b. 04/04/1885 Mossley, Yorkshire. d. 03/08/1949 Lockwood, Yorkshire.
Ernest Sykes (1885-1949) was born at Quick View, Mossley, Lancashire on 4th April 1885. His father is not recorded on his birth certificate, and is subject of mystery. When he married in 1905, the certificate stated his father was Robert (deceased), but when he married for a second time in 1938, his father was John. Ernest’s mother was Ruth Sykes, originally from Honley, Yorkshire. Ernest had two sisters – Helena (known as Lena) born in 1887, and Mary (born in 1889).
Ernest was educated at St George’s School, Stalybridge. Thereafter he was employed as a woollen feeder in 1901, but was a foundry labourer at the time of his first marriage in January 1905. He eventually became a platelayer for the London & North Western Railway at Mossley from 1911 onwards. Ernest married Alice Bredbury, a cotton weaver, on 16th January 1905 at Saddleworth Registry Office. Ernest and Alice had three children – Percy (born in 1906), Harold (born 1910) and Ivy (born in 1920). Sadly, due to complications following Ivy’s birth, Alice died later that year.
Ernest enlisted in 7th West Riding at Halifax, Yorkshire on 31st August 1914. His Medal Card states he entered the Balkans Theatre (Gallipoli & Aegean Islands) on 18th July 1915. However, 7th West Riding went to France in April 1915 and the only West Riding Regiment to serve in Gallipoli was the 8th. It left Liverpool in July 1915 and was at Mudros prior to landing at Suvla on 6th August 1915. It was therefore concluded that Ernest transferred to the 8th between August 1914 and July 1915. He was seriously wounded in the foot but refused to have it amputated in Egypt and was sent home, where he underwent several operations to save it.
When he was passed fit for service in 1916, he transferred to the 25th and later 27th Northumberland Fusiliers. On 9th April 1917 (Easter Monday), at Roclincourt, near Arras, Ernest was with his Battalion when the attack was held up about 350 yards ahead of the lines by intense fire. Despite the heavy fire, Ernest went forward and brought back four wounded. He then made a fifth journey and remained out under conditions which appeared to be certain death, until he had bandaged all those who were too badly wounded to move. These actions, as his citation states, “showed an utter contempt of danger.”
On 12th July 1917, he arrived home on leave and was met by his wife and two sons, the Mayor and members of the Town Council and Corporation. After the civic reception, he was carried shoulder high to his home through cheering crowds. The VC was presented outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917 by King George V. On 27th July, he and Lance Corporal Thomas Bryan received a civic reception at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle. The Lord Mayor presented them with war loans, a clock and wallet of Treasury notes. Ernest was discharged on 26th May 1918, no longer fit for active service.
He returned to work with the London & North Western Railway in the Engineering Department and later became a ticket collector at Stalybridge, before becoming a guard. He remained with the railways for the rest of his working life. He attended the unveiling of the LNWR War Memorial at Euston Station by Earl Haig in October 1921. He was deeply honoured when one of the locomotives, a LNWR ‘Claughton’ Class was named after him. The nameplate was later transferred to a LMS Patriot Class locomotive which was withdrawn from service in 1962. In 1967 the nameplate was presented to the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum at Alnwick Castle in the presence of his son Harold and grandson Stephen.
On 4th April 1938, Ernest re-married Gladys nee Clough, a domestic cook, at Huddersfield Registry Office. During the Second World War, he served in 25th West Riding (Huddersfield) Battalion, Home Guard. He died at his home at 17 Thornfield Avenue, Lockwood, Yorkshire on 3rd August 1949 and is buried in Lockwood Cemetery, Meltham, near Huddersfield. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The Defence Medal does not form part of the group and may not have been claimed. It is believed he donated the VC to the Regiment just before he died and it was handed over by his eldest son, Percy. His other medals and a copy of the VC were sold at Sotheby’s in 1981 and were believed to be in Canada until the campaign medals were sold to a private buyer at Dix Noonan and Webb on 12th May 2015 for £6,000. The VC is held at the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Museum, Alnwick Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS MUSEUM, ALNWICK CASTLE.
BURIAL PLACE: WOODFIELD CEMETERY, LOCKWOOD, YORKSHIRE. SECTION F GRAVE 227.
David Sykes (Ernest’s great grandson) – Images of Ernest Sykes VC’s grave, the plaque at Mossley Train Station, his VC Stone in Mossley, the Sykes VC Train and many personal family photographs.
Steve Hoar – Information Board on Ernest Sykes VC at Manchester Piccadilly Station.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Sykes VC Medal at the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum, Alnwick Castle.