The Rev. Sydney Rangeley Hewitt, O.B.E., Chaplain 4th Class, Army Chaplains’ Department
attd. 6th Field Amb. Royal Army Medical Corps
Died of influenza and pneumonia 16th February 1919 in Germany, aged 27
Sydney Rangeley Hewitt was born in Macclesfield in 1889, the son of Rachel (nee Frost) and Thomas H Hewitt, a schoolmaster at Mill Street Wesleyan School, Macclesfield. In 1891, one-year-old Sydney was living at 50 Prestbury Rd, Macclesfield with his parents and four-year-old sister Dora. By 1901 the family had moved to Fir Grove, 43 Victoria Road, Macclesfield and also included Ethel (17) and Charles (16), who must have been away from home at the time of the previous census.
Sydney was educated by his father at Mill Street School and won a scholarship to Macclesfield Grammar School, which he attended until the age of eighteen. In 1911 Sydney was assistant schoolmaster at Mossley Hall boys’ day and boarding school, Congleton.
Sydney’s parents later lived at Sydney Cottage, Gawsworth, Macclesfield.
In 1915 Sydney gained a commission into the Army, and landed in France on 5 January 1917. He was twice mentioned in dispatches.
Captain Hewitt became ill in January 1919 when in Germany. His death was reported in the Macclesfield Times on 21 February 1919:
CAPTAIN S R HEWITT: DEATH IN HOSPITAL AT DUREN – PROMISING CAREER TRAGICALLY ENDED
Profound sympathy will go out to Mr T H Hewitt, headmaster of Mill Street Wesleyan School, and Mrs Hewitt, Fir Grove, Victoria Road, Macclesfield,in the heavy blow they have sustained by the death under sad circumstances of their youngest son, Captain the Rev S R Hewitt. After enduring, as a Chaplain to the Forces, the hardships of the campaign on the Western Front, during which he passed through many exciting personal adventures, the Captain has fallen victim to the influenza outbreak. His death, which occurred in hospital at Duren, near Cologne, whither he had accompanied the Army of victory, is officially stated to be due to influenza and bronchial pneumonia.
Captain Hewitt, who was 29 years of age, had been laid aside with illness about three weeks. His parents received the first notification, informing them that he was dangerously ill with influenza, on January 28th. Pneumonia supervened, and the captain, cheery and bright throughout, put up a brave fight for existence. He received in the hospital the best of attention… Later messages became more and more hopeful and when three picture postcards arrived on Saturday morning, conveying the intelligence, in his own handwriting, that he was “out of the wood,” Mr and Mrs Hewitt were distinctly cheered and believed their son was on the high road to recovery… Letters from the sister stated that the Captain was much better, though naturally weak, but there was the intimation that he was taking nourishment, and it was intended, in a short time, to send him to the base and thence to England… The official wire from the War Office on Tuesday, recording his death on the previous Sunday came as a great shock to the parents…
In the tragic passing of Captain Hewitt, the Wesleyan Connexion has lost an able young minister, and a career full of promise has been untimely closed. He was home on leave at Christmas, and his last public appearance in Macclesfield was on New Year’s Eve, when he conducted the watchnight service at the Trinity Wesleyan Chapel, with which place of worship he had been associated from boyhood… Captain Hewitt received his early scholastic training under his father at the Mill Street School, adn at the age of 13 proceeded with a scholarship he had won to the Macclesfield Grammar School. There he remained until he was 18. Apart from his studies, in which he made splendid progress, the Captain became prominent on the athletic side and was a member of the school’s cricket and football teams.
After leaving the Grammar School Capt. Hewitt accepted an appointment as second master at the Mossley Hall secondary school, Congleton, where he remained for 18 months… he had, int he meantime, become a local preacher in the Macclesfield Wesleyan Circuit, where he was also connected in an official capacity, with the Trinity Wesleyan Sunday School… He fostered a natural bent for the ministry and passed the entrance examinations for admission to one of the Connexional theological training establishments. Prior to entering, he engaged for twelve months in pastoral work at Dowlais, Wales, where he ranked as second minister, and his labours were so acceptable to the people as to merit from them a parting gift of a gold watch. He then became a student at Headingley College and was completing his training when war broke out. Volunteering for service, he was first attached, as an assistant chaplain, to a camp near Doncaster, Yorks, where he gained valuable experience, and in 1915… was granted a commission as captain and took up duty as chaplain to the Portsmouth Garrison… At Christmas 1916 he was drafted to France, where he had been ever since.
In France the Captain was attached to the 2nd Division, and, in addition to his work as chaplain in ministering to the needs of the wounded and comforting the dying, he undertook the management of canteens and the supervision of vans from which refreshments were dispensed… His duties often took him very near to the firing line and Captain Hewitt and the party of men in his charge had narrow escapes on many occasions. In one dug-out four of his men were killed by a shell; another time, when in the neighbourhood of Arras, a hut from which he had just taken his departure was blown to pieces… While at Cambrai last October he volunteered to render assistance in the first dressing-station and a bomb from an aeroplane, falling near his tent, rendered him unconscious and produced shell-shock… He was deservedly popular… For his work in the Spring retreat Captain Hewitt had the honour of being mentioned in dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig.
It was not an uncommon occurrence for the Church of England Chaplin to invite Captain Hewitt to deliver the address at soldiers’ services, and on thanksgiving Sunday, following the signing of the Armistice, he had the distinction of speaking to an assembly of troops numbering over 1,000. After his return from leave in January he gave courses of instruction to officers and men at Duren in history, mathematics, English, etc, and his last letter home contained a description of his visit to Cologne…
Captain Hewitt… was a former member of the Macclesfield Cricket Club… [he possessed] a fine baritone voice and he appeared, during his furloughs, at some of the concerts for wounded soldiers organised at the Trinity Wesleyan Institute. It was his intention, upon his release from the Army, to read for his B.D. degree and take up mission work in the Connexion… The greatest sympathy is felt for Mr and Mrs Hewitt…
Captain Hewitt was posthumously awarded the O.B.E., to date from 15th February 1919 (i.e. the day before he died).
The Rev Sydney Hewitt is buried in grave ref. IX. F. 22. in Cologne Southern Cemetery. His father asked for the inscription “WE PRAYED HE MIGHT HAVE LIFE THOU HAST GIVEN HIM LIFE FOR EVERMORE” to be added to his headstone.
In Macclesfield, The Rev Sydney Hewitt is commemorated on the Park Green, Town Hall, St Michael’s Church, Macclesfield Grammar School and Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Church war memorials. Elsewhere, he is commemorated on a plaque below a stained glass window at Headingley Wesleyan Methodist College, Leeds (now known as Hinsley Hall).
GRO (England & Wales) Index: Births
Census (England & Wales): 1891, 1901, 1911
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website
Lives of the First World War website
Macclesfield Times: 21 February 1919
London Gazette: 3 June 1919 (Supplement)