Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Remembrance for the Robin Hoods


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, as a reservist, was  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

24 comments:

  1. In just those few years between the first picture - where your grandfather looks so very young (which he was!) - to the portrait of him toward the close of your post, he looks so matured and I'm assuming it's not only the years that brought about that maturity, but what he saw and experienced during those years. A very nice looking fellow he was, too. :)

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    1. I think you’re right Gail. They had to grow up very quickly. He was certainly a nice looking chap and my gran snapped him up quickly; they were married at the end of 1918.

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  2. Having a little trouble posting a comment, Nell. Here goes again. I enjoyed reading this, very much. Have you got clear childhood memories of Syd, and at what age did he die?

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    1. Oh very clear Martin. I adored him. He died when I was twenty and away at teacher training college; I was heartbroken. He appeared in my blog as recently as 14th August, Just a Line From the OldPlace, where I wrote about a seaside holiday with my grandparents.

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  3. When the veterans hand out poppies here, I will think of your grandfather too. There is probably some pecking order of which battles get remembered and which ones go by the wayside. So often I've noticed when visiting some historic place, a house or a battlefield, it's always some "minor" contribution to history or to the tourism industry, yet in the details the significance is huge. I'm left to wonder why it doesn't get more attention. Anyway, you've done your bit.

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  4. Great post and very nice photos.

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  5. Oh, my goodness, what a handsome man! If I'd been around in 1918, your grandmother would have had stiff competition...

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  6. Interesting story and photos. It must have been especially traumatic to see his best friend shot dead beside him.

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  7. Your photos are very clear. What a fantastic record of another piece of history and your grandfather's role in it.

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  8. A great story about your grandfather. You are lucky to have so much information and detail about his war and rebellion battles. My grandfather was also in the WW1. I have photos of him in uniform but I don't know anything about what he did in the war.

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  9. I'm sure many of us. myself included, are unaware of the struggles that went on in Ireland in 1916 and the years after and think only of the more recent problems with the IRA. You are right to be proud of your grandfather's record and that of the Sherwood Foresters in WWI.

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  10. Oh my so very young! What a lovely posting about your dear Grandfather, and life as it was for him. Such a life he had,so many memories (especially the losses) he had to carry with him all the rest of his days.

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  11. A fine post. Enlisted at 16. What a guy. You found a rich bit of history tied together with family photographs.

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  12. Bravo! A wonderful commemoration especially with the musical element of drummers. Though the Great War is typically called a modern war, it was still conducted like wars of ancient times where soldiers marched into battle to the rhythmic beat of drums. The story of the Irish campaign, regardless of the politics, certainly deserves to be included in the British historical memory of military service.

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  13. Such an appropriate post. And I'm struck by the contrast of the brutality of war and the romantic names of Sherwood Foresters and Robin Hoods - such swoon- making names.

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  14. A great record of your uncle's war involvement. I wonder what sort of commemoration will be held for the centenary of the Easter Uprising in 2016.

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  15. This is definitely my sort of post. Excellent! Well Done.

    I really enjoy reading (and researching) war time posts.

    Thank you.

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  16. Joining the army at 16 is so young. And then having to fight (with swords and bayonets) in Ireland, that indeed is a forgotten chapter of WW1. If you wouldn't live so far away you could visit the locations some day. I would like to see those poorly kept graves, or if I was you walking the streets where grandfather has fought.

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    1. When I lived in England I did indeed visit Dublin, but not with the same knowledge and views I have now. I would really like to go back there now armed with the new information.

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  17. Thank you so much for sharing this little commemorated event...what a shock it must have been for all of them. And then to be a runner in France..he was plainly a brave young man. Our focus on particular battles is often very biased and selective so I'm pleased you are doing your bit to change that.

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  18. This was fascinating. A bit of history I never knew and a personal touch to the story. Thank you.

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  19. I remember the Sherwood Foresters from my Army childhood. We were stationed alongside them once.

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  20. Great series of photos and the story to go along with them. I really love that first photo, and the men do all look so young. Amazing how much his face had changed in only about 3 years.

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  21. So moved by this Marilyn, I know a bit about the Sinn Fein uprising, but don't think I'd ever properly put it into context. A perfect time to be reminded of the bravery and sacrifices made on the Home Front.

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