Sydney (or Sidney) WILLSHAW
Rank: sergeant
Number: 12/4554
Unit: 2nd Battalion, Auckland Regiment New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Date of Death: 6 September 1918
Age: 28
Cemetery: St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France

There's some uncertainty about the spelling of Sydney's first name. The family history website, FreeBMD, records that when his birth was registered in 1890, it was spelt Sidney, and this is how it appears on the 1901 Census. However, when he enlisted into the army, he signed his named Sydney and this is how he is recorded in military records. To confuse matters even more, his inscription on the Marple Memorial reads "Sidney", yet it is "Sydney" on the one at High Lane. As Sydney was his choice, this biography will continue to refer to him in that way.

His parents, William Willshaw and Sarah Ann Cadman, got married in the late summer of 1897, at St Thomas Church, High Lane. Shortly after, their first son, Tom, was born. According to the 1901 Census, they only had the two children and were then living at Buxton Road, High Lane

In about 1912, Sydney emigrated to New Zealand, settling in the small community of Gisborne, in the north of the country, where he earned a living as a wool classer. When war was declared, Sydney was not amongst the eager young men who rushed to join in the autumn of 1914. It was not until 10 December 1915 that he attested at Trentham.

His service file exists in the New Zealand National Archives and it allows us to form more of an impression about him, than of many others. He had been born on 2 January 1890 and stood 5 feet 7 inches tall. He weighed 10 stone 7lbs and had a chest measurement of 35 inches (which he could expand another three). Sydney had a fair complexion, blue eyes and flaxen hair. He gave his religion as Church of England. A photograph of him (and other information) can be found in the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

At the time Sydney was working for C H Dawson Ltd at a wool processing works at Tokomaru Bay. After training, he left New Zealand on 2 April 1916, arriving in the UK on 3 May. A few days later, he re-embarked to go to France, where he spent a month undergoing further training. On the 15 June, he was attached to the 2nd Battalion.

Between 7 August 1917 and 21 August, he was able to return to the UK for a period of leave. In the September, he spent two weeks at the Army School of Instruction and, on 5 October, he was promoted to Corporal. A final promotion to Sergeant came on 16 March 1918. Two weeks after this, Sydney was admitted to hospital suffering from "nerves", not returning to his unit until 29 August. The next day, Sydney went into his last action near the French town of Bapaume

The intention was that other units would attack the German front line and, once this was captured, the 2nd Battalion would leapfrog to capture the village of Bancourt. There were some delays in getting all the men into assembly positions in a sunken road and the Battalions on either side of them had moved off before Sydney and his mates could start at 6am. In consequence they came under heavy artillery fire whilst still in the road. When they did move forward, they also came under machine gun fire from Bancourt. The Battalion's War Diary notes "It was now broad daylight without any protective mist." At first, the advance went well, but they now also came under machine gun fire from the flank and this caused them to lose direction. This was corrected and, by 7.50, one Company was in Bancourt which was, by now, empty of the enemy.

At 9am, orders for a further advance were received but the Battalion was not to move until another village, Biencourt, was taken. At 11am, the men were still pinned down by machine gun fire from the village and, effectively, this remained the situation for the remainder of the day.

Sometime during the day, Sydney was shot in the chest. The War Diary notes that there were insufficient stretcher bearers to carry the wounded the two miles back to the Regimental Aid Post, where the Battalion's medical officer would be able to offer first aid to Sydney. Later in the day, two light ambulance cars were provided and this helped to speed up the immediate evacuation.

Sydney was then evacuated from the Aid Post by the East Lancashire Field Ambulance to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station (a field hospital) based at Gezaincourt. He did not reach the CCS until the following day. There, military surgeons will have stabilised him as best they could before a further evacuation to No. 10 General Hospital at Rouen, where he died several days later.

He is buried in the Cemetery next to the hospital's location. Sydney made a will, on 18 April 1918, leaving all his effects to his father and, after the war, his medals were sent to High Lane.

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