Sidney Bates #2
This story and photos are shared by the Trust with kind permission from Chris Bates, nephew of Sidney Bates
Corporal Sidney Bates is the only Victoria Cross recipient to be named on the British Normandy Memorial. The Victoria Cross or VC is Great Britain’s highest armed forces award for bravery in the face of the enemy. He died aged 23 and his brave actions on the Normandy battlefield have become the stuff of legend. You can find out why he was awarded his VC here.
This story explores more about what Sid was like, as told to me by mum, Maudie. She knew Sid from childhood as they lived next door to each other and went to the same school. That's how she ended up marrying Sid's brother, Bert.
Sid went to Comber Grove School, Camberwell with his brother, Bert. Being 18 months older than Bert he was the "Big Brother" although there were two older boys, Alfie and Freddie. Sid was a practical joker with a dry sense of humour.
He loved to play football and was a very fast runner. Occasionally he would help his dad, a rag and bone man, on the horse and cart especially when there were tarry blocks to be loaded. Tarry blocks were redundant old wooden blocks covered in tar which made the road surface and would be sold off to burn on open fires in peoples houses, mainly for the poorer families where there were many where Sid lived.
He was brought up in a small terraced house in Councillor Street, Camberwell. He had a girlfriend called Jean who lived in New Cross and, like most courting couples then, they enjoyed going to the picture house (cinema). In between helping his father Sid had labouring jobs in the building trade. He was very protective of his brother, Bert, and they were nearly always together despite their age gap. Being tall, blonde and having an athletic build Sid was the apple of a few girls' eyes but stayed faithful to Jean whom he had know since 9 years old. Sid was also very close to his mum.
We have Sid's last letter home to his mum (my Nan).
A transcript of the letter is as follows:
Well hello Mum
Hoping your feeling fine and please don’t worry I am feeling in the pink
Thanks for getting Glad [Sid's eldest sister] to write to me as I know now you was not able to write. I write as much as possible for I realise now
I would like a few books and few evening papers to pass a few moments away mum so see what you can do old girl and no tears for I could see by that letter you shed a few so keep your chin up and be brave for my sake.
Well mum give my love to Glad and Pat [Sid’s youngest sister]. Close for now
Your loving son
(P.S. No tears)
And we have a couple of letters from Winston Churchill’s office to the war department asking if he can help the Bates family in any way as my nan's house was bombed shortly after Sid's death. In the end, the help was not required as they were being supported by the British Legion and the Mayor of Camberwell.
We also have photos of his mum and dad at Buckingham Palace after receiving the VC from the King.
Being a stone mason I had the absolute honour of making the memorial which stands at the edge of the field where the battle took place.
And a memorial bench to commemorate him has been placed in Camberwell Green.
Army • CORPORAL
Royal Norfolk Regiment
DIED 08 August 1944
SERVICE NO. 5779898