Sidney Maskell

Born in Cherry Hinton in the summer of 1888, Sidney was the youngest son of Elijah and Annie Maskell. His father was a long serving Police Sergeant and later court bailiff. By the outbreak of the War, Sidney was working as a warehouseman and living with his parents at Broad Street, Cambridge.

In May 1915, the Cambridgeshire Regiment held a large recruiting drive across the county, looking for volunteers to fill the ranks of the recently created 3/1st Battalion. Sidney was one such eager volunteer and was soon serving in the Battalion’s Machine Gun Section as a specialist “gunner”. He was still with the 3/1st Battalion in March 1916 when he married his fiancée, Elizabeth Miller, at St Philip’s Church, Cambridge. He chose to remain with the Cambridgeshires when the MG Section was transferred over to the newly created separate Machine Gun Corps, instead he spent time as part of the 3/1st’s Regimental Police.

In the spring of 1917, Sidney was posted to the Western Front as part of a draft of replacements sent to the 1/1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment in the Ypres Salient. Shortly after arriving he joined the Battalion’s Scout Section and was selected by the officer, Captain Charles Tebbutt, to be his runner. After months of build up and preparations the summer’s much-anticipated offensive began on July 31st, Sidney wrote an account of his time on that day in a letter to his father:

I am pleased to tell you I have come through all right, with the exception of being torn about by barbed wire. I was torn from head to foot. It was ‘some’ wire if you like, but they have been all cleansed and dressed properly. I was so much torn about my clothes that I had to have a new lot, and I was absolutely done up when we came out of the line, but since then I am glad to say I am feeling much better… No one could sleep with the noise of our guns, and I told you that you would hear them at home.

I never in all my life heard or saw such a sight as it was that morning we went ‘over the top’. I have been in some big fights, but none like this: it was worse than the Somme; but what a great pity it was it rained, because it stopped us from advancing further than we did…  We started off in the morning at half-past four, and, my word, you should have heard our guns and see the shells bursting. It was a sight also to see the tanks in action too, and also a big sight to see the Horse Artillery come galloping into action. It was a sight that I shall never forget as long as I live.

I went ‘over the top’ with our headquarters’ officer, and I went with him as his runner, that is to say, I had to take messages from him to our Colonel, and I had to go where he went, and we were right in front of the battalion leading the way with six more chaps as scouts, and they all had their maps so as to guide the battalion. This officer led us over A1 to our objective, and we got to our place all right. We never had any casualties going over, but when we got nearly to the place we ‘got them’…

We took plenty of prisoners and some of them were nothing but lads of 15 to 16 years of age. I shouldn’t have believed that if I had not seen them myself… They all said they had had enough of it. It’s not Fritz’s men that we are afraid of, as there isn’t one of them that will stand up to us with a rifle and bayonet; their motto is ‘Mercy, kamerad”; but he has some good artillery. But it can’t beat ours.

This officer [Capt Tebbutt] was seriously wounded, and I should have been too, if I had been with him that time, but he had just said to me “I shall not want you to go to headquarters with me this time. You stay here and dig a trench for you and me”, and he started off to go to see the Colonel and tell him that he had captured a Fritz’s machine gun. On his way there a shell burst close to him and a piece of it hit him… I kept digging, but he didn’t come back, so I went across to see if I could find anything of him, and when I got there they told me the sad news of him… After that I went and joined my other mates on the police.

Sidney avoided mentioning just how heavily involved in the fighting both he and Captain Tebbutt had been that day. The Scout Section took up positions with A and D Coys and faced multiple counter-attacks. Captain Tebbutt is known to have used the captured machine gun that Sidney mentions to deadly effect on the attacking enemy. Sidney, as a trained machine gun specialist, would have undoubtedly been of great help in this endeavor. For his leadership and gallantry that day Captain Tebbutt was awarded the Military Cross.

After the harrowing events of July 31st, 1917, Sidney continued to serve as part of the Regimental Police for the 1/1st Battalion on the Western Front. He was discharged after the War and returned home to Cambridge where he found work as a porter for the University. He continued to work for the University for all his life, working for many years as the head porter at the laboratories on Downing Street. His son, Ron, also found work with the University, joining the Cavendish Labs as a machinist. During WW2 Ron served as a Sergeant in the signal section of the 5th Battalion, Cambridgeshire Home Guard. In 1944 due to his work at the Cavendish Labs he was selected to go to Canada as part of "Tube Alloys" - the British involvement in the Manhattan Project. Ron later married and settled in Canada where he died in 2009.

Sidney continued to live in Cambridge and was a longtime member of the Cambridgeshire Regiment Old Comrades Association. He died in 1951, aged 63.

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Sidney on his wedding day in 1916.

This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark  100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.


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