17th May 1915

Regular soldier Sydney Alfred Cockayne, from Catherine-de-Barnes, died of wounds on 17th May 1915 whilst serving as Acting Sergeant Major with the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

He was actually baptised as Alfred Sidney Cockayne, and appears as Alfred on the 1891 and 1901 censuses before being recorded as Sidney Cockayne in 1911. Presumably, preferring to be known by his middle name, he switched the order of his Christian names when he joined the Army. Certainly, all his Army records refer to him as S. A. Cockayne.

He was the second youngest child of parents William and Hannah Cockayne, who lived at Malthouse Row, Hampton Lane, Catherine-de-Barnes from at least 1889 until at least 1911. William was a domestic gardener, and in the 1894 Solilhull & District Horticultural exhibition at Malvern Park he won fourth prize in the category of “best cropped and neatly kept allotment belonging to cottagers”. His sons also became jobbing gardeners and Alfred was listed as such on the 1901 census at the age of 13.

William was born in Leek, Staffordshire and his wife was born in King’s Norton. Their eldest child, William, was born in Boldmere, Sutton Coldfield and over the next ten years, the family moved to Ward End and Hay Mills before settling in Catherine-de-Barnes by the time of the birth of Alfred Sidney in 1889.

As Sidney Cockayne, he joined the 1st Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps sometime between 1907 and 1911. He appears with the regiment, aged 22, at New Barracks, Gosport, Hampshire at the time of the 1911 census. The medal roll for the award of the 1914 Star shows he disembarked with the regiment on 13th August 1914 when they landed at Rouen, France after leaving their base in Aldershot.

The 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps took part in the first night battle of the war, the Battle of Festubert, which commenced on 13th May 1915 with a heavy bombardment of enemy lines before the first-line platoons of infantry began attacking at 11.30pm on 15th May. By 17th May, Sidney Cockayne was one of over 300 casualties from the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, which included the loss of the Commanding Officer Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Shakerley, D.S.O.

It looks as if one of Sidney’s older brothers, Albert E. Cockayne, also joined up after Sidney’s death. The Birmingham Mail of 2nd November 1915 reports that A. E. Cockayne of Catherine-de-Barnes joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in Birmingham on the previous day, one of 400 new Army recruits to enlist in the City that day. We haven’t been able to find mention of him in any official Army records so, if you have any information, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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