Sydney Robert Henry Anstey (b 1880)

by Gary. M. Ansteychief researcher of the Anstey story project.

Sydney Robert Henry Anstey, a member of the Bradninch Ansteys, was born in 1880 in Topsham, Devon to parents Henry Thomas Stone Anstey and Harriet Hannah Pearce. He was elder brother to Bertie Stone Anstey and Robert John Pearce Anstey.

At the age of only sixteen (he claimed he was seventeen), Sydney signed up for service on 15 January 1896 (Attestation Number 3234) in the 4th Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. Later that year he was a Private (Nbr 4703) in the 2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. The ‘South Wales Daily News‘ on 12 October 1896 reported “Alleged Forgery at Pembroke – At the Pembroke Police Court Arthur John Harrison, a Private in the Devonshire Regiment at Pembroke Dock, was brought up in custody charged with forging a notice of withdrawal and thereby drawing money to the amount of 30s. deposited in the Post Office by a private in the same regiment named Sydney  Robert Anstey. Prisoner was proved to have gone to the Post Office and there signed the notice of withdrawal and afterwards obtained the money…

At the time of the outbreak of the Second Boer War (1899-1902) Sydney was a Private (Nbr 4703) in the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment. Together with his regiment, he was despatched from India to Natal in South Africa immediately before war was declared in early October 1899, and within two weeks he was in action at the Battle of Elandslaagte, which took place on 21 October 1899. Sydney’s first hand account of this battle is laid out in a letter he wrote from Natal to his mother, stating:

The war is now raging very hot. We have had one battle and also another engagement with the enemy and I am glad to say we came off victorious in both engagements. I went right through the battle of Elandslaagte and escaped scratchless. The fighting commenced at half past two on the 21st of October and continued with great fury until half past six the same day. I happened to be in the fighting here, and the bullets were raining down on us like large hailstones and the great Artillery shells shrieked as they passed harmlessly over our heads to a distance of about 100 yards, where they fell and played havoc with the Boer forces. I am certain I must have possessed a charmed existence during this sharp encounter for the shots were whistling about my head and feet and some even scoured the tips of my fingers. When we were within 200 yards of their position, which was very strong, the order to charge was given, and every man rushed as for revenge into the enemy, who did not face the bayonet, but retired as fast as their legs would allow them. Those that remained held up white flags and begged for mercy, asking to be given a chance, the chance being that they were all taken prisoners, numbering about 200. In storming the heights, I was one of the first to succeed and the sights which met my gaze I shall always remember with a pang of sorrow, dead and wounded lying about in great numbers. I conversed with many of the wounded Dutch and rendered what aid I could to them. As I was charging up the hill I saw two of the Boers locked in each other’s arms, not dead, but they appeared severely wounded. They called to me for assistance and I answered that I would be back in a few minutes to help them, but when I returned they were gone. Most likely they had received assistance from someone else. It was very strange but not one of our regiment was killed and only 34 wounded. The Gordons lost 24 and 70 wounded; the Manchester’s loss was 10 killed and and 31 wounded, while there were other casualties in in different regiments to a large extent. Out of one party of 850 only 230 escaped. The Devons who captured the colours were received with great enthusiasm on arriving at Ladysmith. We fought another engagement on the 23rd and the Boers’ losses on this occasion must have been very great. The regiment came out with one killed and three wounded, and of other regiments engaged I could not say what they suffered. My chum in this fight got a slight wound in the leg. I could describe volumes if time would allow, but we are pressed very closely at this period.

Sydney continued to fight with the 1st Battalion, Devonshire Regiment throughout the Second Boer War. On 8 September 1900, by this time a Lance Corporal, he was reported as “slightly wounded” at Lydenburg, whilst taking the town from Boer forces (see below for more details). Sydney was awarded the following clasps:

  • Elandslaagte;
  • Defence of Ladysmith;
  • Belfast (Battle of Berg-en-dal);
  • King’s South Africa (2);
  • Queen’s South Africa (3).

After official hostilities terminated, Sydney and his regiment remained in the Belfast-Dulstroom-Lydenburg district until the spring of 1902, returning to England in January 1903.

Soon after his return, Sydney died suddenly near Elham, Kent in November 1904. The ‘Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald‘ on 26 November 1904 reported “Soldiers Sad Death: Corporal Anstey dies on his way back to Camp: Inquest touching on the death of Lance Corporal Sydney Anstey, Military Foot Police aged 26. The deceased had been to Folkstone on Tuesday on pleasure, having left his quarters early…the previous night the deceased complained about feeling unwell…he then seemed to gasp for breath and fell to the ground. With the assistance of three other men [witness] picked him up and carried him to the guard room where they discovered he was dead…cause of death was heart failure. Much sympathy is expressed with the relatives of the deceased in the sad loss they have sustained. Anstey was a very popular and zealous non-commissioned officer and was well liked by all his comrades in the Camp. Previously he served in the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment and took part in the battles of Talana Hill and Elaanslaagate and the retreat of the force under Colonel Yule into Ladysmith. He endured the hardships of the siege and fought with his battalion at the fight on Wagon Hill. On the relief of the Garrison by General Buller he served on until the end of hostilities in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, coming home in January 1903“.

Sydney was buried at Topsham Cemetery, the ‘Devon and Exeter Gazette‘ reporting on 28th November 1904 that “yesterday the funeral of the late Lance-Corpl. S. Anstey, of the Military Mounted Police, took place at Topsham Cemetery. Deceased, who died suddenly, served with the Devonshire Regiment in the Boer War“.

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