8581 Private Sydney Victor Boothroyd
1/South African Infantry Regiment.
Died 25 June 1920, Richmond Park, Surrey.
Buried in the South African Section, Richmond, Cemetery, Richmond upon Thames.
On 21 February 1913 a 27-year-old warehouseman from Chorlton upon Medlock set out for Cape Town on board the Dunluce Castle, a ship of the Union Castle Line. As you read his story, you may begin to understand the circumstances that drew him to the Far South, and away from his Lancashire home.
Two years later the Dunluce Castle would become a Hospital Ship and that warehouseman would be returning north, on a different vessel and as a soldier in the South African Infantry Brigade.
Sydney was born at 50 Thomson Street, Ardwick on 7 October 1887, the ninth of eleven children. His parents were John Boothroyd (1849–1904), a printer’s warehouseman, and his wife, Martha Jane Taylor (1851–1907). Like all his children, John Boothroyd was a native of Ardwick, the son of parents who hailed from Horwich, his father, George, becoming employed in Manchester as a calico printer. Sydney’s mother, Martha, was born in Marple, which then was within the county of Derbyshire and grew up in the adjacent parish of Mellor, until her father, William, a joiner, decided to move his family to Manchester, where she was to meet and marry John Boothroyd. The couple were married in the Parish Church (Manchester Cathedral, no less) on 27 July 1872. Their firstborn, a son, John, was born the following year, followed by a sister, Louisa, who died in infancy.
Ardwick was relatively close to the centre of Manchester, an area that, by the time of Sydney’s birth, had become quite heavily industrialised. The 1894 Ordnance Survey Map shows the parish intersected by the Manchester–Crewe railway lines, with a large Goods Depot as well as a Coal and Mineral Depot nearby. Besides the pollution from the passing trains, to the north were further sources of noxious fumes—Saw Mills, Boiler Works, a Timber Yard, an Iron Foundry, a pair of Chemical Works, a Brick Field and a Pottery. This may explain why so many of John and Martha’s children died in early adulthood. Of the eldest two, both would die before their parents. Of the remaining nine, four died in early adulthood, two in their 40s, and only two, Sydney’s sisters, Beatrice and Blanche reached their sixties. (If you were counting, Frank is the missing one here—if he is of interest to you, see an explanation at the very end, below the source list.)
The 1901 Census is the last in which we see the Boothroyd parents. By then ‘our’ Sydney was working as an errand boy, and aged 13. He was already on a path that could enable him to eventually find work as a clerk. At the time Sydney had started school, in 1892, education was compulsory up to the age of 10, and a year later was made compulsory up to the end of the school year in which he attained the age of 11. (As the upper limit was raised again in 1899, his younger siblings, Leonard and William Septimus would have been able to continue with their education until the age of 13.)
Things changed dramatically for the Boothroyds in the first decade of the new century. John Boothroyd died early in 1904, a few months before the marriage of his eldest daughter, Beatrice, to Henry Thomas Barnes, then a clerk, by whom she would have four children. Three years later, their mother died but the youngest Boothroyds were able to stay together, under the wing of Beatrice and their brother-in-law, Henry. Listed together in the Barnes household (at 22 Brook’s Road, Stretford in April 1911 were Henry, Beatrice and three children, as well as the three youngest of Beatrice’s siblings, Blanche, Sydney and William Septimus—Leonard having died in 1908. The census record shows that the house was spacious, having seven rooms and a kitchen. Blanche’s twin, Maud, was boarding elsewhere in Manchester—she died the following year and was buried in the family plot in Manchester’s Southern Cemetery. Henry Barnes had by then abandoned his career as a clerk, and described his occupation as “Speculator House Builder”. All three of the young Boothroyds were all employed, so no doubt contributing to the household’s income and running costs. Blanche and Sydney were both working as clerks in a Cotton Warehouse, while William was an electrical salesman.
Like Sydney, a number of the South African soldiers who lost their lives at the South African Military Hospital had been born, not in Southern Africa, but in England, Scotland or Ireland. Some were men who had stayed on in South Africa after the Boer War; some had left these shores to seek their fortune there. We do not know whether Sydney was hoping to make his mark in the gold mines, but we know that he did make his way north from Cape Town, where he disembarked, and that he ended up in Johannesburg. When Sydney attested on 20 December 1915, he named as his “next of kin” Ethel Franks, and in the relationship field, he wrote ‘Friend’. Ethel lived in Eleanor Street, Kensington—in Johannesburg’s Southern Suburbs, the side of town where the gold mines were located. This could suggest that Sydney had also been living on that side of town, and working either as a warehouseman or as a mine official.
Sydney’s military service card shows that he was serving in 1/South African Infantry Regiment and thus part of the prestigious First South African Infantry Brigade. The South Africans were attached to the 9th Scottish Division until after the Kaiserschlacht in March 1918, when they held up the Germans for seven hours at Marrières Wood, fighting almost to the last man—a feat which had the Kaiser seeking out South African POWs to compliment them on their countrymen’s magnificent stand.
Sydney had arrived in France with reinforcements posted there following the South Africans’ heroic stand at Delville Wood in 1916. Ordered to capture and hold the wood “at all cost”, they did. Sydney’s intake may have felt they had something to live up to. We know Sydney had reached France by February 1917, when preparations had begun for the great Spring Attack. It was during these preparations that Sydney was first admitted to #12 Stationary Hospital, where he was treated for three weeks, suffering from deafness—perhaps as a result of a nearby blast. He returned to his unit in time t0 move with them from Arras to Ostreville where intensive training for the attack to begin.
The attack itself was launched early on Easter Monday (9 April 1917) with all three brigades of the 9th Scottish Division successful in performing all the tasks allocated to them, capturing over 2000 prisoners along with howitzers, field guns and machine guns. This is likely to have been Sydney’s baptism by fire. The author, John Buchan, was attached to the 9th Scottish Division and reported that the South African troops ended that day “in the highest spirits” and, according to General Dawson, were “on their toes, and the wounded do not want to leave the fighting line”. It was a day John Buchan would describe as “packed with individual exploits” which had included the Brigade’s gallant attack on, and the capture of, the Potsdam Redoubt. The opening salvo of the British guns would be “such a fire as had not yet been seen on any battleground on earth. It was the first hour of The Somme repeated, but tenfold more awful.” (p.117)
Sydney continued free of serious injuries throughout that spring and well into the summer and Third Ypres/Passchendaele until, on 20 September 1917, he received the injury that would keep him out of action for the duration of the war.
Buchan summed up the day in his history of The South African Forces in France thus:
By the evening of that day, on nearly all the British front of attack, the final objectives had been reached. The 9th Division had carried theirs in the record time of three hours.
The day’s battle had cracked the kernel of the German defence in the Salient…every inch of the ground won was vital. Few struggles in the campaign were more desperate or carried out in a more gruesome battlefield. (p.142)
Sydney had incurred a gunshot wound to his right arm so severe that he was repatriated to England three days later. There he was admitted to the King George Hospital in Stamford Street, London on 26 September from which he was discharged to the Shepherd’s Bush Military Orthopaedic Hospital on 6 November 1917. It appears he was then discharged on 17 November, but it is not clear whither he was discharged. I am inclined to think that an entry on 13 May 1919 relates to the fitting of some surgical appliance, or perhaps an adjustment to a prosthetic, but there is again no indication of where that took place. The next entry on his service card has him at Richmond Hospital, with the description “Seriously ill” on 20 June 1920. The following day his condition was noted as “Dangerously ill”. He died four days later. The cause of death was recorded as Phthisis. If he had worked on the mines, perhaps it was something from which he had been suffering throughout his military service. While ‘phthisis’ on a WW1 medical certificate was often used to describe Tuberculosis, this seems not to have been the case at the SAMH, where tuberculosis was described as such, or as ‘tubercle lung’. Sydney was the only patient whose death there was identified as phthisis.
The South African Military Hospital in Richmond Park was chiefly a hospital where service personnel who had received life-changing injuries could get back on their feet and acquire training in skills which would enable them to obtain employment on their return to civilian life. These injuries might be the loss of a limb, sight or hearing, serious disfigurement or a spinal or brain injury. Those who had lost their sight, for example, were taught basket weaving or trained as telephonists. On the medical side, the hospital was renowned for the approach devised there for the treatment of burns, with techniques so successful that the procedure was soon adopted by other hospitals. Most of the deaths there were a result of complications during the second wave of the 1918/1919 influenza pandemic and not related to the injuries they had sustained in action.
Because of the severity of his injury, I think it likely that Sydney spent most of the period between November 1917 and his death on 25 June 1920 either within the SAMH or based in one of the hostels established for the hospital’s out-patients in the big houses near the top of Queens Road.
By 1915, when Sydney enlisted, he was a bachelor and his parents had died. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects shows that he had named his sister, Blanche (1886–1954) as his sole legatee. They had worked side by side in the Cotton Warehouse, were close in age, and she was his only unmarried surviving sister. Blanche never married but went on to a successful business career as a ‘Departmental Manageress’.
We can be fairly sure that Sydney’s friend in Johannesburg did not forget him. I’m planning to follow her up, and will update the post if I unearth anything else.
Warm thanks to the helpful forum members at the Military Images website for providing a link to the image of the Dunluce Castle used for Sydney’s story. See sources, below.
All the genealogy research was undertaken by Margaret Frood.
Buchan, J., The History of the South African Forces in France, London, 1920.
Military Images, ‘Dunluce Castle’, https://www.militaryimages.net/media/hospital-ship-dunluce-castle.47328/, accessed 25/6/2020.
Ordnance Survey Map, Lancashire CIV.SE, https://maps.nls.uk/view/101103827, 1894, accessed 25/6/2020.
I was able to find Frank’s date of birth (16 February 1884) when I located his baptismal record. The most recent record I could locate was the 1901 Census, when was working as a Yarn Sampler and living with his parents. There is no death for him in England and Wales, in the period 1901–1940 and the only Frank Boothroyd born in 1884 to be recorded in the 1939 Register is a Medical Practitioner in the Lancaster County Lunatic Asylum. I have found the same man enumerated as a General Medical Practitioner in the 1911 Census, giving his birthplace as Ashton under Lyne. In 1901, the same man is living in Ashton under Lyne with his parents, his father having the distinctive first name of Orlando.
Their brother, Frank, had perhaps endeared himself to his sister, Beatrice, and his brother, Ernest, both of whom named their first-born sons, Frank. Perhaps Frank emigrated, to one of the colonies, as Sydney had done, and as their nephew, Ernest, was later to do.