The 182 names on the St Mary’s Church war memorial served in a diverse collection of over fifty regiments of the British Army. Only two of them were ‘Biscuit Boys’ and Sidney Frank Cullimore was one of them. That was the name given to the men of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, so called because their barracks were just down the road from the Huntley and Palmer biscuit factory in Reading. Indeed H&P supplied the army with their delicious standard issue ‘hardtack’ biscuits. According to the Imperial War Museum ‘a typical way of rendering the product more edible was to grind or crumble the biscuit and add water to make a paste or ‘duff’ which could be added to mixed vegetables or stew’. Yummy. Idly googling the other evening, I stumbled upon David Knight’s website and the fact that Sidney Cullimore is on a war memorial in the village of East Garston, near Lambourne, the famous horserace-training town where he was born. Even more excitingly, there was a photo of him, resplendent in his Sergeant’s stripes! He joined the Berkshires less than a month after the start of the war and tragically was killed just nine days before its end. The action in which Sidney was wounded was one of the final great allied pushes of the war. Driving the Germans from the Rhonelle river near Valenciennes on 26th October, he was caught in a gas-shell barrage. Ironically later that day his battalion were stood down, they returned to their base and the war was over for The Biscuit Boys. Sidney died a week later on 2nd November 1918. He is buried in Cross Roads Cemetery in the village of Fontaine-au-Bois.
Saddest of all was the fact that Sidney had gone back home to marry his fiancee in East Garston Church just two weeks before he was killed. It would appear that he had three brothers who also all served in the First World War, one even returning from his new home in Canada to join up. Sidney was a farm worker, a horseman according to the 1911 census and it would appear that he moved around a lot, working on various farms. Its just possible that his travels might have taken him to one of the farms on the edge of Summerstown. Indeed the info about him on ‘Forces War Records’ tantalisingly notes that although Sidney was based in Aldworth, Berkshire, he ‘lived in London’. David Knight made some enquiries in the neighbourhood and there was a recollection that ‘a sister may have lived in Earlsfield’. We can’t quite work out his connection with this area but he is most certainly one of our Summerstown182. In the St Mary’s parish magazine of January 1919, Reverend Robinson notes that ‘Sergt. S Cullimore, Berkshire Regiment was killed in action on November 2nd’. There is no doubt that it is the same man and the next time I sit down with a nice cup of tea I shall nibble on a hobnob and raise my mug to the memory of the Summerstown182 Biscuit Boy.
UPDATE: In October 2015 with our Belgian friend Bart Seynaeve at the wheel we visited Sidney Cullimore’s grave. Just before that we’d found a rusted old horseshoe in the field next to a nearby cemetery at Peronne. This was War Horse country and close to the site of the battle of Le Cateau where the British Expeditionary Force escaped the advancing German First Army. It was hard to imagine the mayhem of thousands of horses and men participating in cavalry charges in 1914 but that horseshoe helped us. Bearing in mind that our next stop was to visit a horseman, it all seemed highly symbolic and we took it with us. At Cross Roads Cemetery, my brother, unaware that we were honouring a Biscuit Boy, happened to produce a packet of chocolate digestives and an impromptu ceremony followed. We’ve still got the horseshoe and a year later it caused great interest when during our project with Burntwood School I was able to use it to help tell Sidney’s story.