Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Sydney Harrison

Sydney Harrison :

Sydney Harrison : Allied Victory Medal

Allied Victory Medal

Sydney was born on the 3rd March 1893 in Stalybridge, which was then a part of Cheshire. He was christened 4 days later in nearby Dukinfield. His father was called Edward and his mother was Ann. He had an older brother named Charles H. and 4 younger siblings: Cecil, Edward, Edith and Ivy. One other sibling had died by 1911.

Edward worked as a boilermaker for a railway locomotive manufacturer. In 1901 the family lived at 259 Leigh Street in Stalybridge and Ann worked as a cotton weaver. By 1911 she had stopped working, but Sydney had found a job as a piecer in the Texas cotton mill, Ashton-under-Lyne. The family now lived at 141 Lodge Lane in Dukinfield.

The First World War broke out in August 1914 and Sydney joined the 9th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 2nd July 1915. This was a unit of the Territorial Force based in Ashton. The original 9th Battalion was overseas, so Sydney was assigned to the 3/9th Battalion to be trained.

When he enlisted Sydney was 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall. He had 'good' vision and physical development. He was given the service number 3895 and began his training in Ashton. The 3/9th Battalion moved to Witley in Surrey during early 1916; we believe Sydney went with them. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 14th February 1916 then promoted again to Corporal on the 3rd June.

Sydney changed units on the 23rd October, although we don't know where he was sent. He sailed to France on the 2nd November and joined the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. This was not a Territorial Force unit, so Sydney was given the new service number 39637. He reverted to the rank of Private when he went overseas.

When he joined them the 16th Battalion were in the Bailleulval area, near Arras. They then served to the south of Arras in the trenches and in the rear during a quiet period. By March 1917 Sydney was a member of VII Platoon in B Company of the 16th Battalion. He had specialised as a bomber, who used hand grenades, known as Mills Bombs, to attack German soldiers in fortified positions. Also during this month he needed a week in hospital, between the 2nd and the 9th, although we don't know why.

Sydney played a part in the Battle of Arras during April and May 1917, although he went into hospital again at the end of April. We don't know why or how long he was there for. The 16th Battalion moved north to Ypres in Belgium during June and July.

We believe that Sydney took part in the attack on Polygon Wood that began the Passchendaele Offensive on the 31st July. He was able to take a period of leave in the UK and received one more wound before March 1918.

By mid March 1918 the British were expecting a German attack. The 16th Battalion was ordered to defend a position called Manchester Hill near St Quentin (it had been named the previous year after its capture by the 2nd Battalion). The battalion was commanded by Wilfrith Elstob, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. He made clear to the battalion that they would be resisting a large attack and that they must defend the position 'to the last round and to the last man'.

The attack came at around 6:30am on the 21st March. The Germans heavily shelled the Hill and then launched an infantry attack that was hidden by thick fog. By 11:30am the Germans had broken through and the Hill was surrounded. Many of the 16th Battalion were killed or captured. Wilfrith was killed and later awarded the Victoria Cross for his leadership.

Some members of the 16th Battalion had been stationed nearby and bypassed by the German advance. They made their way back to the British lines over the next few days. It would appear that Sydney was one of these men. He had not escaped unscathed however; he had been shot in the right hand and arm on the 21st. He was evacuated to the UK for treatment on the 24th March, and would not return to France.

It would appear that Sydney had recovered enough to return to duty by the end of April, as on the 28th he was charged with being late back to his unit from leave. He was confined to barracks for 3 days. He was absent without leave twice more during June and July; on the 19th June he was given 8 days Field Punishment Number 2, and on the 2nd July he was confined to barracks for 7 days. Field Punishment Number 2 involved doing hard labour, and being held in handcuffs at other times.

We don't know which unit Sydney was assigned to during this period, but by the end of the war he had been transferred to the 1st (Reserve) Garrison Battalion of the King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry). This served in Ireland from May 1918 onwards, guarding vulnerable points such as ports and railways.

Sydney was demobilised from the Army on the 11th February 1919. He went to live at the Buck Inn on Stalybridge High Street. The rest of his life remains a mystery. We believe he died in nearby Hyde at the age of 72 in late 1965.

Sydney's medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in August 1991 after being 'found in street by donor'. As well as his Allied Victory Medal, Sydney was also awarded the British War Medal for his Army service.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council