Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Frederick John Sillifant

Frederick John Sillifant : Drawing of Frederick in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MR4/17/285

Drawing of Frederick in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR4/17/285

Frederick John Sillifant : Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Elandslaagte'

Queen's South Africa Medal with clasp 'Elandslaagte'

Frederick was born in around August or September 1877 in Toronto, Canada. His father was called William and his mother was Mary Ann. He had 3 older siblings; Rebecca or Sussannah, William Henry and Janet, and 2 younger; Francis and George.

William and Mary were both born in the UK, but they had lived in the United States of America and in Canada for a number of years. Rebecca/Sussannah had been born in New Jersey in the USA, and the rest of their children, except Francis, had been born in Toronto. The family returned to the UK between Frederick's birth and mid 1880, when Francis was born in Manchester.

In 1881 the family lived at 16 Rumford Street in Hulme, Manchester. William worked as a plasterer. Mary died between January and March 1890, aged 47. The next year William and his children lived at 17 Belleek Street in Hulme. He was still a plasterer, and most of the children also had jobs. Frederick was an errand boy.

By 1895 Frederick worked as a labourer for John Crampton, a drysalter based on Herriott Street. A drysalter sold salt and other food preservatives, as well as a range of other chemicals. As well as this job, on the 5th July Frederick joined the 4th Battalion of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment. This was a unit of the Militia, so Frederick would keep his civilian home and job and train as a soldier for a short period every year.

When he enlisted Frederick was 5 feet 6 3/4 inches tall and weighed 114 pounds. He had a 'sallow' complexion, dark grey eyes and brown hair. He was given the service number 4586 and began his service with 76 days of drill and training. This must have been long enough for Frederick to decide that Army life suited him, as the day after it ended, on the 21st September, he joined the Regular Army.

Frederick chose to join the Manchester Regiment. He was given the service number 4679. He had put on 24 pounds during his training, and he now had an anchor tattooed on the back of his left forearm.

After 2 months of training at the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne Frederick was posted to the 1st Battalion at Aldershot in Hampshire on the 26th November. He joined F Company.

In 1897 Britain celebrated Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years since she came to the throne. During August Frederick and the 1st Battalion took part in the celebrations. This would be the last time he was in Manchester for several years.

Shortly after this, in November, the 1st Battalion was sent to Gibraltar.

Tensions between British and Boer settlers in South Africa were rising, and in August 1899 the British Government decided to send the 1st Battalion to South Africa in case war broke out. On the voyage to South Africa Frederick was able to send a letter home from the Canary Islands. He was 'very cheerful at the prospect of the coming campaign'.

The battalion landed in Durban and was stationed in the small town of Ladysmith in Natal when war was declared on the 11th October.

The British tried to stop the Boers from capturing Ladysmith. Frederick was present at one of these attempts, the Battle of Elandslaagte, on the 21st October.

Elandslaagte was a railway station on the line between Ladysmith and a smaller British force at Dundee. The Boers had captured it on the 19th, which threatened the men at Dundee. The 1st Battalion took part in the main British attack against the left flank of the Boer position. As they began their attack, a thunderstorm began, and the rest of the battle was fought in poor visibility and driving rain.

The British broke through the Boer defences, but were then driven back by a counterattack. They rallied and advanced again. This forced the Boers to retreat. The battle was a British victory, but the force then fell back to Ladysmith before the detachment at Dundee could reach them.

The Boers recaptured Elandslaagte on the 23rd and by the 30th Ladysmith was under siege. It would not be relieved until the 28th February 1900.

Frederick was shot in the left knee during the battle. He was medically evacuated from Ladysmith before the siege began and returned to the UK for treatment. He would play no further part in the Boer War.

Frederick spent most of 1900 with the 3rd Battalion in Aldershot. His wound did not heal enough for him to return to duty, so on the 5th November he was discharged as 'medically unfit for further service'. His conduct and character had been 'Good'.

After his discharge Frederick returned to his family, who now lived at 12 Derby Place in Hulme. When the 1901 Census was taken around 6 months later he had found work as a tram driver. His brother Francis was a tram conductor.

Between April and June 1903 Frederick married Florence Elizabeth Jenkinson in the Chorlton area of Manchester. By 1911 they lived at 21 Broad Street in Pendleton, Salford. They had one child, named Alfred. One other child had died. We believe her name was Annie.

Frederick worked as a motorman for Manchester Corporation Tramways. This was another name for driver, so he still had the same job. Florence worked as a 'dairy manageress'. Her widowed mother Jane and unmarried sister Harriet also lived with them.

Frederick died between January and March 1922. He was 45 years old. Florence was 79 when she died between January and March 1956.

Frederick's medal was donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1978.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf

Telephone: 0161 342 5480
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council