Charles Cecil Archibald Sillery
Lieutenant Colonel (Indian Army, Retired), Northumberland Fusiliers, commanding 20th (1st Tyneside Scottish) Battalion, 102nd Brigade, 34th Division
Born 15 October 1862 in Tasmania
Killed in Action 1 July 1916
Buried in Bapaume Post Military Cemetery, about 2km NE of Albert, Somme
Charles Cecil Archibald Sillery was the eldest child of Major General Charles Jocelyn Cecil Sillery (1836-98), 12th Bn Suffolk Regiment, and Christiana Smith (1835-81). His father was Irish and mother Tasmanian. Charles had 3 sisters and 2 brothers, the youngest of whom, Trooper Alfred Cyril Walter Sillery, died in the 2nd Boer War on 21 October 1899. The other, Major John Jocelyn Doyne Sillery of 11th Bn Manchester Regiment, died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, on 7 August 1915. His sister’s son, Captain Brian Hanbury-Sparrow, was also killed in action on 26 August 1918 at Mud Volcano, Azerbaijan, and is remembered on the Haidar Pasha Memorial, Istanbul.
The 1871 Census reveals that the family were living in the Isle of Man. Charles’ father served in the Afghan War 1879 – 80 and the family were based in India where he served in his father’s regiment. Charles was Honorary Queen’s Cadet, commissioned from the Royal Military College as a Lieutenant in 5th Dragoon Guards on 10 March 1883 and moved from the Suffolk Regiment to the Madras Staff Corps on 14 August 1884. He was promoted Captain on 10 March 1894 and Major on 10 July 1901, becoming Commandant of the Chindit Hills Battalion, Burma Military Police.
39 year old Charles Sillery married 22 year old Edith Charlotte Brown on 20 November 1901 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster. Next day the Yorkshire Post reported The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a dress of embroidered white chiffon over white satin and a long train of panne velvet, trimmed with sprays of orange flowers. Her veil was of Brussels lace (and was worn by her grandmother and her sister at their weddings) and she carried a large shower bouquet of white gardenias and lilies of the valley. Miss Ruth Sparrow and Miss Doris Inman (nieces of the bride-groom and bride respectively) were the bridesmaids. Mr Drury acted as best man. At the conclusion of the ceremony a reception was held at the Grand Hotel, Charing Cross, and later Major and Mrs C C A Sillery left for a short honeymoon, preparatory to proceeding to Burmah, where Major Sillery will resume his military duties. The presents were very numerous and of a costly description. Their son Anthony was born in Burma on 19 April 1903 and their second son, Charles Doyne, was born in Bournemouth in April 1905.
Charles retired from the Indian Army on 10 March 1907. In 1908 his novel, ‘A Curtain of Cloud’ was published. The New Zealand Herald of 9 May 1908 decided it was deserving of more than passing notice, partly because when the author writes of the Burmese frontier he evidently knows his subject as he does his alphabet, and also because it is full of human interest. The 1911 Census reveals that Charles had taken his family to Penarth, Glamorgan, where he was on the staff of the Territorial Army.
By December 1915 Charles Sillery was one of several senior retired army officers who were brought out of retirement to lead the volunteers of Kitchener’s New Army. 20th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Scottish) was raised in October 1914 in Newcastle upon Tyne. They trained at Alnwick and on Salisbury Plain and underwent a week’s musketry training in Hornsea in August 1915. Their CO was Lt Col C H Innes Hopkins, who had to resign owing to ill health in December, and Charles Sillery replaced him. At Christmas 1915 the Battalion were at Sandhill Camp, Longbridge Deverill near Warminster and on 9 January 1916 they embarked from Southampton for Le Havre, in France. On 26 January they marched to the trenches in the Fleurbaix sector: a quiet part of the line where fresh troops to the Western Front could be acclimatised. They received their first fatal casualty on 30 January when Private R Armstrong was shot through the head by a sniper, whilst on sentry duty. In February they moved up to relieve the front line in the Estaires sector. On 11 February they were inspected by Lord Kitchener at Steenbecque. The War Diary states, 922 Officers and men being on parade. His Lordship expressed his satisfaction at the appearance and steadiness of all ranks and he was sure they would render a good account of themselves in the field. They moved up to Bois Grenier and by 20 April were quartered in the small village of Recques where they received further training. Charles Sillery signed the Unit War Diary up until May 1916. On 3 June his battalion went into the line in front of Albert, astride the old Roman road that runs from Albert to Bapaume, a strenuous tour of duty owing to heavy casualties caused by enemy shelling.
The diary contains a memo from The OC 20th N.F. to Headquarters, 102nd Brigade …. for period 1.6.16 to 30.6.16. I regret that, owing to the Adjutant of this Battalion being a casualty in the recent fighting, this War Diary is far from being as full as it otherwise would have been. I can find no trace of records for this period and have had some difficulty in compiling it. The period under review was prior to my taking over command. W. A. Farquhar, Major. The Major, unusually, succeeded in listing all the officers and men who were wounded and killed in June, even giving full details of the body parts in which they were wounded. The battalion occupied the trench from Keats Redan to Argyle Street on the night of 30 June. During the whole of this time our bombardment was proceeding, and the enemy replied vigorously on several occasions, but the battalion was very fortunate, having only slight casualties for the period 23rd to 30th. At zero hour, 7.30am on 1st July The Battalion attacked up Mash Valley in four waves, 100 yards between each wave …. prior to the attack the bombardment which had been continuous for seven days became intense and La Boiselle was subjected to a concentrated bombardment for the last twelve minutes. Two mines were also exploded … one on each side of La Boiselle. These were known as Y Sap (now filled in and built upon) and Lochnagar (a crater which became a war grave, at which a remembrance ceremony is held each 1 July). Despite all this the battalion came under a heavy enfilading machine gun fire from Ovillers-la-Boiselle. Lt Col Charles Sillery was one of 317 in his battalion who were killed in action. A further 267 were wounded. The British Army suffered 57,470 casualties including 21,392 dead on 1 July 1916. 25 senior officers died that day, a further 6 died later of their wounds and 22 were wounded. The 34th Division suffered greater losses than any other, showing the strength of the German defences guarding the main road and the courage of the men who tried to force them.
A map of the battlefield can be found at http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/somme/laboiselle.html
A vivid description of the death of Sgt William (Billy) Grant of 1st Tyneside Scottish appears on the excellent website http://www.tynemouthworldwarone.org/database.html and describes what the men endured.
Charles’ wife Edith was the daughter of William Tingle Brown of Yew Court, Scalby. At the time of Charles’ death Edith was living up the road from her father and step-mother at The Croft, on Scalby High Street, a house which Edith’s step-mother Clara later gave to the church in memory of her mother. It became Scalby Vicarage.
The Scarborough Mercury of 14th July 1916 reports, “Colonel Sillery, of The Croft, Scalby, was killed in action on 1st July. He leaves a widow and two sons, now at college. Mrs Sillery is the daughter of Mr W Tingle Brown, Scalby. The gallant officer, better known as Major Sillery, was promoted Lieut. Colonel about six months ago. Colonel C.C.A. Sillery, who was 52 years of age, and son of the late Major-General Sillery, served with the Punjab frontier force and went through the Burmah war, being wounded and mentioned in despatches. He was for ten years commandant of the Chin Hills (Burma) and had served on the staff in South Wales before retiring. He, however, rejoined at the beginning the war and was second in command of the 11th York and Lancasters, but was transferred to the 1st Tyneside Scottish Northumberland Fusiliers and was killed in action as stated on 1st July. His youngest brother was killed in the South African war and another brother at Gallipoli in August last year.”
Lt Col Shakespear’s History of 34th Division says Brigadier General Ingouville Williams (known by the men as ‘Inky Bill’) found the bodies of Lieut-Colonels Sillery and Lyle where they had always wished to be, at the head of their battalions. They are buried side by side in Bapaume Post Military Cemetery, Albert.
An extract from a letter written by Inky Bill, published in the North Western Courier on 29 November 1916, written to Edith, says It may be some small consolation to you to be told by me how much I regret the loss of Colonel Sillery. He is a loss to the Army and a great loss to the 34th Div in the 20th Northunberland Fusiliers. He died splendidly, leading his men over a shell swept zone – the admiration of everyone. He was with the last line of our Battalion. He had not gone far before he was seriously wounded, but still gallantly struggled on, cheering his men, until hit again. He fell, never to rise. He died a gallant soldier, a fine type of English gentleman.