The LSO in World War I: Sydney Moxon

By | August 4, 2014 at 10:20 am | 2 comments | Archives | Tags:

On 4 August 2014, 100 years since the entry of Great Britain into World War I, we are remembering trumpeter Sydney Moxon.

Sydney was the first member of the LSO that we began to research as part of our project. We knew from the minutes of the AGM of London Symphony Orchestra Ltd, held on 27 July 1917, that Sydney had sadly been killed in action whilst serving in France:

“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.

But what else could we find out about Sydney? We looked him up on Lives of the First World War and started piecing together his story.

Sydney Harvey Moxon was born in Greek St, Soho in 1879. He was the son of goldsmith George J Moxon and Christina Elizabeth Moxon, and his father ran the family jewellery business. He had an elder sister Louise Marie, born 1875 and two elder brothers, Edward and Ernest, both of whom went on to be jewellers like their father – it seems that Sydney was the only musician in this family, ignoring the family trade.

In 1901 22-year-old Sydney lived with his brothers in their shop which they ran together in Peckham. He had become a member of the King’s Trumpeters, an elite group of musicians who were obliged to perform at His Majesty’s special request. He joined the London Symphony Orchestra in 1907, first appearing at a concert on 11 February 1907 in the Queen’s Hall conducted by Hans Richter. Along with the rest of the LSO, Sydney travelled to America in 1912 on the very first tour by a European orchestra.

We know that Sydney was also an active musician outside of the LSO. On joining the Royal Society of Musicians on 4 July 1909, he wrote the biography “Member London Symphony Orchestra, Member New Theatre (present engagement), Late solo Cornet Royal Meister Orchestra, Margate. Do. Pier Hastings & Weymouth Orchestra”. During these years Sydney had moved in with his sister Louise, husband Frederick Charles Sibley and their son Frederick John in Forest Hill, and then later to Chiswick. It seems that he had never married – probably not surprising for a busy musician travelling around the country to perform. He was a cultured man, fluent in French and a member of the Freemasons.

After the outbreak of war in August 1914 it seems that Sydney joined up very early, before compulsory service was introduced. He was part of 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. 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 – 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)

Sydney’s Battalion was sent to France on 15 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. At 0800 on 19 October 1916 the brigade took over the section of the Bluff and then on 22 October the Germans blew two or three mines near craters on the Bluff. On 25 October Sydney lost his life in this area whilst helping a wounded colleague to safety. He was 38. Sydney was buried in Woods Cemetery, Zillebeke in West Flanders, 3 miles south of Ypres.

He was mourned by his family back home – he left his effects to his brother-in-law Charles – and by the London Symphony Orchestra who noted his bravery at the AGM in 1917.

How can you help?

There are many things that we don’t know about Sydney:

  • What was he like?
  • Where did he go to school?
  • How did he come to be a musician rather than following the family trade?
  • Did he get married?
  • Why did he decide to join up?
  • What was his life as a soldier like?
  • What exactly were the circumstances around his death?
  • How did his colleagues and family back home react?
  • Is he listed on a war memorial in Chiswick, where he last lived?

Are you related to Sydney, or know of any of his living relatives? Do you have any photos of him, or the LSO, during the war? If you can answer any of the above questions, please do add them to Sydney’s Life Story page on Lives of the First World War, or get in contact with our archivist Libby Rice on libby.rice@lso.co.uk.

2 Comments

  1. Susi (1 month ago)

    Here at MusicB3 we just wanted to say how much we are enjoying, and appreciating, the LSO’s WWI blog. It’s fascinating to read the stories behind all those extraordinary men who made the ultimate sacrifice and which bring that sacrifice into sharp focus. SW.

    • Jo Johnson (1 month ago)

      Thank you Susi. It has been fascinating uncovering the individual stories, which are not always as straightforward as they seem at first glance. And there’s much more to come yet!

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