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The first report that I found in the Peterborough Advertiser which mentioned Sam was quite early on in the war in the December 1914 issue. This simply stated that Fred Sykes, who had played football for Peterborough United before the war, had been killed, and that Sam had been with him at the hour of his death.

In the next story printed in the 6th February, 1915 issue it stated:

“Mrs Yerrell of 78 Belsize Avenue,” (the family had obviously moved from South Street sometime after Sam had enlisted), “has received letters from both her sons at the front. Sgt. Samuel Yerrell of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment and Corporal John William Yerrell of the 2nd Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. Sgt. Samuel Yerrell has received a melodeon and some mouthorgans from Mr J W Claypole of Narrow Street, (Peterborough) and with these instruments the men lighten many a weary hour in the trenches. Sgt. Yerrell is one of the few survivors of the battalion which suffered severely from German treachery. He says, ‘Don’t worry mother, I have been lucky up to now and hope to pull through and some day come marching home again.’ Corporal Yerrell says, ‘We have arrived in France after a long and cold journey, and we are coming up to the firing line in two or three days time, but I am happy enough, it is a bit cold yet but the sun gets a bit warm during the day. Remember me to all.’”

The “German treachery” mentioned appears to refer to an incident when, after a group of Germans surrendered and raised the white flag, members of the battalion moved from cover to take them prisoner. As the Northamptonshires moved out in to the open the Germans dropped their flags and opened fire, killing quite a number of British soldiers. The Germans themselves were all eventually killed. This was not an isolated incident and the same thing happened to the Regiment again in September of 1915 when they were fighting on the Aisne.

The next story appeared on 6th March, 1915:

“Sgt. S. Yerrell, 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, son of Mrs Yerrell, 78, Belsize Avenue, who has been at the front since August, was recently promoted to his present rank on the field. He was instrumental with others in capturing several German soldiers who had taken protection in a Red Cross van. Mrs. Yerrell has another son, Leading Signalman Frederick George Yerrell who is at present engaged in the Naval operations in the Dardenelles. Writing home he says, ‘We must have our revenge for what the Germans have done to our shores, and we shall have the pleasure of seeing the German warship Goeben sunk after escaping us six months ago when it caused us great anxiety and many uncomfortable nights at sea.’ Another son of Mrs Yerrell’s, Corporal John William Yerrell of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders went to the front six weeks ago.”

The Northamptonshire Regiment suffered greatly at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915 as the next story, printed on 19th June, 1915, shows only too well:

SGT YERRELLS STORY OF THE 9TH

Sgt. S. Yerrell, of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, who’s mother lives at 78, Belsize Avenue, writes, ‘I hope you will be able to find space to insert this letter from two or three men from Peterborough who have been out here since 12th of August, with 1st Northants’ thus having had about ten months of good hard fighting. The names of us are, Corp. Bradley, Lance/Corp. B. Cape, Pte. J. Davey and the writer Sgt. S. Yerrell.

I will do my best to give you an idea of what it was like on the 9th of May, when our regiment suffered great losses. We were marched off on the night of the 8th to take up our position in the trenches, and the men went with good heart and only too eager to grapple with the enemy. All instructions were given to the men before hand as to what they had to do, the morning of the 9th broke upon us with the sun shining on the battlefield, the birds giving us a cheerful song as we partook of a little food just before the great attack.

At 5am we heard the tumbling sound overhead, as if a lot of machines were working, it was the opening up of the bombardment by our artillery, by looking over the trench and seeing houses brought to the ground in a cloud of red and black smoke, we knew that this was the firing of our big gun known to us as ‘Mother.’ It had fired three or four times when all of a sudden about a thousand guns of different calibre opened fire with a terrible rapidity, and it was as if the air was alive with shells which played ‘Old Harry’ with the enemy’s trenches. We crouched down behind our own trenches waiting for the word ‘Advance,’ whilst the shells went on before us with a message of death, playing havoc with everything in front. At last the watches of the officers pointed to 5.31am, with the artillery still coughing, and the Germans answering with ‘Jack Johnsons’ which they plugged into our trenches with showers of shrapnel over our heads. When the order came down the lines, ‘Over the top and advance,’ all the soldiers, some of whom had been fighting for months, some who were about to have their baptism of fire, joined in

Sam Yerrell

Sergeant Samuel Yerrell, 1st, Northamptonshire Regiment. On the back of this postcard Sam has written: “I’m off to fight a sausage.”

the biggest attack ever known. It was grand to see how everyone behaved, for it was as if the whole army jumped up like one man to go out for their revenge on an enemy who had debased himself by murdering innocent women and children. We went out to meet the dreadful fire of machine guns and rifles amid a constant rain of bursting shells, which decimated our men, but still they went on, but with one object in front of them, to drive the enemy from the position and to gain victory for England.

The front line consisted of ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, and two companies of the Royal Sussex, who have proved themselves to be a good lot of fighters. With men falling all around, the two companies of our regiment went on until within 300 yards of the barbed wire with the remainder of the regiment coming up on our left and at the rear. At this point we found that we could not get any further, and one officer gave the command for his men to get in line with him and lie down, unlucky he was for a shot killed him there and then. It was awful, for the enemy knowing how we were fixed fired on us with machine guns killing our wounded as they were trying to creep back to cover, and the other men who were at their mercy. It was the worst thing I have been through, when I could see what had happened I made cover for myself whilst the artillery on both sides kept up a terrible fire. It was awful to see our wounded start to creep back, only to be hit once again, very often fatally I was sick at heart for as I looked round I could only see men who had answered their country’s call and had bravely laid down their lives for England’s sake.

It was about 4 o’clock when the bombardment started afresh, and looking round I could see the famous regiment, the Black Watch, steadily advancing over the same ground that we had covered in the morning, they did indeed gain the enemy’s first trench, but soon afterwards were forced to leave it again. Towards night the firing slackened a little and I waited patiently for darkness so that I could creep back out of the fighting zone. At 10 o’clock I chanced it, running as fast as my legs could carry me until I reached my own trench, with one bound I was on the other side not caring who was there but only wanting to gain my regiment, or what was left of it. I tell you I said my prayers when I got there, and it was not the first time that day, nor was I the only man. You may guess what we thought when we look round and we saw what was left of the good old 48th (Foot). Now these four men who I am writing for are doing their duty, and I want to ask if anyone will send us out such a thing as a mouthorgan or a melodeon, a good smoke or in fact anything to remind us of the good old city. we had one melodeon which was sent by Mr. Claypole in February, but it was unlucky, for it got mixed up with a German ‘Jack Johnson’ sometime in April thus having a short life if a merry one in the trenches. If anyone is so kindly inclined as to forward such a gift it would be very thankfully received by Sgt. S. Yerrell, ‘D’ Company, 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Division, BEF.’

Since the above letter was received Mrs. Yerrell has received notification from the War Office that Sgt. Yerrell is in hospital at Wimereux, suffering from enteric fever.”

After all that had happened since the outbreak of the war it would be interesting to know how many original members of the battalion had survived up to this point. I should imagine there were very few of them. However, Sam and his best friend in the battalion, another Peterborough man, Sergeant Jim Henson, were still around, no doubt forming a hard core of old hands holding the men together. Another article printed in the newspaper later reported that 600 other ranks had been killed or wounded out of the regiment at Aubers Ridge on May 9th alone.

Sam Yerrell

Samuel Yerrell

The Peterborough Advertiser printed its final report on Sam on July 29th, 1916, a copy of a letter sent to his mother by Sergeant Henson was published with it, the account reads:

“DIED A SOLDIERS DEATH    Sgt. Samuel Yerrell of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, fourth son of Mrs. Yerrell, Eastgate, Peterborough, has been killed in action. This is the second bereavement sustained by Mrs. Yerrell, another son having been killed in action at Neuve Chapelle last year. Sgt. Yerrell had been in France since the outbreak of the war, and a comrade writing on July 20th Says: ‘Poor Sam has been killed this morning. I have been up to his company and found out all about it. Tonight I am going to see him buried respectably. First off he had both arms shattered by a bomb, and as a fellow was bringing him towards our trench they fell exhausted. Then a Second Lieutenant jumped out of our trench and went to help them, as soon as he got to Sam a German fired at them, the bullet passing through Sam's back and right through the officer's heart.

The officer was killed instantly, and poor Sam died an hour later before I could get to him. He died a soldier's death. The brave officer who got killed trying to save Sammy was Lieut Eminton*.

Sgt. Yerrell was engaged to be married to Miss Ada Rowle of St. Martins Street, Peterborough."

* Jim got one vital piece of information wrong, his original letter names the officer as being a Lieutenant Eminton, but after extensive investigation I have discovered that in fact this was an officer from the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, attached to the Machine Gun Corps by the name of Second Lieutenant Robert Astley Franklin Eminson.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission hold the information that Sam was killed on the 19th July 1916. However, Jim wrote his letter on the 20th July 1916, stating that Sam had been killed that morning.

On further investigation I found a book called ‘No Easy Hopes or Lies’ which contained the letters of Lieutenant Arthur Preston White who was one of Sam’s officers in ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. Lt. White wrote home regularly and in great detail about what was happening in the battalion and he mentions Sam Yerrell twice, once when he describes a patrol which he undertook around the Somme area with two Sergeants, one being Sam, and the second time being when Sam was killed.

In his letter dated 23/8/16 he writes about the action which took place on 20th July when a number of patrols had been caught out in the open by German fire and they had to try to rescue them. He wrote: “Sgt Yerell [sic] was dead, an officer of the Sharpshooters had been killed while trying to save him.” Due to censorship at the time, Lt. White had to use pseudonyms for the various places and units he wrote about and the “Sharpshooters” was his cover name for the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.

After checking ‘Officers Died in the Great War’ I found that there was no officer by the name of Eminton killed on or around that date, however there was an officer named Eminson, and he served with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He was also attached to the Machine Gun Corps which meant that he could have been serving alongside any regiment.

Another clue came from the photographic postcard above on which Sam wrote: “I’m off to fight a sausage.” On the back, someone wrote in pencil many years ago: “Sam, killed 20th July.”

I honestly believe that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission are wrong and Sam was killed on the 20th, not the 19th. Both Jim Henson and Lt. White clearly state this and they were there. Also, Second Lieutenant Eminson was killed on that day too. Either Jim got the spelling of the name slightly wrong or it might even have been a typing error in the newspaper report.

Jim wrote in another letter which was printed in the Peterborough Advertiser on 19th August, 1916: “At night I crawled out to him and wrapped him in two coats, and had him buried respectably. He was a splendid soldier, well liked by officers and men, and I myself loved him as a brother. He died fighting, as he always wished to die, if this his time came.”

If Jim says he died on the 20th July, I for one would never doubt his word.

Becourt Military Cemetery

BECOURT MILITARY CEMETERY, BECORDEL-BECOURT

Second Lieutenant Robert Astley Franklin Eminson, 6th Bn. Kings Royal Rifle Corps attached Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), was aged 24 when he was killed on 20th July, 1916.

He was the son of T. B. F. and Clara Eminson, of Gonerby Cottage, Scotter, Gainsborough. B.A. Cantab. (Downing College). Assistant Entomologist to the British South Africa Co. 1913-1915.

He is buried in Becourt Military Cemetery, Becourt-Becordel, Somme, France.

Go here parishes.lincolnshire.gov.uk/Scotter/section.asp?docId=53146 for more information on 2nd Lt Eminson

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