Sydney Stuart Sylvester sits calmly in the front row of the 1913-14 Saracens team alongside his team-mates, not staring directly into the camera lens, but rather appearing somewhat reflective as the photographer captured this poignant image of the last Club side that would wear Saracens colours before the outbreak of war. He was just 20 years old.
As followers of this project will learn in the coming weeks, Sydney Sylvester was to volunteer as an Army recruit in the days following Great Britain’s declaration of war, and would see action in France on the Western Front.
But more of that later…first of all, who was this young man, and what do we know of his pre-war life?
Sydney was born on 25th August,1893. His parents, Henry & Ellen Sylvester lived in a house in Cairo Terrace, off Victoria Road in Arnos Grove – very close to the current Saracen Amateur RFC ground at Bramley Road, Southgate. He was the fourth son in a large family of 5 boys, attending school locally in the Wood Green area. His father, Henry, was born in 1849 and worked in Sydney’s early life as a Commercial Traveller, later becoming a Mechanical Engineer in the years immediately before the outbreak of World War 1.
Sydney was clearly a talented athlete, and first appears in the Saracens team line-up in the 1909-10 team photograph, at the age of 17.
He is remembered by the author of the first Saracens Club History, published in 1926 by O.R.G Williams, as playing in the Club’s 1911-12 season internal ‘England v. The Rest of the World (or rather, Scotland)’ fixture…”Eventually England scored after a brilliant passing movement in which Bongard, Sylvester, Irving and Whytehead handled for the latter to score…It was a fine open game and, indeed, a harder, keener game has seldom been seen in Southgate”
By the 1913-14 season, playing at half-back, he is recorded as scoring 3 tries for the Club, and named in the side “considered by contemporaries to be probably the best Saracens could field that season”.
O.R.G. Williams went on to note in his review of the 1913-14 season that the 1st XV finished with 9 wins and 1 draw from 22 games – an improvement over the previous season, and that “S.S. Sylvester seemed to be able to wriggle through any obstacle on the field“!
But the outbreak of war was to deny these young Saracens players the chance to consolidate their improved performances on the rugby fields of London and the South East in 1914-15. Sydney, like many of his team-mates, was to answer the call to arms in August 1914. The Saracens players in the 1913-14 team photograph would never be able to reunite post-war.
To find out more about Sydney Sylvester’s contributions to our Club and Country, please follow his history as it unfolds on this Saracens World War 1 Project website…