Sydney was born on the 30th August 1886 in Maidenhead Berkshire. He was the third of the six sons of Edward Ferdinand Broadbent, a Print Compositor, and his first wife Jennie. Unusually Sydney did not grow up with his parents but instead came to live in Blandford. He lived with two of his Father’s sisters: his Aunt Sarah; married to John Millard a Post Office Telegraphist, and his Aunt Florence who lived with the Millards. The Millards lived first in Orchard Street (No 60) and later Park Road (No 7).Whilst this may seem an odd arrangement, the practice of distributing children across extended families to childless couples was relatively common at the time.
Sydney is the oldest of all the men commemorated on the school War Memorial and the only Cavalryman. He would have attended Blandford Secondary School sometime between about 1895 and 1901. About that time the school had just over 100 pupils with boys and girls in roughly the same proportion. According to the 1909 school report only about 5% of pupils had parents in ‘Public Service’ like the Millards – the great majority being either Farmers or Local Businessmen.
Sydney shows up in Blandford in both the 1891 and 1901 census returns. In 1891 he is listed as a ‘visitor’ but in both he is listed as a ‘Scholar’. In 1901 Sydney is 15 and living permanently with the Millards and this is the year he probably left school. As both his Uncle John and Aunt Florence were working as Post Office Clerks and Telegraphists it is perhaps unsurprising that Sydney learned to operate a telegraph.
Sydney gained employment with the Post Office in Blandford as a Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist in early 1903 aged 16. His Uncle John had been employed in that role for 17 years at that point. This experience gave Sydney the opportunity to travel for work around the country. In 1907 aged 21 he was an ‘SC&T’ in Wokingham, two years later he was working in the same role in Camberley.
It is worthwhile to stop and think that, at a time when few people travelled far from their home town and that newspapers mainly concerned themselves with domestic news, Telegraphists were the one group of people who spent their days regularly connected to the wider world. When Telegraph traffic was slow it was quite normal for operators physically remote from each other to ‘chat’ in Morse code. Thus even if Sydney didn’t actually send transatlantic messages he would regularly chat to people who did.
The only other information we have on Sydney for his time in Blandford is that he spent three years training with ‘C’ Squadron of the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry – the Cavalry component of what became in 1906 the Territorial Army – which was based in Damory Street.
In the early years of the 20th century Canada was rapidly expanding and calling for emigrants to come and help build the burgeoning agricultural economy. Indeed this advertisement in the Western Daily Press from July 1902 is typical. In fact it was possible to buy a single inclusive ticket from stations on the Somerset and Dorset railway all the way to Canada.
Sydney emigrated to Canada aboard the Allan Line’s SS Corsican from Liverpool, arriving at Quebec on the 23rd June 1910. Aged 24 his destination was given as Chatham Ontario, with the expressed intention of working on a Farm. He declared on the ship’s passenger list that he had a year’s experience of farming* and had $25 in his pocket. (This may not sound much but equates to about $2-4000 today**). Chatham is nearly 700 miles away from Quebec on the northern shores of Lake Erie. (Indeed it is only 50 or so miles from Detroit, Michigan in the USA.) It is here then that Sydney intended to make a new life.
That is until just over four years later when war was declared at home.
* Quite where he gained this experience is doubtful – the previous year he had been still been working for the Post Office.
** The historic value of money varies according to whether ii is counted as income, investment or expenditure.
If you want to compare the value of a $25 Commodity in 1910 there are three choices. In 2013 the relative:
real price of that commodity is $632
labour value of that commodity is $2,590(using the unskilled wage) or $3,990(using production worker compensation)
income value of that commodity is $3,630
If you want to compare the value of a $25 Income or Wealth , in 1910 there are three choices. In 2013 the relative:
historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is $632
economic status value of that income or wealth is $3,630
economic power value of that income or wealth is $12,400 (www.measuringworth.com)
Britain declared was on Germany on the 4th August 1914. As a Dominion of the British Empire Canada was automatically brought into the war on Britain’s side, however it was up to the Dominion Government to decide the level of involvement Canada would have. Instead of embodying the Militia it was decided on the 5th August to raise a Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) instead.
Canada’s regular army in 1914 was only 3,000 strong and yet Canada eventually recruited the CEF to be 600,000 strong. Canadian recruitment was a parallel problem to Kitchener’s situation in Britain yet dissimilar in certain crucial ways. When Kitchener’s recruits found themselves in a training camp it was often only with a handful of experienced officers aided by whatever NCO instructors could be found. Sydney’s experience when he joined Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Loyal Canadians) could not have been more different. Indeed across the CEF there were plenty of ex-soldiers who had emigrated after leaving the army giving the CEF a far greater proportion of experienced NCO’s than most Kitchener Battalions.
A little more than a month after war was declared Sydney was at Valcartier Camp 25 miles north of Quebec. A hastily erected tented camp, Sydney and the Strathcona’s would not be there for long.
The regiment arrived on the 19th August – the first to arrive, and a further 300 men were absorbed into the ranks under the command of Lt Col A C MacDonnell.
Sydney was attested (sworn in) after a medical on the 20th September 1914. His medical shows him to be 5’6” tall weighing 10 stone with brown hair and brown eyes. After coming to Canada declaring an intention to work in farming, Sydney gives his occupation as ‘Telegraphist’. The nominal roll for the entire regiment on embodiment survives and a closer inspection tells us a lot about who these ‘Canadian’ soldiers were.
Just analysing Sydney’s sub unit, ‘C’ Squadron, and looking at the backgrounds of the 149 ‘Other Ranks’ compared by:
Country of birth
65% (97 men) were born in the UK
Whilst, across the Regiment as a whole, just over 65% were born in the UK and just over a quarter in Canada, the rest came from across the globe. The nominal roll lists birthplaces as USA 4%; Australia 1%; India 1%; as well as New Zealand, South Africa, British West Indies, Trinidad, Malta, Arabia, Argentina, China, France, Italy and Switzerland.
Next of Kin address
43% had their next of kin in the UK i.e. about two-thirds of those born in the UK, still had their main ties there, indicating that they were probably single, recent immigrants.
Whilst 5 were born in the USA and had next of kin there, 5 more appear to have suddenly ‘become Canadian’ to enlist, although their next of kin lived in the USA. 3 had no other next of kin than their Bank Manager.
Previous Military Experience:
Whilst Kitchener had thousands of untrained volunteers on his hands; those who declared previous military experience in the Strathcona’s outnumbered raw recruits 6:1.
Thus it can be seen that the Strathcona’s represented a very worthwhile contribution to the overall recruitment effort. The unit embarked at Quebec on 29th September 1914 and arrived off Plymouth Sound aboard HMTS Bermudian on the 14th October. Travelling overnight by train from Plymouth the Strathcona’s arrived at Pond Farm Camp on Salisbury Plain on the 17th October. Whilst Pond Farm was an established pre-war training camp, facilities were sparse. There was no shelter for the horses, and the men lived under canvas until billets were provided in January 1915. Training commenced immediately on the plain, which was turned into a quagmire by the winter rains that continued unabated for three months.
Only a week after first arriving, on the 24th October, the unit had its first formal inspection conducted by Field Marshal Lord Roberts. Roberts, who had won a VC in the Indian Mutiny and had commanded the eventual defeat of the Boers in South Africa twelve years before, was by then 82 and had been a leading voice in warning against ignoring German military expansion in the pre-war years. The weather was wet and cold and the effort of inspecting a large number of units in the field in the first weeks of the war took its toll on his health and he died of Pneumonia on November 14th.
The novelty of having the Canadians on Salisbury Plain meant that further inspections occurred on the 4th November (King George V and Queen Mary) and the 22nd (The Prime Minister H H Asquith and his daughter Violet). An interesting note from the War Diary is that a small number of Private soldiers over the course of December 1914 were ‘discharged at their own request’ presumably as the miserable conditions and the looming prospect of going to France began to take its toll on mens’ nerves.
Whilst there is no direct evidence for Sydney coming to Blandford during this time, one would hope that being stationed little more than 40 miles away he would have had the chance to see his Aunt and Uncle during this time. The men moved into local billets during January 1915 thereby avoiding the worst of the winter outdoors.
As the winter turned to spring the entire Canadian Cavalry Brigade moved off from Salisbury Plain to conduct pre-embarkation training at Maresfield Park in Sussex. The Strathcona’s War Diary notes that the last days of April 1915 were taken up with Musketry training in fine weather. On the 1st of May training continued for all those ‘men unaccustomed to the Lee-Enfield rifle’. Which is just as well for on the 2nd May Church Parade was cancelled for an Officers’ conference about the Canadian Mounted Brigade deploying to France, without its Artillery component, as dismounted Infantry.
Thus the Canadian Cavalry Brigade arrived in France on the 6th May 1915 to fight as Infantry. For this purpose they were referred to as ‘Suly’s Detachment’ (the Brigade CO was Colonel JEB Suly). They first came under fire on the 22nd May at Festubert and subsequently were in action at Givenchy. Thus the Strathcona’s spent the summer of 1915 fighting as infantry until their mounted role was restored with the creation of the Canadian Corps in September 1915. The remounted Canadian Cavalry Brigade then became part of the 1st Indian Cavalry Division at the end of January 1916.
The task of Cavalry was to prove to be a frustrating one during the next few years. Always needed in reserve to exploit tactical situations should the opportunity arise. The much anticipated breakthrough never really came mainly due to the frustratingly slow passage of information from the front line which often meant that fleeting opportunities were missed.
However in 1917 with losses mounting and yet still needing to fight on two fronts the Germans decided to withdraw to what was known as the Hindenburg Line. By giving up ground they were able to allow their main defensive position to be in a much straighter line over defensively superior ground thus reducing the numbers of troops needed to secure it. It was in following up this withdrawal that the Cavalry had their opportunity to go on the offensive.
Extract from the Strathcona’s War Diary for 27th March 1917: (abbreviations have been written in full)
The task of the division on the 27th was the capture of the high ground south of VILLERS FAUCON; that village; the high ground west of GREBAUSSART wood; GREBAUSSART wood ; SAULCOURT WOOD and village; GUYENCOURT and to establish themselves in these places.
The AMBALA Brigade (part of 1st Indian Cavalry Division) operated on the right of Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the 14th Corps. Cavalry Regiment as Left Flank guard move was made from camp at MOISLAINES at 3.30 to the rendezvous just west of LIERAMONT.
AT 4.30 PM the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery came into action and opened fire upon GUYENCOURT & SAULCOURT until 5.15pm then the lifting their fire beyond both these villages. At 4.30pm amidst a blinding snow storm which lasted for about 30 minutes the Squadrons moved to the attack in open order. C & A Squadrons leading with B Squadron less one troop in reserve. The enemy shelled the advancing squadrons until close upon the ridge and then opened up with machine guns when the squadrons topped the last rise in front of the villages – about 7 horses were shot at this point.
1 Man killed and 5 wounded* getting down with the shelter of the valley, the squadrons dismounted, handed over the horses to horse holders and attacked with bayonets. The enemy (were) quickly driven out of their trenches and did not stay to defend the village but fled casting away all their equipment leaving 3 prisoners (2 wounded) and 1 Machine Gun in our hands. German cavalry were seen in the background but they did not attempt any retaliation but beat it as fast as they could.
At 6.35pm our line ran as follows:
Ref1/40,000 62c E 3d 91 to E 9 and 5.5 to E 3 d 2.7 to E 3d 7.6
The regiment was relieved at 7.30pm by the Scottish Rifles who took over, but owing to the fact that our left flank was open the regiment did not return to camp until 6am. Total casualties were 1 killed 12 wounded.
*assumed one of the wounded was Sydney Broadbent
This was the action where Lt Harvey won the VC one of the two VC’s won by the Strathcona’s in WW1.
Thus Sydney was killed at the age of 30. It is interesting to note from his military record that he had decided that any medals awarded to him would be sent to John and Sarah Millard and not his stated next of kin, his father Edward Broadbent. The memorial plaque or ‘dead man’s penny’ was sent to Edward as next of kin, but Sydney would not have known this would have been produced. Thus it is reasonable to assume that Sydney regarded the Millards as his parents. This is further confirmed by the inscription on the Millards’ headstone in Blandford Cemetery where he is referred to as ‘our dear nephew’. Sydney is buried in the Peronne Communal Cemetery some 5 miles from where he fell.