The Men from Hyde – Sidney James Callen

Sidney (or Sydney) James Callen was born in 1887.   He first appears in the historical records aged 14 living at Halfway House, Otterbourne with his father, Sydney Ernest, aged 56 (born Botley), mother Ann aged 48 with Florence (22), Laura (21), Victor (19), Walter (16) and Ada (12). Two children – Gilbert and Clara had already grown up and left home and sadly, Edith, aged perhaps 2 years, had died. Sidney James was born at Fryern Hill close to Otterbourne. His father was a railway signalman and a Trade Union member of the National Union of Railwaymen. Presumably his wages were sufficient to keep such a large family and his house would have been supplied as part of his job.

Sydney and his family moved into Winchester where they set up their home at 14 Hyde Abbey Close, later to move to 13, Egbert Road. At first Sidney took a job at Messrs. W Carter & Co Parchment Street, Winchester but inspired by the intense wave of volunteering at this time he enlisted in September 1914 aged 27 years. His number is 200976 and he is a private in the 2/4th Territorials (TF) Battalion having enlisted alongside James Lovelock on Salisbury Plain. Their service numbers are just 2 apart. In the records he is named as Sydney.

His army story mirrors that of James, his near neighbour with whom he would share his war experiences. After intensive training the unit were shipped on the H.T. Caledonia to Karachi. Stationed at Quetta, both young soldiers received training in mountain warfare. In October 1915 they were ordered to Mesopotamia. In fact, they disembarked in Egypt where they received further training. The unit moved to El Arish, Sinai and thence to Rafa on the borders of Egypt and Palestine. Both boys entered a Theatre of War (Palestine) 16th August with the 2/4th Battalion attacking up position about 8 miles south of Gaza. The History of the Territorial Army reports an incident suggesting that the British forces were not sufficiently aware of the threat posed by the Turkish troops:

‘bathing was interrupted by long-range fire from the Turks, who had good observation of the approaches to the beaches’.

Surviving this and later ‘intermittent shelling’ during skirmishes over the next month on the borders. Conditions were harsh and The History of the TF Association reports:

‘The great heat by day, the cold at night, the roughness of the ground, the plague of flies and other pests, the extreme shortness of rations and, above all, of water, combined to make the operations very exhausting’.

Sidney had survived 3 years of soldiering, but 22nd November 2017 in Palestine was his last day. His Battalion were ordered to dislodge the enemy at Kuryet-el-Enah in the Judean Hills. This was successful, although 2 were killed and 20 wounded. Later that day they attacked the mosque and ridge of Nebi Samwill which the regimental journal calls ‘the key of Jerusalem’. 2 officers and 19 other ranks were killed during this action.  One of the 21 men killed that day was Sidney.

His family had now moved to 13 Egbert Road and it was here that they received the sad news of their son’s death, aged 30 years.

They were moved to send a poem to the Regimental Journal:

‘There was no one to pillow his dying head,

No one to say good-bye;

O God rest his weary soul in peace,

As in a foreign grave I lie’

Sidney was buried at Jerusalem War Cemetery and is remembered on the St Bartholomew’s Church Hyde memorial. He was entitled to the British War and Victory medals.

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