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Sydney Francis Crabb

Served with Essex County Constabulary from Aug 24, 1914 and died on Jul 7, 1916.

Sidney Francis Crabb was born in Brentwood and joined Essex Constabulary on August 24, 1914, just after the outbreak of war. He was a single man and on May 31, 1915, having answered the call for volunteers, he left the police and enlisted as Lance Corporal 17615 with 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers.

The 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was formed from units already existing. One officer and 100 other ranks left the regimental depot on August 15, 1914, for Colchester and were later re-inforced by 500 men from the 5th Battalion. As 'Kitchener's Volunteers' increased in numbers the battalion underwent a period of strenuous training together with the men of the 9th Royal Fusiliers in Hythe, Colchester before joining the 36th Brigade and the rest of 12th Eastern Division at Aldershot in February, 1915, for final war training. Sidney Crabb joined his battalion as it prepared to leave for France at the end of May 1915.

On May 24, 1915, orders were received to move to France. Advance parties left the following day and by June 4 all units had reached an area south of St. Omer.

After a period of training in trench warfare the Division took its place in a section of the front line north-west of Armentieres and reaching through Ploegsteert Wood.

During the following months the Division carried out the usual patrols and generally had a quiet time. The enemy, it is recorded, were even inclined to fraternise.

On September 30, 1915, Sidney Crabb and the men of the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers were in action during the Battle of Loos and relieved the Irish Guards in trenches captured from the Germans in front of Hulluch. On October 2 the Division suffered a heavy loss when the commander, Maj. General F D V Wing, was killed by a shell while inspecting gun positions.

The Division played a major role in the capture of the quarries at Hulluch before being taken out of the line at the end of October 1915. For the next three months the men were in billets at Bethune, La Bourse, Quesnoy and Vermelles. Some of the time was spent in the front line trenches at Festubert and Givenchy.

In February, 1916, the 12th Division returned to the Loos Battlefield taking over the position holding the Quarries and Hohenzollern Redoubt. Subsequently, between March 2 and 19, the division was involved in incessant fighting around the craters in that area - The Battle of the Craters.

On April 3, 1916, the battalion were allotted billets at Annequin but remained in the sector and were in and out of the line till April 22 when they went into reserve at Bethune, prior to the 12th Eastern Division being moved south in preparation for the Somme offensive.

On July 1, 1916, they were in reserve at Henencourt and Millencourt. By 5.40 am on July 2 the division relieved the 8th Division in the line opposite Ovillers where heavy fighting had taken place the previous day. There was no attack on Ovillers that day but it was bombarded in order to confuse the enemy when the 58th Brigade attacked at La Boisselle.

On July 3 the bombardment was renewed at 2.15am by the 12th Division against the same targets as those of July 1. The advance began in the dark at 3.15am and the enemy was very soon to become aware of the attack. The leading waves made progress but on reaching the second line they were met by the enemy who had swarmed out of dugouts and trenches, with bomb and bayonet. At 9am the division had to report that the attack had failed, except for a small footing in the line that was also soon lost. Subsequent attacks were made over the following days and the 12th Division attempted to bomb forward but were held up by deep and clinging mud.

8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers became engaged in the battle on July 7; together with 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and 7th Battalion Sussex Regiment they made a determined attempt to capture Ovillers, and few more costly actions were fought in the whole of the battle of the Somme. Just before 8.30 am two leading companies of 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers crawled over the parapet and lay out in the open. The intention was to take Ovillers from the south west. The weather was bad and fumes of gas shells were held in the hollows of the ground forming a death trap for any who fell wounded.

Lieut.-Colonel Annesley, who was mortally wounded that day, waved the Fusiliers forward into the withering fire of the German machine guns. Despite heavy losses they advanced to Ovillers by noon that day and the 36th Brigade held about half of it on a north and south line

Every officer engaged in the action was killed, wounded or missing. The 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers which had started the day with 800 other ranks mustered a total of 160 that night.

Ovillers was finally taken on the July 17 by which time the 12th Division had suffered over 2,300 casualties. There were accounts of soldiers wounded in the earlier attacks, who could not return to their lines, having crawled into shell holes, wrapped their waterproof sheets around them, taken out their bibles, and died like that.

Sidney Crabb was killed in the action on July 7, 1916, and his body, if ever recovered, was not identified. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing on The Somme.

Another soldier serving with the 12th Eastern Division who was also killed during the action to take Ovillers was George Calver Shipgood of the 9th Battalion Essex Regiment. He was a former Southend Borough policeman and is also commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

On December 6, 1916, the Chief Constable reported to the Police Authority: 'Constable Crabb was killed in action on 7th July, 1916. He was single.'

Sleep sound, sleep deep;
Our watch we keep,
And little chance have we to sleep.
Your watch is done,
Your rest begun.
2nd. Lt. E F Wilkinson M.C.
(Killed Ypres 1917)

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