.

    Yeah, a common trait of older folks. And why I regret not having spent more time “squeezing” both my grandparents and my dad. Three folks that would definitely be sitting at my “ideal” talk table. I do know quite a lot about them and their parents but not as much as I’d like.

    Not repeating that error with my kids, though. When I go, they have a diary book that I’ve been writing since they were born with everything that comes to my mind: old, new, imagined, whatever.

    It’s a pain, but a necessary pain IMHO. Hopefully, they’ll never have to ask themselves the questions I now can’t answer.

    Never forget the important things in life.

  3. It’s true that older people don’t talk about when they were younger, or that we don’t ask appropriat questions – a man being asked to remember his older brother taken away from him when he was 14 in a largely meaningless action though – well I can understand not speaking of it. My grandfather had a bunch of medals – no idea what for, he never said, on the whole I think that’s fair enough so long as i, and my children and their children recall whatwar is, and why at least some were fought, and perhaps learn not to fight the current one throughout the rest of this century.

  4. I have always been facinated by war and stories about war. But more often than not the stories don’t show what one person went through and their perspective. So I think its too easy to not get a full understanding of what happened and why through the major wars of the 20th century. If we had that understanding, maybe we would be better at avoiding war in the future.

  5. My dad was a multiloquent person, and seemed to have no problem talking about his WWII experiences – medics giving newbies pills that would make their pee turn black and freaking them out, getting busted down for fighting (he was also a boxer). He had been exempt from the draft because he was a machinist at the Brooklyn shipyards, then joined the Navy right at the end of the war, thinking he could get the benefits without actually going overseas. Of course, they shipped him off to the Pacific on a destroyer during the nasty endgames.

    After my dad died (1972), we found a medal in the safe. He had never talked about it or told my mom about it. A few years ago I tried to inquire of the DOD about it (they had declassified a lot of stuff, and have a procedure for such inquiries), but just got stonewalled. It remains a mystery.

    My cousin found a lost branch of our family through a google search, of all things (my grandfather’s brother’s progeny). I just recently met some of them. Between migrations, people dying in pandemics (like paternal grandmother, 1918), disinformation about cousins marrying ’cause it’s against the law in that state, I can’t even comprehend the tree without a printout.

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