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Yorkshire Light Infantry, The - Actions on the Western Front in WWI (World War 1, First Great European War) to 1915
Yorkshire Light Infantrymen Among First Reported Casualties of Great War
The names and number of officers killed was, unfortunately, an almost everyday headline in the papers of the day. This was not so, however, on September 2nd, 1914, the day on which the first report of officers killed in the Great War was made to the public back at home, and that list, consequently, caused much concern, and not a little notice.
One heading read “killed”; under this thirty-five names were reported. Eleven of these, about a third, belonged to the gallant Yorkshire Light Infantry. That was not all, as the battalion also had two reported wounded and three reported missing.
About a month later the publication of a long list of non-commissioned officers and men killed, wounded, and missing was circulated.
"And what stir
Keeps good old York there with his men
of war." - Shakespeare, 'Richard II'.
The First Shell
These reports related something of the deeds the British Army undertook in those dark, disturbing, horrific, days of August, 1914. With the passage of time some of that story can now be told in greater detail.
The 2nd Battalion of the Yorkshire Light Infantry was in Dublin when war broke out, and, on August 7th, 1914, they embarked upon a troopship, and steamed away towards the continent.
On Thursday, August 20th, they received the order to move, and away they marched. In was hot that August, but they were all in a fit condition, and, in spite of the heat, they marched thirty-two miles the first day, and next morning they were on the march again.
They soon reached the border and crossed from France into Belgium. In Belgium almost the first thing they saw was a Union Jack and a big canvas sign flapping in the mild breeze that had sprung up. On the sign were the welcoming words:
"Welcome to our British comrades."
The Belgians were as grateful as anyone could be that Britain had come to aid them in their hour of need; and their need was great, and the hour was pressing.
On Saturday afternoon they had managed to get to within just three miles of Mons; there they halted, had some refreshment (the usual brew-up of 'Tommy Adkins'), and slept the night in a place that suited them well: a brewery.
On Sunday morning the Yorkshiremen, after some short respite, were smoking and generally not doing anything strenuous, watching the motors go by with Staff officers inside. Then they heard the booming of guns in the distance, and about midday a shell exploded about a half mile from their position.
This was their cue for action, and soon afterwards they were ordered to fall in. After a short march they found themselves near the canal bank. It was time to stop and dig some trenches for themselves. Once completed they looked out and waited for the Germans, who, they had been informed, were moving towards the canal.
The First Months of the Great War
Yorshiremen at the Battle of Le Cateau
That afternoon the enemy could be seen in the distance moving through a wood, and as soon as they were out, and near enough to hit, the men received the order to fire. The Yorkshiremen were the first to aim, and get a volley off.
Many Germans were killed, but they were not dissuaded. Others came on, and after dark the men of the regiment, although having had very few losses, were ordered to fall back.
The Battle of Le Cateau was fought on Wednesday, August 26th, and it was here that the Yorkshire Light Infantry lost so many officers and men. It was a day which should never be forgotten for as long as the Yorkshire regiment endures.
The Second Army Corps, under General Smith-Dorrien's command, dug some trenches on a line stretching from Le Cateau to Cambrai, and waited there for the Germans to arrive.
They did not have to wait long. It seemed as if it was Mons all over again.
The Germans marched bravely towards the British trenches, and were shot down in their hundreds, and thousands.
Again and again this happened; however, unbeknownst to Allied troops, others of Von Kluck's men were manoeuvring round the ends of the British line. It was all too soon before the Yorkshires found themselves being fired at, not only from the front, but also from both sides.
They withstood this onslaught for a long period of time, until about hall-past three in the afternoon, when the general finally gave the order to retire.
The Yorkshiremen had a very bad time in this engagement. One by one the other battalions managed to get safely away, all except the Yorkshire Light Infantry. They were the last to get out of there.
After some time had passed it looked as if the trenches were entirely deserted, except of course for dead bodies, the litter of battle, broken pieces of ordnance of shot and shell which had been thrown down upon them, and all those traces of an army's presence that are left behind.
But it was not quite so deserted as it at first seemed. In some of the trenches were the last of Smith-Dorrien's men: two companies of the Yorkshires.
They had started out with about four hundred and fifty men, but many had been killed and many more had been stretchered off to the ambulances and field hospital posts.
Only a few remained, and soon the majority of this remainder were dead or injured.
The Charge of the Nineteen
In command of these two remaining companies was Major C. A. L. Yate, a soldier who had fought in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.
He soon realised what had happened. He had been left behind, and he immediately made up his mind what he had to do next.
He called for those of his men who were unwounded. There were just nineteen of them, nineteen, the remains of four hundred and fifty!
It seemed perfectly hopeless, but instead of ordering them to skulk away, or to wait until darkness, he lined them up, and led them in a last bayonet charge against the Germans. Nineteen brave soldiers against hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the enemy. What could they have achieved? They could do very little, perhaps nothing.
Major Yate and those of his band that survived, were taken prisoners, and the enemy occupied their trenches, where they found many dead and wounded.
Major Yate was reported dead, but this was not correct. Somehow he had survived.
By his gallantry Major Yate had earned his Victoria Cross, and on November 25th it was awarded to him.
Also at Le Cateau, another Yorkshireman won a Victoria Cross. Lance-Corporal F. W. Holmes, won his by first carrying a wounded soldier out of the trenches to safety, and then returning to help the artillery.
The soldier was a driver who had been badly wounded and it seemed as if his gun could not be retrieved. Whereupon, amid shellfire and the plunging of the horses, Holmes rushed out, seized their reins, and extracted the team from danger.
After fighting at the Battle of the Aisne, the Yorkshire Light Infantry were in the thick of it again in Flanders in October, where they found themselves in heavy fighting near Givenchy, at first advancing and then being driven back by the Germans.
Aisne - Marne Operation
Yorkshire Light Infantry, “The Minden Men”
The King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, to give them their full name, consists of the old 51st and 105th Regiments of the Line.
The 51st was first raised in 1755 by two Yorkshiremen, the Marquess of Rockingham and Sir George Savile. It was one of the six British regiments which fought at Minden.
"Every British lad,"
said Mr. Fortescue, the British Army historian,
" should know the name of the Minden regiments, and should be taught to take off his hat to them if ever he should have the good fortune to meet them."
On August 1st, the anniversary of the Battle of Minden, the Yorkshire Light Infantry wear roses to commemorate their glorious deeds against the French.
The regiment remained in Germany for a few years, and then served in Minorca, Corsica, India and Ceylon. For two years Sir John Moore was its colonel, and under him it fought at Corunna.
Other battles in Spain in which the Yorkshiremen took part were Salamanca, Vittoria, Nivelle and Orthes.
They were at the storming of Badajoz, and in the "… thin red line" at Waterloo.
Burma, Afghanistan, Tirah and South Africa bring their story down to the time of the Great War.
The regiment's motto is "Cede nullis," or 'yield to none', and its badge is a white rose, as one would have expected.
Strengthened and refreshed, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry returned to the front line early in the New Year. On January 19th, 1915, Lance-Corporal F.B. Finney, won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for climbing through the serried rows of barbed-wire in front of the German trenches and bringing back valuable information.
The Yorkshires at “Hill 60”
The Yorkshires lost quite a number of officers and men in defending “Hill 60” against savage German attacks.
A few days later they were sent to help the Canadians, taking their stand at a critical point in the British line, near the deadly spot named 'Shell-trap Farm'.
Day after day they were bombarded with a tempest of heavy ordnance; day after day their numbers dwindled progressively, but they held on, just as they had done at Le Cateau, and on April 30th they were re-established at their old quarters near "Hill 60."
Another name for Yorkshire folk to remember is Frezenberg Ridge, for on May 8th the 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Lights had a dreadful time there.
The Germans committed to a strong attack on the centre of the British line, beginning early on that Saturday morning. After a long day of desperate fighting the battalion, the remainder of it at least, was forced to retire about a mile, but from their new line the Yorkshiremen would not budge.