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Plaque for young war hero turn up in Grantham

Courtney Finn
Courtney Finn

One of Grantham’s leading history buffs got his hands on an honour for one of the most celebrated British First World War soldiers following a chance meeting in the town.

Civic society chairman Courtney Finn was driving along Church Street one day when he spotted a man carrying a large blue plaque - the type which are mounted outside the former homes of prominent historic characters.

He stopped his car and chatted to the man, John Hill, who was in Grantham to look at the war memorial at St Wulfram’s Church.

Mr Hill was researching the background of Sidney Lewis, who was the youngest British serviceman in the Great War at the tender age of 12.

The blue plaque he was carrying that day was for Sidney and it is due to be installed later this month at his old house near Tooting Broadway tube station in south London.

Mr Finn recalled: “I noticed this man walking along holding a large blue plaque and i started wondering whether this a rival to our civic society efforts.

“I stopped and we chatted and it turned out the plaque was for this young soldier from the First World War.

“Sidney Lewis’s story is amazing. He was a 12-year-old schoolboy who ran away and joined the army in 1915.

“Eventually his mother wrote to the Army and he was hauled back to safety but not before seeing active service in the Machine Gun Corps.”

It was Grantham’s affliation with the Machine Gun Corps which brought Mr Hill to the town that day.

Machine gunners who saw action in the trenches of northern France and other Great War theatres learned their skills at a training centre set up at Belton Park in 1915.

Sidney Smith’s story made the newspapers at the time but his remarkably young age has only just been proved from Army records and supported by the Imperial War Museum.

His only son, Colin, had not believed his father’s stories of fighting on the Somme because he had only been born in 1903.

They learned the truth after his death when the family went through his effects.

At the time, his mother had apparently heard her son was serving on the Western Front from a comrade who was home on leave in August 1916. She immediately wrote to the military and Sidney was discharged and returned to England.

Sidney was awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He returned to service at the end of the war and worked in bomb disposal in the Second World.

After that conflict he joined the police before becoming landlord of a pub in Sussex. He died aged 63 in 1969.

His blue plaque, which will be installed on September 24, was paid for by a fundraising campaign called ‘A Quid for Sid’, which raised £500 and which was backed by personalities such as Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.


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