Hundreds of thousands of individuals served in the armed forces during World War One, but have you ever wondered who was the very first British Army soldier to be demobilised at the end of the conflict?
It turns out the man had been a career soldier and was also a Police Constable with Bedford Borough Police, both before and after the conflict.
His name was Sidney Arthur Hall and this is his story.
Bedford born and bred
Sidney Arthur Hall was born on 9 September 1884 in Bedford, the County town of Bedfordshire, to Richard and Emma Hall. He was baptised in St Paul’s church in the town in 1890.
Young Sidney was enrolled at the Ampthill Road Infant School in Bedford in April 1889, aged five and the following year he was at the Harpur Trust Boys’ School. His parents must have believed in a good education and paid for the privilege, so sacrifices must have been made at home in order to afford it. The school register indicated Sidney lived in Prebend Street. He is shown as leaving on 30 September 1896 with the reason given as ‘work’.
In the 1891 census, Sidney was living with his parents and three brothers (Albert, Frank and William) at Prebend Street, and his father Richard was a ‘Railway Porter’. There were also a couple of boarders, which must have helped with the finances, but the property was a very small terrace so the accommodation must have been a bit cramped.
Prebend Street was (and still is) very close the main railway station, just around the corner.
By 1901 Sidney was sixteen and working as a ‘Hotel Porter’, and the family was still living in the same small terraced house. Head of the household Richard had now been promoted to ‘Foreman Porter’.
Joining the cavalry
On 16 January 1902 Sidney joined the British Army, signing up for twelve years in the Household Cavalry – 1st Life Guards (Regimental Number 2400).
Trooper Hall served in London and Windsor and on leaving the army in 1909 (with consent) he was transferred to the Reserves.
Police Constable Hall
An article published in a local Bedford newspaper in March 1910 has PC Sidney Hall giving evidence at court in a case of begging (wandering abroad to beg for alms) in a street in Bedford.
The ‘tramp’ (who was from Newcastle) had approached PC Hall and asked “for a copper”. Presumably PC Hall was in plain clothes, for having identified himself as a constable the poor unfortunate was taken into custody. The sentence of the Magistrates was fourteen days hard labour.
Sidney Hall married Emily Elizabeth Floyd at Holy Trinity Church in Bedford on 18 April 1910.
A number of other newspaper articles indicate the type of incidents PC Hall was called to deal with during the course of his duties. Dealing with drunk and disorderly individuals, for example, was common.
In early October 1910 PC Hall had to call on the assistance of both civilians and police to arrest a ‘sturdy man’, who was drunk, shouting and using obscene language in Midland Road.
The man continued to be extremely noisy and violent at the police station and, despite having 11 shillings on him, he refused to part with his cash to pay the 4 shilling fine and sixpence costs and “preferred to go to prison, whither accordingly he went” for seven days hard labour.
A similar case was reported on in September 1912.
By the time of the 1911 census, Sidney and Emily had a son, Valentine, who was one month old and lived in Coventry Road, Bedford. The census mentions that Emily was born in London, so it is likely she had met Sidney when he was stationed in the city with the 1st Life Guards.
Valentine’s full name was Valentine Sidney Hall, and he was (unsurprisingly) born on 14 February 1911, but he seems to have always been known as ‘Sidney’. In the 1939 Register, he was shown as Sidney V Hall, Police Constable, living in Luton. To the right of the entry is written ‘Military Reserve – The Life Guards, Trooper 294…’
It seems he followed in his father’s footsteps… although in Luton Borough Police. ‘Sid’ is mentioned by his father in a letter published in a local newspaper in 1914 – please read on. Sidney Valentine Hall died in Luton in 1994.
Sidney goes to war
Sidney Hall re-joined his old regiment on 5 August 1914 from the ‘Reserves’, and over the next few years was promoted, attaining the rank of ‘Corporal of Horse’ in January 1917.
On 4 December 1914 a letter from Sidney to his wife was published in a local newspaper – the Bedfordshire Times & Independent. Written in late November 1914 it makes for rather sobering reading:
In the letter, Sidney described how he was presently in France for some rest, having lost almost an entire Troop in the fighting. He went on to say that the work they had been through was too horrible to write about, and mentioned men who previously had not known how to pray doing so on a daily basis.
Sidney was thankful for the parcels he had received, but asked that no more tobacco is sent, as they were getting more than they could smoke.
The freezing conditions are mentioned, with a number of wounded men dying through exposure. Frostbite was also a problem.
The horrendous scale of the casualties suffered by his regiment was also written about – 77 men from one Squadron in one day; with four such days recently.
Sidney described a narrow escape he had, when a shell killed a horse ten yards in front of him. He also mentioned, in a rather off-hand fashion, bullets whistling past, as well as bits of shells – which he was quite used to.
The ‘Jack Johnsons’ were noisy and made very big holes, but didn’t cause much damage. (A ‘Jack Johnson’ was the British nickname used to describe the heavy, black German 15cm artillery shell and was named after an American boxer.)
He signed off with love to all at home and to all the police and asked his wife to give ‘Sid’ (Valentine) a kiss from him.
Life after the Great War
The next newspaper reports are after the end of the war in 1919 and provide further insights as to Sidney’s service, as well as his health.
He had been involved in the first battle of Ypres when the Cavalry barred the way to Calais and the Channel Ports, and when only seven of his Squadron, including himself, came through unharmed. He was in other engagements without being injured, but eventually had to return to England suffering from bronchitis.
Corporal of Horse Hall had been stationed in Knightsbridge Barracks, London after a period of ill-health.
He was demobilised on 9 December at No. 1 Dispersal Camp Unit, Wimbledon, with the number A/4, 000,001. The issuing officer congratulated him on being the first man in the British Army to receive it.
Having survived the horrors of the war, Sidney’s life was to be irrevocably changed in an incident during which he was severely injured whilst on duty in Bedford on 3 December 1928.
A newspaper article published in the Bedfordshire Times & Independent on 7 December 1928 told the story…
Just after noon, a bullock was being driven down a street, when it knocked into several cycles stacked against a wall. The startled animal ran off, which in turn caused a horse attached to a ‘lorry’ to turn and kick on the pavement, injuring a lady and her young daughter.
The horse and ‘lorry’ then dashed off down the street towards where PC Hall was on point-duty. He tried to grab the reigns, but was swung under the wheels of the ‘lorry’. He suffered a broken femur, a fractured shoulder and facial injuries.
It seems that PC Hall never fully recovered from his injuries enough to resume his duties as a Constable. He was awarded a ‘Special Pension’ of £2 18s 11d a week and his condition was reviewed annually. Reports from the town’s ‘Watch Committee’ in the local newspapers indicate this continued for several years, the last of which was in 1934.
In March 1938, Sidney wrote to his old regiment asking for his Discharge Papers, as he wanted to join the local branch of The Old Contemptibles’ Association. The letter he wrote was endorsed ‘Furnished 7/3/38 1914 Star only’.
In anticipation of another war with Germany in 1939 a ‘Register’ was taken by the authorities. In a similar way to a census, it detailed the addresses and occupations of householders, but with the addition of dates of birth.
We see in this Register that Sidney’s occupation is ‘Police Constable (Retired)’ and together with Emily, there was another son, Frank, who was born in 1917.
‘Retired’ Sidney still maintained his connection with the Police, having taken in a lodger who was a Police Constable.
Sidney Arthur Hall died on 21 December 1950.