|Date of Birth||June 6, 1888|
|Place of Birth||Hull, Yorkshire|
|Next of Kin||Thomas Henry Colley (father), Hull, England|
|Trade / Calling||Plumber|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Place of Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||May 12, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||26|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||June 9, 1916|
|Age at Death||28|
|Buried At||No known grave; commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres|
Private Sydney Colley enlisted with the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion in May 1915. He arrived in France in February 1916 and died four months later at the Battle of Mount Sorrel.
Sydney grew up in Yorkshire, England in the parish of Sculcoates, which is now part of the city of Kingston upon Hull. His parents, Thomas Henry Colley and Kate Joy, were married in 1881 and Sydney was the third of their four children. He was born on 6 June 1888 and he had an older sister Annie (1882) and two brothers, Thomas (1884) and William (1892). Hull was a very busy port and at the time of the 1891 census Thomas was working as a sea marine engineer. The Colleys were living at 9 Francis Street in Sculcoates but by 1901 they had moved next door to 11 Francis Street, where Thomas lived for the next twenty years or more. Sydney’s mother died in 1902 when he was 14 years old. In 1910, at age 22, he immigrated to Canada. He arrived in Quebec in May on the SS Hesperian with his destination listed as Winnipeg, Manitoba. By 1915 he was living in the town of Kenora in northwestern Ontario.
The war started in August 1914 and Sydney enlisted in Kenora on 12 May 1915, signing up with the 52nd Battalion. He was single, 27 years old and working as a plumber. The 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was based in Port Arthur and recruited in towns throughout northwestern Ontario. In June the Kenora volunteers were sent to Port Arthur to join the rest of the unit and they trained there for several months. Early in November they left for St John, New Brunswick and they embarked for England on 23 November on the SS California. They trained at Witley Camp in Surrey and at Bramshott Camp in Hampshire. At the end of January Sydney was ill with influenza and he spent ten days in the hospital in Bramshott. He rejoined his unit on 8 February 1916 and two weeks later, on 20 February, they were sent to France.
In the first week of March the 52nd went into the trenches for training and the battalion suffered its first combat fatality on the night of 11-12 March. Later that month the Canadian Corps took up positions in the south part of the Ypres Salient, between St. Eloi and Hooge, and the 52nd was moved into the area on 1 April. There were no major battles at the time but the men were subjected daily to rifle, machine gun and artillery fire and there were casualties from German snipers. The battalion did several rotations in the front trenches, including a long one from 23 May to 1 June when their positions were heavily shelled. From the War Diary of the 52nd Battalion, 31 May 1916, ‘Men becoming in critical condition owing to prolonged period under constant and heavy shell fire and relief very much needed. 8 day tour under these conditions very much too trying.’
The exhausted men were relieved on 1 June and went into reserve trenches then on to the town of Poperinghe the next day, but their rest was very short. The Battle of Mount Sorrel started on the morning of 2 June when the Germans began an intense bombardment of the Canadian lines followed by the explosion of underground mines. After the barrage German infantry advanced and captured Mount Sorrel and nearby areas. A counter-attack was planned for 3 June and additional units were brought in, including all four companies of the 52nd Battalion. The men left Ypres around midnight and even before they arrived at their positions in Sanctuary Wood, just after dawn on 3 June, they faced severe rifle and machine gun fire and a heavy artillery barrage. The counter-attack failed and after a couple of days of rest the 52nd returned to the trenches on 7 June.
From the War Diary of the 52nd Battalion, June 9, 1916: ‘Hostile shelling continued heavy throughout day. ‘Owing to Cold and rain and continued shelling condition of men again becoming very bad and relief order welcomed.‘
Sydney was killed in action on 9 June near Border Lane, on the western edge of Sanctuary Wood. Casualties for his battalion that day were 7 killed and 14 wounded.
Sydney’s burial place is unknown. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, which bears the names of more than 54,000 men who died in the Ypres Salient and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the Kenora Cenotaph and the Kenora Legion War Memorial.
By Becky Johnson
Photo at the top is the Kenora Legion War Memorial.