Lance Corporal Sydney Thomas KEELING

Northumberland Fusiliers
13th (Service) Battalion
Service Number:
Date of Death:
18 July 1916 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
XIV. F. 19.

Personal History:
Sydney was born in the December quarter 1895, at 83 Bennett Street, Buxton, the son of Thomas (Carter on Farm) and Mary Emma (née Chappell) Keeling. He came from a large family with five older siblings, John William, Arthur, Frances Ethel, Marion Josephine and Herbert, and two younger ones, Joseph and Sybil. (1901 Census RG 13/3269).

By 1911 (Census RG 14/21242) three more brothers had been born, Fred, Reginald and Harold Richard. The family were at the same address and Sydney was employed as a "General Printer" working for 'The Buxton Advertiser" and "High Peak News", starting work in 1909, aged 14.

Sidney's employer "The Buxton Advertiser", 12th August 1916, called him: "… one of the brightest boys that ever entered our Office …" and went on: "… Rumour was very persistent last week that news of his death had been sent, but not until Tuesday did his family receive the official intimation. … … The first intimation was sent by a Buxton friend who stated that Sydney was shot by his whilst in charge of a machine gun. Needless to state, the sad intelligence of his end caused a deep feeling of sadness among all his fellow workmen."

Later in the Article Sydney was described as "… a modest young ma, one of actions not words, and when he came over on leave not a member of the Staff was there who did not feel proud of him.  …  Though not 20 years of age, no finer young fellow ever donned His Majesty's uniform."

[ N.B. Mother, Mary Emma, died on the 22nd January 1918 and is buried in Buxton Cemetery. The names of her two sons, Joseph and Sidney, who both gave their lives in the Great War, are engraved on her gravestone. Father Joseph was buried in the same grave after his death on the 18th April 1928.] 

Military History:
Sydney enlisted at Buxton and his service records do not appear to have survived, although 'The Buxton Advertiser" reported that he enlisted in September 1914.  The 13th (Service) Battalion (along with the 12th) had been formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of Army Order 388 authorising Kitchener's Third New Army, K3, and attached to 62nd Brigade, 21st Division, and Sydney's Medal Index Card shows he entered France with the Battalion on the 9th September 1915, just in time for his first major engagement which would have been The Battle of Loos, 25th September - 18th October 1915.

The Battalion had trained with the Division initially concentrated in the Tring area, spending some time in camp at Halton Park before moving into local billets in Tring, Aylesbury, Leighton Buzzard, High Wycombe and Maidenhead as winter approached. After crossing the Channel in September 1915, units moved to assemble near Tilques, completing concentration by 13th September.

The Division's first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos. Sydney was sent into action on 26th September. The Division suffered over 3,800 casualties for very little gain, but the 12/13th Battalions only lost one man - Pt. George Drake, who died of wounds on the 27th.

However, when announcing Sydney's death 'The Buxton Advertiser' reported that "It was for brilliant work, bravery and coolness under fire in the Battle of Loos that he [Sydney] was called out by his Colonel, warmly commended before the Battalion, and awarded a certificate denoting appreciation."

With the start of The Battle of The Somme on 1st July 1916, where Sydney's 21st Division formed part of General Watts XV Corps, part of Rawlinson's 4th Army. The 13th Battalion took part in actions at Fricourt, between the 1st - 3rd July 1916, suffering 138 casualties, and on the 4th entrained to Dernacourt for Ailly-sur-Somme. From there the Battalion marched to Agrœuves and on to Molliens Vidame on the 7th July.

Two days later they were on the train again from Ailly-sur-Somme, this time to Corbie, and from there marched to Méaulte. Sydney moved into the front line at Mametz Wood on the 11th July and the Battalion was in action until the 18th - the day he was killed in action. During this period the Battalion suffered 272 casualties, including 51 killed in action, mostly on the same day as Sydney, the 18th. 34 have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Sydney is now buried in Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. Caterpillar Valley was the name given by the army to the long valley which rises eastwards, past "Caterpillar Wood", to the high ground at Guillemont. The ground was captured, after very fierce fighting, in the latter part of July 1916. After the Armistice many graves from subsidiary graveyards were concentrated here.

"The Buxton Advertiser" of the 12th August 1916 printed a letter received by Sydney's parents from the Battalion's Machine Gun Officer, 2nd Lieutenant A. A. Evans, which returned his personal possessions and confirmed that Sydney was killed "… while fighting gallantly in front of Mametz Wood during the night of 12-13 July."

The letter went on in part:

"I cannot praise your son too highly, as he was one of the mainstays of my machine-gun section and the most gallant soldier I know. It should be a comfort to you to know that he died doing his duty and that his death was absolutely painless.

We buried him during a lull in the battle the next day, just on the front edge of the wood, and the remainder of his men made a cross and inscribed it.

During the first battle - July 1st - your son had behaved with great bravery, and at the time I put his name in for the D.C.M. I cannot, of course, say whether it will be given, but I sincerely hope so."

Unfortunately, Sydney never received his Distinguished Conduct Medal, but clearly his C.O. and fellow comrades and work colleagues recognised what a very brave young man Sydney Keeling was.

· In June 1915 'The Buxton Advertiser' published photos of three of
  Joseph's brothers also serving - John William - Grenadier Guards;
  Sidney Thomas - Northumberland Fusiliers and Herbert - King's
  Own Scottish Borderers.

· Another brother,  Pt. Joseph KEELING died as a prisoner of war in
  September 1918.

· I am grateful to John McCann for the photo of Sydney's Grave
· "The Buxton Advertiser" - 12 August 1916 and June 1915
· "British Battalions on the Somme" - Ray Westlake [ISBN-10: 0850523745] p. 29

Link to CWGC Record
L/Cpl Sydney Keeling
L/Cpl Sydney Keeling's Grave
The Keeling Brothers
Privates John William, Sydney Thomas and Herbert Keeling
(The Buxton Advertiser - June 1915)
Sidney's parents' grave