At the outbreak of WW1 my grandfather Sydney volunteered for the army. He had turned sixteen in April that year and was an engineering apprentice in Nottingham. He joined the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), 2/7th (Robin Hoods) Battalion, which was formed a hundred years ago tomorrow. Until the end of January 1915 the men were billeted at home, so Syd remained with his father, stepmother, sister and brother, whilst carrying out training, drill and tactical exercises. They then transferred to Luton and on to Dunstable for further training. It was here that the battalion was presented with a set of band instruments and Syd joined the band as a drummer. The picture above shows my grandfather (far left) with three pals outside their tents at the Watford camp.
In this picture he stands, wearing the drum (the far right). This time they have moved away from the tents, perhaps to practise without disturbing their comrades in the camp.
This postcard was sent by Syd to his father in 1915; in August of that year the battalion undertook a two day march to Watford where, with 178 Brigade, they underwent final preparation for front line duties. In 1916, a week after his 18th birthday, when he became eligible for combat duties, the battalion received news that were to proceed to an unknown destination and two days later, having travelled by the cargo ship S.S.Patriotic, they were in Ireland (1).
My grandfather’s first taste of battle was not in France or Belgium as had been expected, but in suppressing an armed rebellion by Sinn Féin, the movement for independence from Britain. He had a difficult march with his battalion from Kingstown (now Dun Laogihre) to Dublin, carrying a full pack, weapons and 130 rounds of munitions on a warm Spring day(1). On 26th April the battalion walked into a trap and were quickly embroiled in what became known as the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where many of the Foresters were simply picked off as they marched straight through the Dublin streets with no cover. Syd found himself in the charge up the Northumberland Road, where the Robin Hoods attacked (with drawn swords and bayonets) Number 25, the school, the bridge and Clanwilliam House, all held by the rebels. "The attacks were pressed home 'at all costs'. Frontal charges onto the guns of the rebels." (2)
There were many casualties and Syd saw his best friend shot dead as he fought beside him. By the end of the day the Sherwood Foresters had lost four officers killed and fourteen wounded. Amongst other ranks there were 216 killed or wounded; 234 men in one day was a huge loss. Some of the men were raw recruits who had only been in uniform for three months; my grandfather was a regular and well trained, but even he would not have been prepared for an ambush and for street fighting; for him, just a few days past his 18th birthday it would be a memorable event. Even today there is little remembrance of this significant event: the Sherwood Foresters who died fighting on the Home Front were not recognised in the glorious way that those who fell on the Western Front were and many of their graves are poorly kept.
He remained ‘under canvas’ for a further four months and then marched to Galway and the comparative comfort of the barracks, before being recalled to England in early 1917. From here the battalion finally transferred to France and took part with distinction in the second Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) and Cambrai later in 1917. Syd, trained in signals, was employed as a Runner, carrying messages along the trenches and between the lines. When the battalion was disbanded in January 1918, Syd transferred to the Royal Engineers Signals Service and returned to barracks for training. The photo on the right was taken at that time and it’s the one I know best from my grandfather’s time in WW1, as it hung on the wall of my grandparents sitting room throughout his life.
Very little reference was made to his war service as far as I can recall, but growing up I was always very aware of my grandfather’s part in suppressing the rebellion. All those months living under canvas, training, drilling and playing in the band, must have seemed a distant memory or forgotten dream when thrown into the nightmare of Easter 1916.
On November 11th this year, when poppies are worn in remembrance, I’ll be thinking of the Sherwood Foresters and especially of Syd and his pals in the Robin Hoods who fought so bravely against all the odds. Perhaps one day their valour and sacrifice will be recognised and they will receive the honours due to them even though there is now not one left to accept them.
Join us at Sepia Saturday this week where the picture below with tents and poppies prompts different and varied memories for contributors.
Below are three documents I referred to in writing this post, the first of which is a newly published thesis. Once again I am also indebted to my brother for chronicling the family history.
(1) Hidden From Memory: Remembrance and Commemoration of the Sherwood Foresters' Involvement in Easter 1916. Amanda S. Kinchen. via Digital Commons at Georgia Southern University. pub Spring 2014
(2) In Some Forgotten Field - The Easter Uprising 1916. John McGuiggan
(3) The Robin Hoods; Rebellion in Ireland, Easter 1916