Brothers Oliver and Harold Sykes hoped to enlist together for service when World War l was declared in August 1914. However, while my grandfather Harold, aged 21, was accepted, my great-uncle Oliver, at 19, was too young. Undeterred, Oliver travelled to Melbourne, where he enlisted at Broadmeadows, stating his age as 23.
Not a lot is known about Harold’s war service, but he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion and with service number 375 he sailed on the Euripides on the first convoy from Sydney. He fought at Gallipoli and later in France, receiving shrapnel wounds to his ear and back. He returned to Australia on the Port Sydney on 2 December 1918 and was discharged from service on 3 February 1919.
When Harold returned to Orange he was given a hearty welcome at the railway station. Among those greeting him were the Model Band, VADs, Digger Post, relations and a large number of friends. After the band played ‘Home Sweet Home’, the Mayor, Ald Bouffler, welcomed him home. Others to speak were the Rev J McDonald and Mr P Callahan on behalf of the Returned Soldiers’ Club.
Then the band led a procession as far as William Street, from where Harold’s relations took him back to his home in Bathurst Road. Earlier that day, another Anzac, Corporal T Dalton, returned, having spent much of his time at Gallipoli. There Dalton witnessed the death of Cecil Lidster, another Orange district recruit.
Harold was married less than a year later, as recorded by the Orange Leader newspaper on 25 August 1919:
An attractive military wedding was celebrated at Christ Church, Blayney, on Wednesday afternoon when two young people of the same name, but unrelated, were united by Canon Harris.
The bride was Annie Adelaide Sykes, third daughter of Mr and Mrs Walter Sykes of Neville, and the bridegroom Gunner Harold Sykes, eldest son of Mr James Sykes of Orange. The bridegroom was an Anzac with 4½ years’ service to his credit.
The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a pretty white voile dress with touches of pale pink and wreath and veil, and carried a shower bouquet trimmed with ribbon of the bridegroom’s battalion colours.
The bridesmaid was Miss Minnie Sykes, a younger sister of the bride, whose dress was a pale pink voile with lace overdress and ribbon trimmings. A soldier comrade in Pte Waters supported the bridegroom.
The wedding breakfast was held at Bowyer’s Hotel and the happy couple subsequently left for Sydney to spend their honeymoon. The travelling dress was of navy blue voile with biscuit coloured straw hat.
Harold, who was a carpenter, moved to Chatswood in Sydney in the 1930s, and died at Fremantle, WA, in 1973.
Oliver enlisted twice, firstly as number 1082 on 1 October 1914. He served at Gallipoli but was returned to Australia in September 1915 for medical treatment.
He re-enlisted in February 1916 on the Ballarat, and served in the 31st Infantry in France.
Oliver went AWOL in England for a year at the end of the war, angry that he had not been allowed any leave. His holiday took him to the north of England, but the authorities caught up with him and he had another 12 months’ ‘holiday’ courtesy of HM Prisons.
He worked as a labourer and died in Leeton in 1980 aged 84.
Harold and Oliver Sykes are remembered on several honour boards in Orange, including Orange East Public School and St John’s Presbyterian Church.
This article was prepared by Orange and District Historical Society President David Sykes. It was first published in History Alive: Orange and District Historical Society Newsletter, Spring 2014, p. 9.