Throughout the centenary commemmorations of World War I we have been researching the history of the LSO and its musicians during the war years. Today, 100 years after his death while on active service, we remember trumpeter Sydney Moxon.
Born in 1879, Sydney Moxon joined the London Symphony Orchestra in 1907, three years after its formation, at the age of 28. Living with his brothers Edward and Ernest in their jewellery shop in Peckham, Sydney was making a living as a freelance musician before he joined the Orchestra, and was a member of The King's Trumpets, an elite group of musicians who would play for His Majesty King Edward VII at his request.
He was also an active musician outside of the LSO, maintaining engagements with orchestras, theatres and bands around the country. His self-written biography for the Royal Society of Musicians, which he joined in July 1909, reads "Member London Symphony Orchestra, Member New Theatre (present engagement), Late solo Cornet Royal Meister Orchestra, Margate. Do. Pier Hastings & Weymouth Orchestra".
But his work with the LSO kept him busy – our records show that the trumpet section would play around 22 concerts each per season, and that was just the 'own promoted' series at the Queen's Hall in London. This was a time at which the LSO were in demand around the country, travelling to Cardiff, Bristol, Cambridge, Cheltenham, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bradford, Edinburgh and beyond on what were known as the 'Percy Harrison Tours', an annual tour of the UK bankrolled by the the Birmingham impressario, Percy Harrison. In 1912, along with the rest of the LSO, Sydney travelled to America on the very first tour by a European orchestra, spending six weeks away.
It was not really too much of a surprise to find that such a busy musician had never married. By 1911, Sydney had moved in with his elder sister Louise and her husband Frederick Sibley in Forest Hill, later moving with them to Chiswick.
'Letters were read from Messrs Moxon & Hall intimating that they had enlisted in the Territorials and asking that their positions in Orchestra might be kept open until their return. The Board commended Messrs Hall & Moxon for their Patriotic action, and furthermore passed a resolution to the effect "That members who have joined the army for the duration of the war shall be exempt from paying deputies fees, and their positions kept open."'
When the war broke out in August 1914 Sydney joined up early. We know from our research that many of the 40 or so other members of the LSO who served in the war did not join up until later, many in 1916 once conscription had been brought into play. However, Sydney and his colleague in the trumpet section Ernest Hall (who had joined the LSO in 1912) both volunteered early, earning themselves a commendation for 'patriotic action' from their colleagues on the LSO Board, which lead to the resolution that serving members' positions would be kept open for them and that they would be exempt from paying fees for the deputies who replaced them.
Sydney volunteered for the London Regiment, 15th (County of London) Battalion (Prince of Wales' Own Civil Service Rifles), a territorial unit, which had its headquarters at Somerset House on The Strand in central London. Sydney was given the rank of Sergeant Bugler and the service number 2488, a number which dates from around September 1914. It's not known whether Sydney was required to perform as a bugler during his service, although it's nice to think that he was in charge of waking up the men every morning with the Reveille. He certainly had the lungs for it – his war record shows that he had a highly unusual chest expansion measurement of 6 inches, and his favourite party trick was to take a deep breath and send his tunic buttons flying!
Sergeant Bugler Sydney Moxon with two young French girls in Bruay, June 1916. Photo from The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War 'All Bloody Gentlemen' by Jill Knight, p.75, published in 2004 by Pen & Sword ISBN1 84415 253 7
Photo IWM (Q640)
The Civil Service Rifles battalion was sent to France on 17 March 1915 and became part of 140 Brigade 47th (London) Division, who were billeted at the village of Cauchy a la Tour. The photo above was taken whist in France, and the two girls with his are from the village of Bruay, a few miles away. He was a popular figure with the locals because of his fluent French. By 16 October 1915 the 140th Brigade were established in the Ypres Salient, where they stayed for nearly a year, helping to hold the defensive front line against the German Army. The conditions must have been pretty awful: this area of Belgium is low-lying and prone to flooding, and the water-logged and muddy trenches in which the men lived became the symbol of the war.
At 0800 on 19 October 1916 the Brigade took over the section of the bluff, but on 22 October the Germans blew two or three mines near craters on the bluff. On 25 October Sydney lost his life whilst carrying a wounded soldier to safety whilst under enemy fire. He was 38. Sydney was buried in Woods Cemetery, Zillebeke in West Flanders, 3 miles south of Ypres.
The news of Sydney's death was received back home by his family. His personal effects were left to his brother-in-law, Charles, and Sydney was honoured by his colleagues in the London Symphony Orchestra. The minutes of the Orchestra's Annual General Meeting on 27 July 1917 record the Orchestra's deep regret at his death and mention his bravery. It also makes mention of the other members who were then away on service – 34 of them. Soon afterwards the LSO would all but cease activities during the remainder of the war because of financial difficulties.
"Sympathetic reference was made in regard to those members of the Orchestra whom had joined His Majesty's Forces, viz: Messrs WH Reed, Philip Lewis, E Carwardine, H Ralph, T Peatfield, ER Wilby, R Carrodus, B Reillie, S Freedman, J Meacham, A Tibbetts, A Ives, C Woodhouse, CB Jones, F Hawkins, Roy Robertson, E Yonge, C Dorling, P Kilburn, R Garnet, CA Crabbe, A Maney, C Blackford, RV Tabb, JH Silvester, R Murchie, F Almgill, E J Augarde, H Thornton, A Penn, H Jackson, E Hall, S Moxon, ET Garvin. Deep regret was expressed at the untimely death of Sydney Moxon, killed in action in France, whilst conveying a wounded man to a place of safety."
Remembering Sydney Harvey Moxon, his bravery and his courage, 100 years after his death.