George was born in Worstead in 1878 and was the son of William and Rachel Sidell who resided at 78 Brockley on Station Road in Worstead. William’s profession is listed as a painter on the 1891 Census and at the age of 13 George was also in employment as he is listed as an agricultural labourer which he was still doing when the 1911 Census was recorded. He had six brothers, Alfred, Sidney, Frederick, Charles, Arthur and Walter and one sister Sabina.
George’s service record did not survive WWI but we can state that he enlisted in Norwich and joined the Royal West Kent Regiment (RWK), being given the service number of 1328. He did not remain with this regiment and did not go to war until, at the very earliest, 1916. It is more than probable that he was posted to France as a draft for the RWK only to be sent to the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment from an infantry base depot.
On the 23rd April 1917 the British launched the Second Battle of the Scarpe and the 1/Middlesex had been in the line from the 17th to 20th April and had spent the 21st and 22nd in a sunken road between Henin-sur-Cojeul and Neuville Vitasse.
Here they prepared for the coming battle of the 23rd. At 04:30hrs the battalion, having been issued with bombs, rifle grenades, Verey lights, ground flares and sandbags, marched to trenches position approximately 1,500 yards of south east of Heninel. Their dispositions were as follows, A Coy on the right and C Coy on the left with B & D, taking up the rear, on the right and left respectively.
Zero hour, set for 04:45hrs, saw A & C Coys going over in the first wave with B & D Coy following in support. The 98th Brigade, as a whole, advanced under cover of a barrage with the 4/Suffolks on the right and the 2/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders in the centre and the 1/Middlesex on the left. The 4/Suffolks were given the task of clearing out trenches on the Hindenburg Line to the Sensee River and the other two attacking battalions were to attack frontally. This puts them advancing towards a small town called Cherisy.
The regimental history takes up the story.
The attack of the Suffolks proceeded well down both trenches of the Hindenburg Line, but the Highlanders, in the centre, and “A” and “B” Companies of the Middlesex, were hung up in front of the small copse. The two left Companies of the latter Battalion (“C” and “D”), however, reached their first objective without much opposition, where 30 prisoners were taken and sent back. They then pressed on to their final objective, which they reached successfully and dug themselves in. Here they were joined by “A” Company of the Highlanders, who had fought their way past the copse. But now, unfortunately, a serious position presented itself to these three Companies, for it appeared that they were not only in the air, but the enemy was still between them and their original “jumping-off” line. Captain Beesham, therefore, made his way back along the Hindenburg Line in order to report the situation to Brigade Headquarters. But whilst he was away the enemy counter-attacked and succeeded in cutting off a portion of the Hindenburg Line, thus completely cutting off all communication with “C” and “D” Companies in their forward exposed position. To make matters worse, troops on the left of these two Companies fell back, taking with them a small party of Middlesex “moppers-up” which had taken possession of that portion of the first objective captured by “C” and “D”. The position as it affected the 1st Middlesex now stood as follows: The enemy was again in full possession of his original front line; “A” and “B” Companies of the Battalion were held up in front of the copse, i.e., the line of the first objective, and were digging themselves in; the left flank of the Battalion was absolutely in the air; the enemy had regained a portion of the Hindenburg Line; “C” and “D” Companies had broken through and had reached their final objective, but were entirely cut off, the enemy being in front and behind them.
From DIE-HARDS IN THE GREAT WAR (Middlesex Regiment)
The regimental history makes note that by 12:00hrs all units, with a few exceptions, were back in their starting positions although elements were still holding out but were now surrounded. Another attack, pressed home at 06:28hrs, did not amount to much and signallers, orderlies and officer’s servants were being used due to losses and men still being unaccounted for. At 20:00hrs the Germans counter attacked and threatened to overrun the 1/Middlesex Battalion HQ, but this was repulsed by the 4/Suffolks and the brigade itself was down to just 300 men.
The rest of the night was carried off peacefully and at dawn it was ascertained that the Germans might have vacated their positions and the 1/Middlesex put out patrols, which proved this to be the case. The old German line was captured and the men still holding out, which included men from C & D Coys, were able to inform the brigade that this was the case although they could not retire until darkness fell.
By this time what was left of the battalion had been relieved and those men that held out, for an estimated forty hours, rejoined the battalion in a sunken road at 23:00hrs. On the morning of the 25th April they marched back to Grosville. The regimental history makes note that the actions of the 1/Middlesex on the 23rd/24th April were praised by the G.O.C. of the 33rd Division who personally congratulated the men before they marched out of the line and on the 1st May 1917 their actions were mentioned by the 3rd Army Commander General Sir Edmund H. H. Allenby who stated,
“I have read this account with great pride and admiration. I congratulate all ranks in the 2nd Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the 1st Battalion Middlesex Regiment on the staunchness and bravery of their two splendid companies.”
However, this came at a high price and the war diary, dated the 24th April 1917, lists the battalion strength as such.
Going In 26 Officers, 399 Other Ranks
Coming Out 8 Officers, 230 Other Ranks
Of this total they recorded the following casualties:
13 Officers Killed, wounded or missing and 169 Other Ranks suffered the same fate.
This included George who is listed as being killed in action on the 23rd April. He now rests in Wancourt British Cemetery, which is situated very close to where he went over the top.