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Sidney Charles Shelton

Private 201749, Sidney Charles Shelton, 5th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment

 

Gravestone

Headstone comemmorating Sidney at Blighty Valley Cemetery.

Sidney was born in 1898 in the village of Beech near Alton, Hampshire, the second son of Arthur George Shelton and his wife Emily Sarah née Stockley. George and Emily were originally from Dorset and seem to have moved with George’s work. He was a brick burner who moved to Newbury to take on the job of manager at the Clay Hill Tile and Brick works. The family lived in Clay Hill Villas, strictly speaking in Cold Ash rather than Newbury, but nevertheless within the scope of the town. The exact date of their move to Newbury is not known, but their fourth child, Florence, was born there in 1905.

 

Sidney attended Speenhamland School in the north of Newbury, a mile or so from the family home. Finishing school, probably at the minimum age of twelve, he then went to work at the brick works that his father managed.

 

In 1916 he would have reached the age of 18 and become eligible to serve.  It is not known if he volunteered or waited to be conscripted. He ended up serving with the local regiment, the Royal Berkshires and, following training at Chiseldon, he was posted to the 5th Battalion in France.

 

The local paper marked the Shelton family contribution to the war effort:

 

Newbury Weekly News 21 Dec 1916, p8 – Local War Notes

Mrs and Mrs Shelton, of Clay-hill, have three sons in the Army. Their second son [Arthur] has recently been home on leave after fifteen months in France. He joined soon after the outbreak of the war, and was in training at Basingstoke. The eldest [William] is also in France. Both of them belong to the Royal Field Artillery. The youngest [Sidney] is in the Royal Berks, and he is at present at Chiseldon.

 

On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched a massive offensive north of the Somme, capturing in days all the territory won by the Allies in their own Somme offensive in 1916 and the subsequent German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. Over the ensuing days the German momentum slowed in the face of dogged resistance. The 5th Royal Berks were involved in bitter fighting during this period, but their worst day came as the German advance was finally halted. In the early hours of 5 April they were positioned to the east of Bouzincourt near Albert (which had fallen to the German advance), they received instructions to realign their defences to face an attack from the south. The battalion fought off repeated attacks with the help of the 9th Royal Fusiliers on their left. An attack around noon captured a section of the Royal Berks trench causing the battalion commander to commit his reserves (most of D Company). As they moved towards the firing line at around 14.30 they were subject to intense machine-gun fire, suffering heavy casualties. Fighting continued into the following day before the battalion was relieved. Casualties had been exceptionally heavy, the losses were reported as 15 officers and 300 men; the number of wounded and missing was not given. The battalion was reorganised into two companies comprising the 190 men who were still fit to fight.

Sidney was wounded in this desperate struggle and was reported missing. His brother Arthur died the day before a few miles away neat Betincourt; news of his death reached the family back in Newbury within a few weeks and was reported in the local paper on 16 May. The same item noted that Sidney was missing:

 

Newbury Weekly News 16 May 1918, p8 – Local War Notes
The sad news has reached Mrs Shelton [Maud, wife of Arthur], of Heatherlea, Wash Common, and also Mr and Mrs Shelton, of Clay Hill Villas, Shaw, that Gunner A M Shelton, No 65,189, was killed in action on April 4th, 1918. Letters received from his Captain, also the Chaplain and his chums, speak highly of the deceased, saying how much they all miss him. Gunner Shelton went to France in September, 1915, and he had seen much fighting. Mr and Mrs Shelton have also received the news that their third son, Sidney, has been missing since the 5th of April. Their eldest son, George, who was one of the Old Contemptibles, is still in France. He has taken part in a great many battles, and has seen much hard fighting. All three boys were employed at the Clay Hill Brick and Tile Works before the war.

 

Becourt memorial

The memorial stone at Blighty Valley commemorating the lost soldiers from Becourt.

Sadly Sidney was already dead; on 8 April 1918 he died in German hands of wounds received on 5 April.

 

He was buried in a German cemetery at Becourt. After the war there was a lot of rationalisation of cemeteries, in particular most German cemeteries were closed, the bodies being repatriated or concentrated into a few large cemeteries. British and Empire casualties buried in cemeteries slated for closure were moved to Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission cemeteries. In Sidney’s case his body was one of five that could not be found when the Becourt Cemetery was cleared. Headstones for Sidney and the other four lost bodies were placed in a group against a wall in Blighty Valley Cemetery together with a memorial stone explaining the circumstances:

 

To the memory of these five soldiers of the British Empire who died in 1918 as prisoners of war and were buried at the time in Becourt German Cemetery, but whose graves are now lost.

Their glory shall not be blotted out.

 

Locally Sidney is remembered on Panel 2 of the Newbury Town War Memorial as well as the Cold Ash War Memorial. His name was also on the Speenhamland School Memorial (now lost).

 

Deceased's name on Newbury War Memorial

Sidney's name on Newbury War Memorial

(center column, above his brother Arthur)

As already mentioned Arthur died the day before Sidney received his fatal wounds; their elder brother, William George Shelton, was a regular soldier serving in the Royal Field Artillery. He was one of the lucky ones who arrived in France in 1914, one of the ‘Old Contemptibles’, and served throughout the war on the Western Front. In 1919 he came home to Newbury and married Ellen Quin, the sister of Arthur’s widow, Maud. He died, aged 76, in 1970.

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 Died this day:
28 June 1920
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Newbury

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