Sidney Biddle (1875-?) was a gipsy who had a brief stay in Wickhamford in 1916 when he and his wife, Alice, had a daughter, Coralina, baptised on 10th September. The Baptism Register stated that, apart from his occupation as a Traveller, he was “at present serving in the AVC”, probably meant to imply the Army Veterinary Corps. No service record for this man has been found. This is probably not surprising given the following information which may be seen in newspaper reports of the time which tell a different story.
The Coventry Standard reveals that on Friday 8th September 1916, Sidney Biddle was one of three gipsies charged with being an absentee under the Military Service Act. It was found that Biddle had not registered and was fined 5s and remanded to await a military escort. The Birmingham Daily Post then reported, under the heading “Gypsies and Military Service”, that on Saturday 9th September at Coventry, Sidney Biddle and two others, who had been arrested at Bedworth “on their failure to show cause why they should not be available for the army”, were brought before the magistrates. It was confirmed that Biddle had never registered and was fined £5 and, on the application of Lieutenant James, they were handed over to the military authorities. The next day he was in Wickhamford attending the baptism of his daughter, so had managed to abscond!
Sidney Biddle was back in the Coventry area the following month as on Wednesday 25th October 1916 he appeared at a special petty sessional court held at the County Hall, Coventry, charged with being an absentee under the Military Service Act of 1916. According to The Coventry Evening Telegraph, the reason Biddle had failed to register or report was because he had been ill. The Coventry Standard noted:
“Superintendent Drakeley said the prisoner had been leading an idle life since the beginning of the year, passing most of his time in dodging the police to avoid military service. The prisoner was with three or four other men who were apprehended in March, but he escaped. Lieutenant James (representing the Recruiting Officer at Coventry) said he did not ask for the man to be imprisoned as he was wanted for the army.”
The Magistrates fined Biddle 40 shillings and handed him over to a military escort.
Did Sidney Biddle ever register or did he continue to evade the authorities? We shall probably never know. What we do know is that Sidney Biddle survived the war. He was in trouble again in October 1919 for allowing three horses to stray at Kenilworth and, 20 years later, at the time of the 1939 register, he was living with his wife and four children in a caravan in a field at Martley. But, all his life he appeared to avoid the authorities. According to the 1939 register, he was born on 25th November 1875 but, other than that, no birth, marriage or death record has been found for him or any entry in a census return.