Sidney Robert Cawley was born and raised in Chelmsford and joined the army in June 1918. He survived the war but was fatally wounded in an ambush by Sinn Fein in southern Ireland in March 1921. His home was in Compasses Row.


Private, 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment

Sidney was buried at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery on 26th March 1921 in grave B.2470. On 1st April 1921 the Essex Chronicle reported upon his funeral which attracted a large crowd.

Sidney was born in Chelmsford in 1900, the second son and one of eight children of the decorator Alfred Cornelius James Cawley and Mary Ann A. Sheail. Sidney’s father had been born in Dublin, Ireland c1871; his mother c1872 in Chelmsford. They had married in 1893.

Sidney’s seven siblings

(all Chelmsford-born) were Maud Frances Cawley (1894-1923), Ernest Frederick Cawley (1896-1942), Jack Alfred Cawley (born on 8th February 1898, died September 1984), Herbert Francis J. Cawley (1900- 1962), Emma Alice Cawley (born 1903), Frederick Albert Cawley (born on 15th January 1906, died in October 1984), and Claude Montague Cawley (born on 5th October 1910, died in February 1984).

At the time of the 1901 census nine month-old Sidney was living with his parents, three siblings and an uncle and aunt at 10 Compasses Row, off Broomfield Road, Chelmsford. Sidney’s father was a house painter. A decade later the 1911 census listed 10 year-old Sidney living with his parents, four siblings and his father’s aunt at the same property. His father was a machine charge hand at the Chelmsford ball-bearings manufacturer Hoffmann’s.

On 12th October 1917 the Essex County Chronicle carried a report on Sidney’s brother (Jack) Alfred:

“Pte. Alfred Cawley, of the Dublin Fusiliers, had received from the Major-General of his division a notification that the Major-General had read with much pleasure the reports of the Regimental Commander and the Brigade Commander regarding Pte. Cawley’s gallant conduct and devotion to duty in the field, and has ordered that his name and deed to be entered in the record of the Irish Division. Pte. Cawley, who is only 19 years old, is the second son of Mr. and Mrs, Cawley of 10 Compasses Row, Broomfield Road, Chelmsford, who are to be congratulated upon their son’s gallant conduct. Before he joined the Army he was employed at the Hoffmann Works.”

The 1918 register of electors listed Sidney at 10 Compasses Row.

Sidney joined the Essex Regiment in June 1918, and spent almost two years up to the time of his death in Ireland. He was wounded when an army convoy was ambushed by Irish Republicans at Crossbarry near Cork in Ireland on 19th March 1921. Although conveyed to hospital in Cork he succumbed to his wounds on 20th March 1921 while serving as Private 5999664 in the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment. He was aged 20. At least eight other soldiers serving with the Essex Regiment died as a result of the attack.

On 23rd March 1921 the Essex Chronicle carried a report on Sidney’s death, under the sub-headline ‘Attack by 500 Rebels.’

The day’s Essex Weekly News reported:

“Chelmsford Man’s Warning. On Sunday morning a party of the Essex Regt., the Hampshire Regt., and the R.I.C. were operating on foot near Cross Berry, six miles north-east of Bandon, Co. Cork, when their transport, which was some distance behind them, was attacked by a large body of rebels. A fierce resistance was put up by the small party in charge of the transport, but before the main body could come to their rescue seven men had been killed, including three of the Essex Regiment. After the arrival of the main body and reinforcements, the rebels fled, leaving six of their dead. Sergt. Watts, of the Essex Regt., is missing.

One of the soldiers who was killed was Pte. Sidney R, Cawley, B Company, 1st Battalion, Essex Regt., third son of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Cawley, of 10 Compasses-ter., Broomfield-rd., Chelmsford. He joined the Army in June 1918 and was attached to the Intelligence Department in Ireland. Deceased, who was only 20 years of age, was born in Chelmsford and attended the Victoria School. He was well known and respected in the town.

Some months ago Pte. Cawley received a warning from the Sinn Feiners to the effect that he only seven or eight days to live so it is evident that for some considerable time he has been a ‘marked’ man.

The body is being brought home for burial and the funeral will take place at the Borough Cemetery with full military honours Saturday afternoon.”

A further report appeared in the day’s Essex Weekly News:

“Sinn Fein Victim Buried at Chelmsford. Military Funeral. The funeral of Pte. Sidney R. Cawley, son of Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Cawley, of 10, Compasses-ter., Broomfield-rd., Chelmsford, whose death was reported last week, took place at the Borough Cemetery on Saturday/ Pte. Cawley met his death at the hands of Sinn Feiners in Ireland during an ambush. The body arrived home on March 24th. The funeral was of military character, and hundreds of people lined the route along which the coffin was conveyed to the cemetery. A firing party from Warley, under Sergt. Aldridge, marched first with the  Union Jack. The bearer party was in charge of Lt. Andrews. The family mourners were followed by detachments of the D.S. and S. under Mr. W. J. Nevard, and Comrades of the Great War, under Mr. D. Nightingirl. The funeral service was conducted by Rev. G. Colley. A large crowd gathered around the graveside, where, after committal three volleys were fired over the grave and Drummer Howes sounded the last post.

The mourners were Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Cawley, parents; Maud, Ernest, Jack, Emma, and Fred, brothers and sisters; Mrs. Jack Cawley, sister-in-law; Mr. G. Barrett, brother-in-law; Messrs. Bert Cawley, Herbert Cawley, Henry Cawley, H. Moul, Joe Ginn, and George Ginn, uncles; Mrs. F. Hall, Mrs. Bert Cawley, Mrs. Moul, Mrs. Sharpen, aunts; Messrs. Basil Ketley and S. Rainbird, friends.

Floral tributes were sent ‘With deepest sympathy from all the ranks of the 1st Essex Regt.’; ‘With deepest sympathy from members of the D.S. and S.’, and ‘With deepest sympathy from the Comrades of the Great War Club, Chelmsford.’”

Sidney is commemorated on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and on the Brookwood (United Kingdom 1914-1918) Memorial (Addenda Panel).

Both his parents share his unmarked grave in Chelmsford. It is hoped that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will provide a headstone if the necessary permissions are gained.

His father was buried there on 27th May 1947; his mother on 23rd March 1950, having died aged 74 and 75 years respectively.

Sidney’s nephew Robert Jack Cawley lost his life in the Second World War.