Saturday, 21 February 2015
I interviewed Sydney Malthouse at Okeley in Chelmsford in July 1983. Sydney was 89 years old, a Londoner born at Deptford on the 16th July 1892, although by the time the 1911 census was taken he'd lost a couple of years (above). Sydney told me he worked as a builder and, looking at the 1911 census now, I can see that his father was a builder and that he and his elder brother George were working as decorators.
Sydney's Army Service Corps (later Royal Army Service Corps) number was M2/074132 and his medal card confirms entitlement to the British War and Victory medals only. He was in failing health when I met him and the brief notes below are the extent of the information I came away with that day.
"We landed in France about March 1916 and it was bloody rough. I got through it though and I don't think it did me any harm. I was never in the trenches though, understand that. I was driving and we were driving the guns up to the gun pits and backing them in. I was in Ypres for nearly twelve months and we couldn't get in and we couldn't get out. We were just stuck there.
"I wasn't wounded at all. Even the lorry I took out which was an F W D, four wheel drive, I brought back complete. It went all the way from Salisbury to France and back again. It was never hit directly and the only thing it suffered with was wear and tear.
"I've never fired a rifle. We had a rifle in the cab and that was never undone. Then they took the rifles away and gave us revolvers which we never used. We had no use for them really. We did go up to the firing line and it was there in the cab if you wanted it, but you're here, there and gone. You're on the move all the time, you're not like the chaps stuck in the trenches for weeks and weeks.
"I had a brother [97307 Pte George Malthouse] in the Tank Corps who was a couple of years older than I, and he got wounded pretty badly around the legs. I was lucky. I was out there for four years almost continually except for a couple of leaves."
Sydney Malthouse died in 1986 aged 93.
The 1911 census extract is a Crown Copyright image, courtesy of the National Archives.
Need help with your own First World War research? I have been studying the First World War for the past 30-odd years and now offer a fast and cost effective research service.