Sydney MORRIS
Rank: Private
Number: 8034
Unit: 1/8th Battalion LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS
Date of Death: 25 March 1918
Age: 22 (based on 1901 Census)
Cemetery: Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France

Sydney was born in Heaton Moor, the son of John and Harriett. When the Census was taken in 1901, he as the youngest of five children and the family was living at 123 Heaton Moor Road.

It is not known when Sydney enlisted into the army but his service number indicates it will have been in 1915 or 1916.

In the spring of 1918, a major attack by the Germans was widely expected by the Alllied High Command and the troops were well prepared for it. However, the overwhelming force with which it was delivered on 21 March took the British by surprise. The forward positions crumbled along a wide front almost immediately and within a few hours the troops were engaged in a fighting retreat.

On the 23rd, the Fusiliers were ordered from training positions south of the French town of Bethune to take up a defensive position at Adinfer Wood, just north of the 1916 Somme battlefield. The next day, the Regimental History records they were "Diverted to clear up a very obscure situation around Behagnies and Sapignies". These villages, north of Bapaume, were found to be clear of the enemy but "the situation was so obscure that, as a precaution against any eventuality, at least one Battalion fixed bayonets for the last stage of the advance."

At 4am on the 25th, the Brigade deployed in old trenches about 1500 yards west of the villages. Sydney and his mates in the 1/8th Battalion were a little to the rear of the two battalions in the front line. The Germans attacked at 6am, driving back the front troops to the  positions held by the 1/8th. German artillery now started to shell the whole area and, about 8am, the Germans were spotted advancing. The Fusiliers had already suffered many casualties from the shelling, but they went forward to engage the enemy infantry. They drove back the leading Germans and established themselves in a trench east of Sapignies. A further counter-attack re-established a line on the southern outskirts of the village. "Corporal R Cowell ....showed great skill and gallantry during this phase, he was severely wounded but stayed with his men and, by his example and encouragement, enabled them to hold their own." Cowell was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (second only to a Victoria Cross).

By 12.30, the Germans were attacking in large numbers and were working round the Fusiliers' flanks. A withdrawal was necessary. "C" Company of the 1/5th Battalion, assisted by two platoons from the 1/8th formed a rearguard, under 2nd Lieutenant G Massey. They "took up a position astride the road leading from Sapignies to Gomiecourt and (were) last seen fighting gallantly at close quarters against greatly superior numbers. Private F West of the 1/8th covered the withdrawal of his own platoon by taking up a position with his Lewis gun in the open and delivering such a hot fire at the advancing Germans that he inflicted heavy casualties on them and frustrated their out-flanking movement. Later in the operation, he was wounded but continued to work his gun until he collapsed through loss of blood...."

The withdrawal had been completed by 4pm and the Battalion was now in a position on the Gomiecourt Ridge. All the officers had become casualties and the Battalion was being commanded by Company Sergeant Major R Shaw. The History's final note for the day records that "Lance Sergeant J Kneale also rejoined later in the day, having been cut off with 18 men and 2 Lewis guns in a position which he held till dusk with great skill and determination. He brought his party away with a small loss and reported to his Company commander at midnight after a very fine performance."

Sydney has no known grave. It is probable that he was given a dignified burial by the advancing Germans but, perhaps unsurprisingly, they had no great interest in recording individual identities

   
           
   
     
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