Pte Sydney Alfred Hollands (1894 – 1915)
Sydney Alfred Hollands was born in Platt on 23 March 1894, the eldest of five children of Frank and Harriet Hollands (née Fuller). At the time of his son’s birth, Frank was working as an agricultural labourer and employed by Mr Lauser of Beechin Wood Farm.
Sydney attended Platt School, and by 1905 the family were living at Rose Cottage. After a spell resident at Kettle Cottage, the family then moved to No.3 Church Villas, which had been built by Sydney’s maternal grandmother Harriett Fuller, who also ran the Blue Anchor pub. Sydney’s father eventually took over the pub in 1913, and he opened his old house as a confectioners’ shop. Sydney could often be seen travelling around the local area with one of his brothers on his father’s horse and trap selling confectionary, soft drinks, tobacco and even haberdashery.
When war broke out in 1914 Sydney had been working as a farm labourer, and on 7 August he became one of the very first from Platt to enlist. He attested in Maidstone and described in a medical examination as being 5’ 6” tall, 125lbs in weight and having blue eyes and brown hair. He was passed fit for service and joined The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) and sent to the regimental depot (also in Maidstone) for training.
Four months later, on 7 December 1914, Sydney was assigned to the 1st Battalion, who were already fighting on the Western Front, and was either among the draft of 236 NCOs and men who arrived at billets in Dranoutre, Belgium on the 12th or the 50 who joined on the 18th. Either way, he probably spent Christmas in St Jans Capelle, and like everyone else, would have received a Christmas card from the King and Queen along with Princess Mary’s gift of cigarettes, tobacco and a pipe. The battalion held the line south of Ypres at Wulverghem throughout much of the second half of December and Sydney probably gained his first taste of life in the trenches during this period. Owing to extremely wet weather at the start of the month, the trenches in this part of the line were described as being in a ‘shocking state’.
The battalion remained in the Ypres Salient until 19 February 1915 when, after a brief period in Bailleul ‘standing by’ in readiness to move at short notice, they returned to the area. The West Kents reached billets in Vlamertynghe during the night of on 19 March before moving up to the trenches at Zillebeke the following day. The opposing lines were much closer together than those in Wulverghem, and the Prussians based there were particularly aggressive, so the battalion did their best to return the ‘hate’ and kept them occupied by firing over ‘jam tin’ bombs and rifle grenades.
Over the next few weeks Sydney’s unit rotated between the front line and various support positions, and by 20 March they held the trenches at Kruisstraat where they were subject to frequent enemy artillery fire and mortar bombing. Two days later, which happened to be the eve of Sydney’s 21st birthday, the section of the line in which he was occupying suffered a direct hit from a German trench mortar bomb. The scene was calamitous with little trace of the previous occupants found, and only the partial remains of a sergeant and a corporal identified by their chevrons.
Sydney was among those that were annihilated by the blast, and consequently, he has no known grave. He was later commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium and also on his parent’s grave in the Platt churchyard.