Food for thought as diet of First World War hero from Chester revealed


Neil Bellis

ARCHIVISTS have added another chapter to one of the most poignant stories unearthed about the First World War.

The intriguing story of Chester-based Kingsman Sydney Upton, who was handed two white feathers by misguided women when home recovering from his wounds, was discovered in his possessions given to the Cheshire Record Office by his youngest daughter.

During the war, white feathers were typically handed out to men not wearing a uniform to shame them into joining the British Army – of which L/Cpl Upton was already an established member.

Now as a result of media publicity seen by his London-based grandson Mike Gordon, another phase of L/Cpl Upton’s war-time experiences has been revealed.

It certainly helped prove Napoleon’s claim “an army marches on its stomach”.

Mr Gordon had intended to donate his own collection of L/Cpl Upton’s First World War effects to the Imperial War Museum but decided instead they belonged with the collection already donated to the record office.

With L/Cpl Upton’s medals, Liverpool Rifles shoulder patches, leather ID tag, trench art lighters, made from spent brass casings of ammunition rounds, and photographs, is a handwritten book of catering requirements for a 220-strong company of troops.

In 1916, while convalescing from his wounds, L/Cpl Upton – who later fought at the Battle of Cambrai and twice escaped as a prisoner of war – was sent to the Army’s School of Cookery at Orford Barracks in Warrington before returning to the front.

His record book details recipes for feeding troops at war, including baked meat and potatoes, roast beef and Yorkshire, rissoles, sausages and a variety of stews and fish dishes, including eel.

Puddings featured largely – from treacle sponge and jam roll to bread and lemon biscuit – together with cakes, caraway seed, currant and coconut, and a variety of gravies, soups and sauces, with brandy and parsley, perhaps the most surprising.

L/Cpl Upton had even compared the cost of baking caraway seed cake for 100 men from ingredients at two shillings eight pence and three farthings, as opposed to buying the cake ready-made at eight shillings and fourpence.

His scrupulously kept notes also detailed water purification and cooking stove-building methods – accompanied by diagrams – and photographs of primitive field cookery in the trenches.

Cllr Stuart Parker, Cheshire West and Chester executive member for culture, said: “Sydney’s records do not change the fact life was extremely hard in the trenches but they do show the Army was trying its best to feed its men appropriately under very trying conditions. Trench warfare was relatively static for long periods, which would have allowed time for supplies to be brought from behind the lines and the sort of menus Sydney had listed, which are perhaps not what we would have imagined.”

Mr Gordon travelled to Chester to deposit his grandfather’s Great War effects with the record office in Duke Street, where he was able to see those given by his late aunt for the first time.

He said: “Like most of his generation my grandfather never spoke about the part he played in the war, except in very oblique terms, although I do remember him telling me he had twice escaped from Prisoner of War camps before being recaptured. I had no idea he had wrongly been presented with the white feathers, let alone kept them. I cannot help wondering what he thought about it after going through so much.”

“I am very grateful to Cheshire Archives and Local Studies for the interest they have shown and for presenting the true story of a man who served his country above and beyond the call of duty. It seems only right that all his records should be preserved here, together as part of a wonderful local history collection.”

Born in Birkenhead, L/Cpl Upton moved to Chester to work with the Inland Revenue and was involved in the work of the Upton-by-Chester British Legion.During the Second World War he again answered he serving as an air raid warden and special constable.

Chapter two of Sydney’s War will form part of the exhibitions and events staged by Cheshire Archives and Local Studies to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War, which began in 1914.

To view the Sydney Upton Flickr set visit

See full story in the Chester Leader

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