Sidney Ketchell was a second cousin on my mother’s side of the family. My 3 x great grandmother Elizabeth Ketchell was the younger sister of Sidney’s grandfather Stephen Ketchell.
The family originated from Sussex but Sidney was born in Hounslow in Middlesex. He was baptised on 14 Feb 1892 at Holy Trinity Church in Hounslow. His father Henry was a labourer and the family lived in Station Road.
Henry Ketchell and Susan Leeding were married in Whitton in Middlesex on 13th July 1873. Their first child, Arthur, was born the following year followed in 1875 by George and then Thomas in 1878. Sadly Thomas died aged two, just a few weeks after his brother William was born in 1881. When the census was taken in 1881, the family were living in Wellington Road in Isleworth and the father Henry was a gunpowder worker, presumably at the Royal Gunpowder Works nearby.
Three years later, the couple’s only daughter Maude was born then another boy Frederick in 1886. The family was rounded off by Alfred in 1889 and Sidney at the beginning of 1892. By then Arthur was eighteen so this was a large and very spread out family. All the children were born in Hounslow.
The 1891 census found Henry and Susan at South View Cottages, Isleworth with Arthur, George, William, Maude, Frederick and Alfred. Also living there were Susan’s father and her brother Robert. Robert and Arthur were also now working at the gunpowder factory.
By 1901 they had moved to Station Road in Isleworth, where Henry was still working at the gunpowder factory. All but one of the five children left at home were working, Sidney being the only child left at school.
Sidney’s father, Henry, died in 1906 and his mother Susan in 1909. Seventeen year old Sidney went to live with his older brother Arthur who had married in 1904. In 1911, he and his wife Charlotte were living with her parents in Grosvenor Road Hounslow and Sidney was an assistant in a tailors’ shop.
Sidney enlisted in September 1914 into the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. They were stationed at Wellington Barracks in London from August 1914 until they sailed for France in July 1915 to become part of the 2nd division. They immediately went to the front line and into trenches where they stayed for many months.
They fought at The Battle of Loos in October and by November the battalion were well established in the trenches in Northern France. They spent December 1915 on 48 hour tours alternately on the front line and resting behind it. This was a normal pattern for trench warfare with units spending two or four day rotations between the forward trenches then behind the lines in another trench or possibly in the shelter of woods or a ruined village. If resources allowed they would also have a day or two’s relaxation time. The men behind the lines would be working in support of those fighting with jobs such as sentry duty, repairing and digging trenches or acting as look outs. Gas attacks were a problem and a look out was posted and a warning sounded when gas shells were identified so that the soldiers could don their gas masks. They also acted as carriers, fetching equipment from the workshops behind the lines. A constant supply of sandbags, wood, cables for telephone wires and many other items would be needed to keep the operations going.
Between battles, trench life was difficult and tedious with the main problems being boredom and the weather. Rations were brought in regularly and were very welcome but life was very hard. The men were at risk from illness brought on by exposure to vermin, rotting food and human and animal corpses. They suffered from the wet and cold weather with exposure, frostbite and trench foot. They were sometimes unable to wash or change their clothes for days at a time and any disease spread quickly in the confined spaces.
On Christmas Day 1915 the Grenadier Guards celebrated with each man receiving a pint of beer and a Christmas pudding. They were relived of front line duty on December 26th and had several days at Merville training. Merville is a village about 20 km south of Bethune in the very north east of France. It was used as a billeting centre and hospital clearing station and a base for American Ambulance Corps as well as a safe area for training.
On January 1st 1916, the 3rd Battalion moved from Merville to Laventie and relieved the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards. On the 3rd they moved into the frontline trenches. There was much enemy activity, although no full blown battle but the war diary records much damage under constant shell fire.
Somehow here on the 4th January Sidney Ketchell died. As he was one of so many, it is not recorded exactly how or where, but he was one of those whose death cannot be attributed to any major push forward or battle, just to everyday fighting or maybe illness. He is buried in the Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard at Laventie, a now peaceful village in the northern France countryside.
Sidney’s brother Alfred served in the Royal Army Medical Corps but none of the other brothers seem to have been directly involved with hostilities. They all grew up and had families in various parts of the country. After the war Sydney’s legatee was Ada J Haynes and she received his war gratuity of £5 10s 7d. Presumably she was a fiancée, although there is nothing in writing to confirm that.
In Memory of
S C Ketchell
17988, 3rd Bn., Grenadier Guards who died on 04 January 1916
Remembered with Honour
Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard, Laventie
With thanks to the following websites for help with the research on this project