Grandson helps archivists add another chapter to ‘Sydney’s war’

Lance corporal Sydney Upton

Lance corporal Sydney Upton

Chester archivists have been able to add another chapter to one of the most poignant stories ever unearthed about the First World War.

And it certainly help to prove Napoleon’s famous point that an ‘army marches on its stomach’.

The story of Kingsman Sydney Upton – handed two white feathers by misguided women when home recovering from his wounds – was discovered in his possessions given to the Cheshire Record Office by his youngest daughter.

Now as a result of media publicity seen by his London-based grandson Mike Gordon, another phase of Sydney’s war-time experiences has been revealed.

Mr Gordon had intended to donate his own collection of Sydney’s Great War effects to the Imperial War Museum but decided instead that they belonged with the collection already donated to the Record Office.

Grandson Mike Gordon with Chester-based Archivist Liz Green

Grandson Mike Gordon with Chester-based Archivist Liz Green

And with Lance Corporal Upton’s medals, Liverpool Rifles shoulder patches, leather ID tag, trench art lighters, made from spent brass casings of ammunition rounds, and photographs is a fascinating handwritten book of catering requirements for a 220-strong Company of troops.

In 1916, whilst convalescing from his wounds, Sydney, who later fought at the Battle of Cambrai and twice escaped as a prisoner of War, was sent to the Army’s School of Cookery at Orford Barracks in Warrington, before returning to the Front.

Lance Corporal Upton (second Left front row) with fellow army cooks at the School of Cookery at Orford Barracks in Warrington

Lance Corporal Upton (second Left front row) with fellow army cooks at the School of Cookery at Orford Barracks in Warrington

His record book – kept in immaculate copperplate handwriting – details surprisingly wholesome recipes for feeding troops at war, including baked meat and potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire, rissoles, sausages and a variety of stews and fish dishes, including eel.

Puddings featured largely – from treacle sponge and jam roll to bread and lemon biscuit – together with cakes, caraway seed, currant and coconut, and a variety of gravies, soups and sauces, with brandy and parsley, perhaps the most surprising.

Lance Corporal Upton had even compared the cost of baking caraway seed cake for 100 men from ingredients at 2 shillings 8 pence 3 farthings, as opposed to buying the cake readymade at 8s 4d.

A primitive field kitchen

A primitive field kitchen

His scrupulously kept notes also detailed water purification and cooking stove-building methods – accompanied by diagrams – and photographs of primitive field cookery in the trenches.

Said Councillor Stuart Parker, Executive Member, Culture: “Sydney’s records do not change the fact that life was extremely hard in the trenches but they do show that the Army was trying its best to feed its men appropriately under very trying conditions.

“Trench warfare was relatively static for long periods which would have allowed time for supplies to be brought from behind the lines and the sort of menus that Sydney had listed, which are perhaps not what we would have imagined.”

Mike Gordon recently travelled to Chester to deposit his grandfather’s Great War effects with the Record Office in Duke Street where he was able to see those given by his late Aunt for the first time.

Said Mike: “Like most of his generation my grandfather never spoke about the part he played in the war, except in very oblique terms, although I do remember him telling me that he had twice escaped from POW Camps before being recaptured.

I had no idea that he had wrongly been presented with the white feathers, let alone kept them. And I cannot help wondering what he thought about it after going through so much.”

Added Mike: “I am very grateful to Cheshire Archives and Local Studies for the interest they have shown and for presenting the true story of a man who served his country above and beyond expectation.

“It seems only right that all his records should be preserved here together as part of a wonderful local history collection.”

Born in Birkenhead, Sydney later moved to Chester to work with the Inland Revenue and where he was involved in the work of the Upton-by-Chester British Legion.

During the Second World War he again answered his country’s call by serving as an Air Raid Warden and Special Constable.

Chapter two of Sydney’s War will form part of the exhibitions and events staged by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great War.

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