Sydney’s War

Sydney Nash

Title: Sydney Nash
Description: Copyright Aldershot News, 1918 by-nc

Sydney Edward Nash 1898 – 1917

Sydney Edward Nash was born about June 1898 in Ash, Surrey, the 3rd son of James and Amelia Nash (nee Bound). Sydney was baptised on the 19 of June 1898 at St Mary’s Church, Ash, Surrey, and in the 1901 census Sydney aged 2 was living on the Frimley Road, Ash, with his parents and siblings, William aged 7, Frederick aged 5 and May aged 10 months.

The Ash Parish Magazine from April 1906 records that Sydney was amongst 35 boys who received prizes for good attendance at St Mary’s Sunday school and the 1911 census shows Sydney’s father James working at the Frimley District Water Works and the family was living at No. 2 Hayes Villas, Frimley Road, Ash, Surrey.

Great War Service

Sydney Edward Nash enlisted in Guildford on the 12 January 1916 and gave his age as 18 years, but was still 5 months short of his 18th birthday. He was 5ft 3″ tall, weighed 112lbs and a chest measured at 32″. He had a dark complexion and dark brown hair with brown eyes. His occupation was a grocer and he joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery Royal Horse and Field, rank Gunner, and was given regimental no. 122757. Sydney was posted to the Reserve Brigade, Royal Artillery Depot at Woolwich, London on the 21 January.

Gunner Sydney Nash transferred to the 3rd Battalion Scottish Rifles, known as The Cameronians, on the 1 July 1916. Sydney was given regimental no. 26743 and was now a Private, which is the equivalent rank in the infantry to that of Gunner in the Royal Artillery. The 3rd Battalion was a training unit that was based South of the River Dee in the Nigg area of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Private Sydney Nash was admonished for overstaying his pass from 12 midnight on the 7 October, until reporting at on the 9th and this was witnessed by Sergeant Smith. On the 22 November 1916, Private Sydney Nash was promoted to paid Lance-Corporal and had qualified as a Bomber.

British Expeditionary Force 1917

Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was posted to France on 4 April 1917, embarking at Folkestone and disembarking at Boulogne that same day. The next day Lance-Corporal Nash arrived at the 20th Infantry Base Depot (IBD) in Etaples. The IBD was a holding and training camp, situated within a short distance of the Channel ports, that received men from England day and night. The camp at Etaples was the size of a small town, with roads, train stations, hospitals, accommodation for tens of thousands of men, prisons, various headquarters for the different Armies in the Allied Forces, enormous parade grounds and the training schools for the men. It was here the men were put through a tough regime of final training that was universally hated, before being posted to their respective regiments.

On the 20 April 1917, Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was transferred to the 15th Battalion Royal Scots and continued his training at Etaples until he joined the 15th Battalion on the 2 May in the field and was given regimental no. 41336. The 15th Battalion was in the 101st Infantry Brigade, 34th Division.

Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was posted to ‘A’ Company, No. 2 Platoon and the 15th Battalion was behind the line resting near Bernaville, after they had been fighting in the Battle of Arras that had begun in April 1917. The 15th Battalion had suffered enormously in the recent fighting and Private Sydney Nash would have been apart of a draft of men to replace those that had became casualties. So short of men, the 15th Battalion could only muster enough men to fill 3 Platoons, of 3 sections in 3 Companies.

Hargicourt, July 1917

The 34th Division moved south at the beginning of July 1917, taking over trenches near Hargicourt and had the honour of forming the right flank of the whole British Army, the River Omignon being the boundary between it and the 22nd Division of the French Army.

The 3rd, 9th and 34th Divisions were lying east of Bapaume in the zone which the Germans had laid to waste in retreat to the Hindenburg Line in early spring 1917. The Germans had systematically demolished all the villages, leaving no building with a roof to cover it, had blown craters in the roads and destroyed all the fruit trees. The men of the 34th Division were horrified when beholding the general devastation of the civilian population, a horror that became an anger at the Germans, as all the ruined buildings provided draughty and comfortless billets, while the necessity of tidying up required large working parties of men.

The left sector of the 34th Division’s line consisted of an almost continuous trench, while the quarry to the east of Hargicourt to the south was a series of detached posts. The countryside was open and rolling in which slag heaps formed local landmarks. The Germans held the ground on the western slope of the highest ridge which prevented the Division from seeing the formidable Hindenburg system which was farther east.

It was obvious that this ridge would have to be taken and this operation was to be undertaken by the 34th Division, but the various battalions were allowed to settle in and became familiar with their new surroundings before any action and this sector of the line was quiet.

The highest part of the German position was almost exactly opposite the village of Hargicourt, and here within the Division’s line was a farm know as the ‘Unnamed Farm’. It was here that the opposing lines were relatively close to each other and near to the German lines was the ruins of ‘Cologne Farm’. The north and south of ruins, No Man’s Land fanned out to several hundred yards and the 15th and 16th Battalions Royal Scots when in the front line, sent out numerous patrols but these seldom had encounters with the enemy.

Cologne Farm, Harigcourt

Title: Cologne Farm, Harigcourt
Description: Image copyright by-nc

The ruins of Cologne Farm were visited twice by patrols from the 15th Battalion but were found to be empty and the Germans it was soon discovered had also deserted a barricade on the Buisson Ridge. The Germans attempted to raid a post near to Villeret held by the 15th Battalion, but were driven off without any serious fighting.

On the 28 July Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was admitted to the 102nd Field Ambulance suffering from ‘Pyrexia of Unknown Origin’ (unknown fever), and Sydney was sent to the 104th Field Ambulance on the 31 July, still suffering with an unknown fever. During August 1917 all the Battalions in the 101st Infantry Brigade, 34th Division were preparing for the attack on the high ground held by Germans, to be launched at 4.30am on the 26 August.

The training for the coming attack was very thorough with extensive use of facsimile of the trenches and aeroplane photographs. The 101st Brigade had two objectives, the first was a heavily wired trench known as ‘Railway Trench’, which was to the front of the 15th Royal Scots, and ‘Pond Trench’ which was to the front of the 16th Royal Scots. The second objective was a system of dug-outs and short trenches for the 15th Battalion and ‘Bait Trench’ for the 16th Battalion. In this attack all the Battalions of the 101st Brigade were to attack and the order of battle was from right to left, 15th Royal Scots, 16th Royal Scots, 10th Lincolns, and the 11th Suffolks.

Attack At Hargicourt 1917

Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash returned to duty with No. 2 Platoon in ‘A’ Company, 15th Battalion Royal Scots, on 21st August, having recovered from the fever he had been suffering from.

On the night of 23rd/24th of August 1917, a Company from each of the attacking Battalions took over the front lines and arrangements for the assembly of the men were put in order. The 15th Battalion Royal Scots marked their assembly points with pegs, which were joined by tape on the eve of the battle, while other Battalion used boards, with one side luminous.

The success of the operation depended on the assembly of the men being accomplished without alerting the Germans. During training a considerable amount of noise such as coughing could be heard quite a distance away and on the night of the attack the men were issued chewing gum in the hope of combating the noise created. On the critical night there was no unusual sounds but the credit for the silence with which the assembly was carried out was probably due more to the men’s discipline than to the chewing gum.

Zero Hour, 26 August 1917

The Germans were taken by complete surprise as they were only expecting local raids and patrols in this sector and the 15th Battalion Royal Scots attacked in two waves. Zero hour at 4.30 am on the 26 August 1917 saw a machine-gun barrage open fire followed 25 seconds later by an artillery barrage. The German counter-barrage returned fire late and it wasn’t until six minutes after zero hour that the Germans fired with any violence. After four minutes the British artillery lifted the barrage on the first objective and the men moved forward into the chaos of the attack.

The German defence was pushed aside and by 5.45am the Battalion Commanding Officer had received reports from all the Companies that both objectives had been taken. The 15th Battalion’s second objective, a row of dug-outs and trench systems, had not been badly damaged by the artillery fire and was manned strongly by the Germans, but, surprised by the swiftness of the attack, the 15th Battalion Royal Scots took the position. Less than a minute after the objective was taken, the 15 Battalion were furiously counter-attacked and the Germans successfully recaptured the position.

The Royal Scots rushed the position again and once again took the dug-outs but with the darkness, general confusion and very heavy casualties, the Royal Scots had to withdraw back to Railway and Pond Trenches and begun to consolidate the captured position, all except ‘A’ Company, including Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash, led by Captain Bryson, who held the line south of Fish Lane.

The Germans counter-attacked throughout the day and after a successful bombing attack launched from Farm Trench the Germans gained a foothold in Railway Trench. The 15th Battalion formed a block and stopped the Germans but their position was constantly attacked by artillery fire from the south-east. The German machine gunners and snipers fired down the Villeret valley at anything that moved, and they inflicted many casualties on the working parties of men carrying stores of ammunition and grenades to the front line. The German fire was so intense and deadly that the first working parties of men didn’t reach the front line until 7 hours after the attack had begun.

The 101st Brigade accomplished all of its objectives with several prisoners captured alongside a considerable amount of German equipment. The peacefulness that this sector of the line had enjoyed before the attack was inevitably lost as the Germans now shelled the newly-captured positions throughout the night, but by daybreak on the 27 August 1917, a great part of the new line was protected by wire barricades. Heavy rain fell on the 27th and the men were in trenches that were waist-deep in mud and water.

The 15th Battalion Royal Scots, intending on clearing their right flank, commenced a bombing attack along Railway Trench with the object of establishing a block at the junction of Railway and Farm Trenches. The objective was almost reached by 1 officer and 3 men, but the difficulty of moving reinforcements through the waist-deep quagmire and the fact that rifles and grenades were rendered useless by the mud meant that the Royal Scots had to abandon the plan. The men of the 15th Battalion were exhausted after the heavy fighting and on the night of the 27th/28th August they marched back to Brigade support, having been relieved by the 20th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.

The objective to captured the high ground had been brilliantly achieved by the 101st Brigade and the new positions afforded direct observation over the German Hindenburg Line. The casualties were heavy for the 15th Battalion, losing 197 men either killed, wounded or missing. Lieutenant J.R. Devine was killed and his loss was mourned widely as he had been with the 15th Battalion for many months before they were sent to France.

It was necessary for the rest of the high ground south of Railway Trench to be taken, but this was tasked to another Brigade and the 15th and 16th Battalions Royal Scots continued trench routine uneventfully until the end of September when the 34th Division was relieved by the 24th Division. At the beginning of October 1917, the 34th Division moved north to the now-infamous Ypres Salient.

Ypres Salient 1917

The 15th Battalion Royal Scots spent the first couple of weeks of October 1917 in camps behind the front line near Ypres, preparing for their next tour of the trenches. On the night of 20th/21st October, the 15th and 16th Battalions Royal Scots moved into the front line, slightly north of Poelcapelle. The battalions were shelled on the way into to their new position and they had lost their Commanding Officers, who had been gassed in the morning while they had been reconnoitring the line. Lieutenant-Colonel Guard, the 15th Battalion C.O, was replaced by Major Selby. The 15th Battalion held the front line, which was mainly consolidated shell-holes, from Gravel Farm to Turenne Crossing and the 16th Battalion continued the line to Aden House.

Battle of Passchendaele, 1917 (Third Battle Of Ypres)

The Third Battle of Ypres had begun on the 31 July 1917 with the objectives of capturing the ridges to the south and east of Ypres. Passchendaele lay on the last ridge east of Ypres, 5 miles from the rail junction at Rouselare, a vital part of the supply system for the German 4th Army. By October the offensives and various battles had gained a few more yards of muddy war-scarred territory, and the attack continued until November.

The British 5th Army undertook operations between the 20th and 22nd October, to maintain pressure on the Germans while the Canadian Corps prepared for their coming assault and also in support of the French attacking at Malmaison.

The 101st and 102nd Brigades from the 34th Division were to attack at 5.35am on 22 October 1917. The 15th and 16th Royal Scots were the leading Battalions of the 101st Brigade, each on a two company front. The objective was the line running from Gravel Farm to Six Roads Crossroads on the outskirts of the Forest of Houthulst.

The water-logged state of the ground hindered the assembly of the troops, as the men could scarcely drag themselves through the mud, and the Germans fired an intense artillery barrage along the assembly lines, causing many casualties and confusion amongst the troops. The discipline of the men and leadership of the officers and N.C.Os meant that the assembly was completed on time.

Gravel Farm to Six Roads, 22 October 1917

The British artillery barrage line did not correspond with the front line and at one point actually fell behind it, causing the left Company of the 15th Battalion and the right Company of the 16th Battalion having to back some distance in order to form up. The attack was to pivot to the right of the 15th Royal Scots, while the left Company of the 16th Royal Scots was to advance as far as the Six Roads, in order with the 23rd Battalion Manchester Regiment from the 35th Division.

Poelcappelle, October 22 1917: map of the 15th Royal Scots' trenches and objectives

Title: Poelcappelle, October 22 1917: map of the 15th Royal Scots' trenches and objectives
Description: Image copyright by-nc

‘A’ Company, including Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash, had the shortest distance to cover, made magnificent progress over the poor state of the ground, and reached its 1st objective, South of the Broembeek stream. ‘B’ Company’s first objective was a row of huts near to the Ypres-Staden railway and the first wave of the attack suffered heavily. A message was received from ‘B’ Company that it had reached its objective but was taking heavy machine-gun fire from concreted huts to its left, but when the second wave followed up, the men found no trace of any living man from the leading line and with great difficulty the second wave returned to the original front line, where the survivors numbered only 14 men.’C’ Company was ordered to support the attack on the left but was unable to cross the flooded Broembeek stream, which was being shelled heavily. ‘C’ Company returned to its original starting point.

Shortly after the attack had started the Germans began to counter-attack, and about 100 Germans advanced against a group of ‘A’ Company men, where a German officer called on the group to surrender. The German officer was answered by a shot from the officer in command of ‘A’ Company and the German fell dead. The loss of their leader saw the Germans attempt a feeble attack in revenge, but this was surprisingly easy to disperse by the 13 men that made up this group from ‘A’ Company. At about midday the Germans again formed up about 200 yards from the Royal Scots’ line, but the battalion’s Lewis gun fire deterred them from charging.

The position of ‘A’ Company south of the Broembeek was now untenable owing to the misfortunes of ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies, and they also withdrew back to their original position. The 16th Royal Scots, attacking to the left of the 15th Battalion, also suffered heavy casualties as did the 23rd Battalion Manchester Regiment from the 35th Division. The Germans shelled the 15th and 16th Battalions relentlessly throughout the day and both Battalions were further depleted of men and disorganised. During the night the Lincolnshire and Suffolk Regiments, despite the bad weather, terrible state of the ground and the heavy shelling, relieved the remnants of the 15th and 16th Royal Scots.

The failure of the attack was by no means the fault of the Royal Scots. The conditions of the ground in the mud of Passchendaele were such that the men could hardly move, but great credit was given for forming up in the quagmire and so gallantly attempting the day’s objective.

The 22 October was a ghastly day for the 15th and 16th Battalions Royal Scots Regiment, with the 15th Battalion losing 7 officers and 228 other ranks either killed, wounded or missing.

Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was declared ‘Missing In Action’ after the day’s fighting and his Army Service Record was stamped that for ‘Official Purposes’, 22 October 1917 was regarded as his day of death. Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was found and identified at some point and was buried at Cement House Cemetery in Langemark, to the north of Ypres. He is buried in grave X.C.24.

Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery

Title: Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery
Description: Copyright Keith & Rhian Bowen by-nc

Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery

Title: Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery
Description: Image copyright of Keith & Rhian Bowen by-nc

Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery

Title: Grave of Sydney Nash, Cement House cemetery
Description: Copyright of Keith & Rhian Bowen by-nc

On 10 May 1918, the Aldershot News ran an article from Sydney’s father, asking for any information in regards to Sydney:

Mr James Nash of 2 Hayes Villas, Ash Vale would be grateful for any news of his son 41336 L/Cpl SE Nash, A Company (No.2 Platoon) 15th Royal Scots was formerly in the Royal Field Artillery and afterward transferred to the Royal Scots and went on active service on the Western Front. Should this meet the eye of any of his comrades who can give his father any further information it will be gratefully received.

On the 21 May 1921 a letter from the Director of Records at the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) requested the correct battalion that Sydney was serving with on the 22 October 1917. A letter in reply, dated 24 May 1921, from the officer in command of the Infantry records at Hamilton, Scotland, stated that L/Cpl 41336 S. Nash was serving with the 5th Battalion Royal Scots. This was incorrect but at some point the correct battalion was given.

Sydney is remembered on the Ash War Memorial.

Ash war memorial

Title: Ash war memorial
Description: Copyright Lee Thomas by-nc


Ash war memorial

Title: Ash war memorial
Description: Copyright Lee Thomas) by-nc

Lance-Corporal Sydney Nash was entitled to the British War and Victory Medals. Sydney is my daughter’s 3rd Great Grand Uncle from her maternal family.

Lee Thomas

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