A blue plaque dedicated the youngester soldier in the First World War who trained with the Machine Gun Corps at Belton has been unveiled in London.
A few weeks ago the Journal reported on how the chairman of Grantham Civic Society, Courtney Finn, crossed paths with John Hill who was carrying the plaque as he went to look at the Machine Gun Corps war memorial at St Wulfram’s Church.
Mr Hill explained the plaque was to be unveiled at the home of Sidney Lewis in Tooting. Sidney was the youngest person, at the age of 12, to fight in the First World War.
Garratt Lane in Tooting came to a standstill last weekend as five hundred people turned out to see the unveiling of the first blue plaque in the area for almost half a century.
Sidney was 12 years old when he joined up and at the age of 13 he fought at the Battle of the Somme. At this point his mother became aware of his whereabouts and provided the authorities with his birth certificate which led to him being sent home.
One hundred years later, seven carloads of Lewis family attended the Tooting event and the plaque was unveiled by his 83-year-old son Colin. All eyes were on the little white house at No 934 and buses ground to a halt as passengers strained to catch a glimpse of what was behind the emerald green curtain being serenaded by uniformed buglers.
The Mayor of Wandsworth contributed a reading and a number of local councillors were in attendance. Local school participation included Ernest Bevin College and Earlsfield Primary. The plaque was paid for by a successful fund-raising campaign called ‘A Quid for Sid’ backed by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and Tooting MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan.
A powerful sound system pumped WW1 tunes down Garratt Lane all morning and shoppers emerged from Tooting Broadway tube station to the strains of ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. The remarkable ceremony which started at 2pm was organised by the Summerstown182 community history project who have recently received Heritage Lottery funding.
It included a recitation by a twelve year old boy in full military uniform reading a verse written especially for the event by a local resident. The highlight was an emotionally-charged performance from an upstairs window by acclaimed Irish violinist Tracey McRory. The haunting melody of ‘Far from Home’ her ‘Tribute to Sidney Lewis’ composed for this occasion will not be forgotten by anyone who heard it. Three Chelsea Pensioners took part in proceedings and guests included numerous representatives of the Armed Forces, past and present.
The plaque has been taken all over Tooting and further afield allowing donors and well-wishers to pose for photos with it, further promoting the event and drumming up interest.
This included Grantham where Sidney trained, Delville Wood in France where he fought and Frant in kent where he ran a pub in later life. One observer Keith Shannon said: “It was an absolutely marvellous occasion, brilliantly conceived and organised. This really is an amazing area of London in which to live; with a deep and varied history, a vibrant present, and I am sure a fantastic future. It is great to be part of it.” Organiser Geoff Simmons was delighted with the reaction. He said: “We wanted the right mix of military formality but also keeping things friendly and community-focused. Who’d have thought Shakin Stevens, Pack Up Your Troubles and a violin lament would work so well together? This was a very special one as Sid’s story is so unique and incredible and particularly resonates with young people. I hope its now firmly established in Tooting mythology.”