Tombstone Tuesday: WWI Rifleman Sidney Henry Payne

Sidney Henry PAYNE was born on 21 July 1898 in 125 Blackfriars Rd., Southwark, London, England, the son of Thomas Samuel Henry Payne and Edith Jane Scarrott. His name was also spelled as “Sydney”. He was the brother of Ida Edith (Payne) Edwards and the half-brother of Lucy Lilian Burns. He was baptized on 16 December 1900 in St. Mary’s, Lambeth, London, England.

Sidney/Sydney Henry Payne, 1917, World War I
Sidney/Sydney Henry Payne, 1917, World War I

At the age of 18, he enlisted for World War I at Southwark on 7 September 1916, and was assigned service number S/25413. From then until August 1917, he was stationed at Minster West, North Sheerness, where he engaged in rifle training and machine gun training. As Sidney’s letters to his sister Ida show, he became frustrated having to wait in England. He volunteered three times for service to France, but was turned down. Upon receiving advice from his uncle Henry Percy Scarrott, he volunteered again and was accepted for service in France. He wrote to his sister about the news, but asked that she not inform their mother, since he did not want her to worry unnecessarily. By September 1917, he was stationed in France.

He wrote to his mother Edith on 25 September 1917, “My Dear Mother, Just a line in reply to your most welcome letter and also to thank you very much for parcel and give my thanks to Lucy. I could not write before as I have just come out the line and I am getting on fine and am in good health and I hope you are not worrying over me, I hope the war to be over very shortly”.

On 26 October 1917, Sidney’s senior officer wrote a letter to Edith (Scarrott) Payne Burns, describing Sidney’s service in the war thus far: “ Dear Mrs. Payne, No doubt your son has told you he is servant to me in France and as I have just arrived home on leave I thought you might like to hear from me that he is quite well and as we are in a quiet part of the line he is quite safe for many a day to come. As an officer’s servant he has quite a good time as I think he will admit & I feel sure it will be a consolation for you to know that servant’s seldom if ever do any of the dangerous jobs. Yours truly, Roy Edwards, 2nd Lt. R.B. PS Your son asked me to tell you that I am getting his watch mended & will take it back with me.”

On 12 November, Sidney Payne wrote his last letter to his mother, written only 8 days before he was injured in the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917 and died of his wounds on 21 November 1917. “My Dearest Mother, Just a few lines in reply to your most welcome letter, and am so glad to know that you still are quite safe and you must cheere[?] and look forward to the best and you must not worry over me because I am quite allright, and I should like you to thank Lucy very much for photograph and I also answered Mrs. Butler’s letter, also I am jolly glad you have had some one to console you feelings during these awful air raids and you must thank Mr, [Maxter?] for me & also for cigarettes. Well how is Lucy getting on I hope she has been a good girl while I have been out, here also next line you write you might send me a few safety razer blades ask for Gilletts. Well how are you getting on; well I hope and not worrying about Fritz’s aeroplanes, I expect by now you are quite use to them any way I wish it was all over, you had better not keep my dinner hot because I don’t suppose I shall be home this Christmas very likely. You say in your letter Ma that my officer is a [sport?] well as a matter of fact he is one of the best officers we have got and all the boys like him. As Christmas is drawing near I think I would like you to get me a present. I should very well like a ring, if you think you can get me one, let me know and I will send you the one I have on my finger so you can get the size. Well this is about all I have to say and I hope you are all in the pink and that you will write again soon. Closing with heaps of love and kisses. I am Your Loving Son, Sid. XXXXXXXXXXXXXX PS Am enclosing a Gillett safety blade these are the sort I want.”

Although Sid didn’t know it at the time, his mother had very good reason to worry.

While in France, Sidney served as a rifleman in the military in the 10th Battalion, Rifle Brigade which served in the 59th Brigade of the 20th (Light) Division, which was a New Army division formed as part of the K2 Army group. They were stationed in a quiet section of France along the German Hindenberg line. However, his division was called in to participate in the surprise attack known as the Battle of Cambrai, which began at 8 PM on November 20, 1917.

From Wikipedia: The Battle of Cambrai (20 November – 7 December 1917) was a British campaign of the First World War. Cambrai was a key supply point for the German Siegfried Stellung (part of the Hindenburg Line) and the nearby Bourlon Ridge would be an excellent gain from which to threaten the rear of the German line to the north. The British plans originated from Henry Hugh Tudor, commander of the 9th Infantry Division artillery. In August 1917, as Brigadier-General, he conceived the idea of a surprise attack in IV Corps sector that his unit occupied. Tudor suggested a primarily artillery-infantry attack, which would be supported by a small number of tanks to secure a breakthrough of the German Hindenburg Line. The German defences were formidable. Cambrai having been a quiet stretch of front thus far enabled the Germans to fortify their lines in depth and the British were aware of this. Tudor’s plan sought to test new methods in combined arms, with emphasis on artillery and infantry techniques and see how effective they were against strong German fortifications. The battle began at 8 p.m. on 20 November, with a carefully prepared and predicted but unregistered barrage by 1,003 guns on German defences, followed by smoke and a creeping barrage at 300 yards ahead to cover the first advances. Despite efforts to preserve secrecy, the German forces had received sufficient intelligence to be on moderate alert: an attack on Havrincourt was anticipated, as was the use of tanks. Initially there was considerable success in most areas and it seemed as if a great victory was within reach; the Hindenburg Line had been penetrated with advances of up to 5 miles (8.0 km). The 20th (Light) Division, which Sidney Payne was a part of, forced a way through La Vacquerie and then advanced to capture a bridge across the St Quentin canal at Masnières. The bridge collapsed under the weight of the crossing tanks, halting the hopes for advance there. Of the tanks, 180 were out of action after the first day, although only 65 had been destroyed. Of the other casualties, 71 had suffered mechanical failure and 43 had ditched. The British had suffered around 4,000 casualties and had taken 4,200 prisoners, a casualty rate half that of Third Ypres (Passchendaele) and a greater advance in six hours than in three months there.

Sidney Payne was injured the first night of the attack on 20 November 1917, and he died on 21 November 1917 at the age of 19. He had been brought to a clearing station located just to the west of the line, where he died of his injuries. He was buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manacourt, France.

Two days after his death, the matron of the clearing station where Sidney died wrote the following letter to his mother:

“48 Car Clear Stn. 23 Nov 1917.

Dear Mrs. Payne [51 Rockingham St., New Kent Rd., London ],

It is with much regret I have to tell you of the death of your son 25413 Pte. S. Payne on Tues. from wounds sustained in battle. He was brought in to us that day, but we found him beyond our aid to resussitate, & all we could do was to ease his pain & make him comfortable. He passed very peacefully away to his rest. He is buried in the military cemetery nearby here. With very sincere sympathy, Yours faithfully, Matron”

Sid’s mother’s pain must have been amplified by having likely just received the letter from Sid on November 12th (which was packaged with his officer’s letter from October 26th) with assurances of his safety and how quiet the line was.

Battle of Cambrai, France, 20 November 1917, The 20th British Division in which Sidney Payne was stationed with the 10th Battalion Rifle Brigade, moved from Gouzeaucourt to Masnières, France, where he suffered injuries and died the following day
Battle of Cambrai, France, 20 November 1917, The 20th British Division in which Sidney Payne was stationed with the 10th Battalion Rifle Brigade, moved from Gouzeaucourt to Masnières, France, where he suffered injuries and died the following day

Not only did Sid’s mother and sisters mourn his loss, but he had also recently become engaged. Sydney Henry Payne and Emily Louise Fournier were engaged in 1917, probably during or just prior to his service in World War I, although it is likely they met before the war began. She was born in 1901 at Southwark, London, England, the daughter of Emile A. Fournier and Emily Brett.   While it is uncertain how long their engagement lasted, it may have taken place while Sidney was away during the war, since Emily Fournier’s mother had never met Sidney. Emily later married Robert Thomas Bastin, in 1926 at Lambeth, England.

95 years ago today, Mrs. Emily (Brett) Fournier wrote the following letter of condolence to Edith (Scarrott) Payne Burns regarding the death of Sidney, as reported by Emily:

17 St. Albans St. Kennington Dec 4th 1917

Dear Mrs. Payne,
Since Emily told me the sad news I have not had courage to write as I feel so sorry for you being your only son perhaps I should not have noticed it so much only Emily told me you had a letter saying he was an officer’s servant and would be allright for a time it seemed no time after all is finished in this world for him for Emily it is a wound that will heal but for your it will be for the rest of your life. I have never seen your son but as the child received his letters, she used to pass them to me. I will tell you his mother what I thought of him. I thought him a most noble character with all of the fine qualities to make a good man it seems to me so hard for you with no husband. I hope I am not hurting your feelings but I have wanted to write two or three times but could not do it. Mrs. Payne I have much to be thankful for as I have my husband and all of my children still and this is much to be thankful for. The eldest is 21 years next May he goes up again tomorrow, the next is in the army but still in England, and I have Emily and five younger. The youngest two next February and when I look around and know such lovely boys have gone I feelt frightened of what I should feel if I was in your place today accept my best wishes for your health and strength to help you over this great trouble.
Yours Respectfully.
Mrs. Fournier.
[Note, handwritten in blue pen by Ida Edwards: From Sid’s Fiancee’s Mother]

Sidney Henry Payne wrote numerous postcards and letters to his mother, Edith Jane (Scarrott) Payne Burns Hart and to his older sister, Ida Edith (Payne) Edwards during World War I, which were saved by sister, Ida Edith (Payne) Edwards. Sid often mentions that he has spoken to or wishes to speak with the two men in his immediate family who were also serving in World War I: his uncle, Henry Percy Scarrott, and his brother-in-law, “Will”, William J.S. Edwards, the husband of Ida (Payne) Edwards. He also often requested that his sister Ida send his love to his little sister Lucy Burns.

Sid’s letters show that he was a funny, stubborn, cocksure, brave young man. In his death at the all-too-young age of 19, he joined the almost one million casualties that the United Kingdom suffered during the Great War. Although but a small percentage of that overwhelming statistic, his death was greatly felt in his immediate family for generations to come.

So 95 years after his untimely death, here’s a moment to honor Sidney Henry Payne, beloved son, brother, uncle.

The gravestone of Sydney Henry Payne, Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery Manancourt, France, courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project
The gravestone of Sydney Henry Payne, Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery Manancourt, France, courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project
ROCQUIGNY-EQUANCOURT ROAD BRITISH CEMETERY, MANANCOURT, FRANCE, where Sidney Henry Payne is buried. Image courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission,

Sid’s gravestone is listed by the War Graves Photographic Project, and he also has an entry at FindAGrave.

4 thoughts on “Tombstone Tuesday: WWI Rifleman Sidney Henry Payne

  1. So incredible. He looks like a schoolboy in his uniform. You are to be congratulated for knitting the letters and articles together to make a beautifully readable tribute to “Syd”

  2. This is extraordinary, I have never known this information, nor seen any of my grandmother’s letters either sent or received. I have known of Sydney Henry Payne all of my life because of the bronze memorial medallion which has been around and about since I was a child and is now one of my favoured possessions. To read in such detail of his life… and to see pictures and have the details of the site of his grave is hard to describe. This morning I was just checking my email and discovered this via a facebook update from Mary, a bit surprising really, I don’t quite yet know what to make of it, though my family past is a bit of a mystery so this is really quite welcome.

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