No.6641 Private Robert Leonard Sykes
Robert Leonard Sykes was born to George Henry Sykes and Eliza (Elizabeth) Wales.
His parents, George Harry Sykes and Eliza Wales had married at Burrowa, NSW in 1881.
They then had ten children:
- George Henry Sykes (Jnr) - born at Boorowa, New South Wales (No.12356/1882)
- Sarah Jane Sykes - born at Boorowa, New South Wales (No.13134/1883) M
- Walter W Sykes - born at Murrumburrah, New South Wales (No.35031/1885)
- Edith M Sykes - born at Murrumburrah, New South Wales (No.37172/1887) M
- Eliza G Sykes - born at Murrumburrah, New South Wales (No.38520/1888) M
- James A Sykes - born at Murrumburrah, New South Wales in 1891 (No.23336/1891) (served in WW1 as James Arthur Sykes, 2nd Battalion, 798, DOW 2 May 1915)
- Robert Leonard Sykes - born at Hay, New South Wales 1892 (No.16701/1893) (served in WW1 as Robert Leonard Sykes, 17th Battalion, No. 6641A, KIA 9 August 1918)
- Albert E Sykes - born at Hay, New South Wales, in 1894 (No.16094/1894) (served in WW1 as Albert Edwin Sykes, 13th Battalion , 3480, DOW 5 February 1917)
- Ellen E Sykes - born at Hay, New South Wales in 1896 (No.31129/1898) M
- Ethel L Sykes - born at Hay, New South Wales in 1898 (No.31122/1898) M
When Robert Sykes' death was reported in the Goulburn newspaper in 1918, his sisters were identified as:
- Mrs W Davis (Edith M Sykes married William Davis at Goulburn in 1908) *
- Mrs Ryan (Eliza G Sykes married Thomas J Ryan at Goulburn in 1910) **
- Mrs Covil (Ethel L Sykes married Arthur L Covil at Goulburn in 1918) ***
- Mrs Cochrane (Sarah J Sykes married Hyla E Cockram at Goulburn in 1913) ****
- Miss Sykes (Ellen E Sykes married Henry J Hazlewood at Goulburn in 1919 *****
When the Sykes family were located in Hay (c.1894-1898), they lived at Marked Tree Point, on the Gunbar Road. This would have been close to the railway line, which Robert’s father helped to maintain.
The Riverine Grazier, 1 October 1895, p.2.
The Electoral Roll for 1913, locates his parents (George Henry and Eliza Sykes) at Kenmore in the Goulburn District, where his father George Sykes was working as a Ganger with the Railways.
Robert Sykes was working in the Goulburn district as a plumber, before he enlisted.
Robert Leonard Sykes enlisted in the A.I.F. at Goulburn, New South Wales on 25 September 1916.
On his application form to enlist he stated that he was single, and that his mother was his next of kin. Then in the short time between enlisting and his embarkation overseas, Robert Sykes married Molly I. Duffy at Goulburn.
(NSW Marriage Cert No.15815/1916).
After enlisting, Robert Sykes went to the Military Camp at Goulburn, where he completed initial training on 3 October 1916. He was then appointed to “C” Company of the Depot Battalion, and remained with them until 6 November 1916.
He was then transferred to the 55th Battalion at Liverpool (south of Sydney), before being appointed to the 19th reinforcements for the 18th Battalion.
At the age of 25 years, Private Sykes embarked from Sydney on 8 February 1917, with the 19th reinforcements for the 18th Battalion, per A18 H.M.A.T. Wiltshire. Their ship sailed to England, and for the duration of the voyage, he was appointed as an Acting Corporal.
The Wiltshire docked at Devonport, in England, on 11 April 1917, and the reinforcements marched in to the 5th Training Battalion at Rollestone on the following day.
It was decided that Robert Sykes would retain his rank of Acting Corporal, but that wasn’t to last. On 21 April 1917, while at the 5th Training Battalion at Rollestone, he was charged with drunkenness, and after being charged, the penalty was a reduction to the ranks.
On 5 May 1917, Private Sykes became a victim of the influenza epidemic that swept through the country. He was admitted to the Fargo Military Hospital for treatment, and was discharged back to duty on 23 May 1917.
Training continued through the English summer, and on 4 December 1917, Private Sykes proceeded to France via Fovant, as a reinforcement for the 17th Battalion.
He was taken on strength with the 17th Battalion at Le Menegate, on 11 December 1917. Four days later, his unit marched to the front line at Pont de Nieppe.
After three months at the front, Private Sykes was charged with being drunk, while on Active Service, on 11 March 1918. At this time the 17th Battalion were in reserve at Le Rossignol, and the men were engaged in working parties, close to the front. His Commanding Officer heard the charge, and awarded him an admonishment.
Private Robert Sykes was killed in action during the large offensive at Amiens on 9 August 1918. The 17th Battalion’s casualties over the one week of intense fighting were; 20 Officers wounded, four Other Rank killed, and 45 Other Ranks wounded.
Robert Sykes was buried near Harbonnieres, and later re-buried at the Heath Military Cemetery, Picardie, France.
His burial service was conducted by the Rev F W Tengwellatt.
The death of Private Robert Leonard Sykes was reported in the Goulburn Evening Penny Post. It mentions that he is the third son of Mrs Sykes, of the Gates, Kenmore, to be killed in the war. There was another son still at the front. His five sisters living in Australia were listed.
Goulburn Evening Penny Post, 3 September 1918, p.4.
His Memorial Plaque was delivered to his widow, Mrs Mollie I. O’Neill on the 23 November 1922.
His King’s Message and Memorial Scroll was delivered to his widow, Mrs Mollie I. O’Neill on 1 December 1922.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal – No.56188
- Victory Medal – No. 55309
Name on the Werribee Shire Oak Board: SYKES, R.
Name on the Werribee Cenotaph: SYKES, R.
A possible Werribee Shire relative was Charles W.Sykes of Tottenham. He wrote to the Werribee Shire Council on 30 January 1915, asking that the Tottenham Estate be brought into the Sanitary area. (see also next paragraph)
Melton Express, 6 February 1915, p.4.
It is suspected that this soldier was a relative of Mr C.W. Sykes who also lived at West Footscray at this time. He applied to the Werribee Shire Council in 1915, to have his house included in the local sanitary district.
Werribee Shire Banner, 4 February 1915, p.3.
The entry "(K) Sykes, R., West Footscray" first appeared in the Roll of Honor, Werribee Shire Banner, 13 February 1919, p.3.
In 1919, he was the second “Sykes, R. “ to have his name included in the Roll of Honor, published in the
Werribee Shire Banner, 13 February 1919, p.3.
There were three Australian men named "Sykes, R." that were killed in the Great War. The other two were:
Pte Robert Percival Sykes, No. 2812A, 18th Battalion.
KIA 29 June 1916 from the Goulburn area in New South Wales.
Pte Robert Richard Sykes, No. 5452, 19th Battalion. KIA 8 August 1918 from the Blacktown area in New South Wales.
None of the Sykes that were killed have an obvious link to Werribee or even Victoria. It is thought thatk that Robert Sykes (No.6641), whose story is above, is the closest match.
* Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950 (Ancestry.com)
** Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950 (Ancestry.com)
*** Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950 (Ancestry.com)
**** Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950 (Ancestry.om)
*****Australian Marriage Index 1788-1950 (Ancestry.com)
Unit War Diary