The Search

When I was only ten years old my grandmother died and among her possessions my father found a small Soldiers Book of Common Prayer. The book had the number 9492 stamped along the edge of the pages and on the inside of the cover was written:

“9492 Pte. S. Yerrell, 1st Northamptonshire Rgt. Devonport, 15th April 1912.”

Not being old enough myself to follow it up, the book was consigned to a drawer where it lay for another ten years. By that time I had developed an enormous interest in the Great War and the book was rediscovered. The only information that my father could recall was that his mother’s maiden name was Yerrell and she had had a brother who had been killed in the First World War.

Soldiers Book of Common Prayer
Soldiers Book of Common Prayer

Above and left, Sam Yerrell’s Soldier’s Book of Common Prayer with his own inscription in ink.

Now I had discovered a long lost great uncle, my first move was to write to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who promptly replied stating that Sergeant Samuel Yerrell, 9492, 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, was killed in action on *19th July 1916, aged 22, and was commemorated along with other members of the regiment on Pier II, faces A and D of the Thiepval Memorial, the Somme, France. They also told me that he had been the son of John and Emily Yerrell, of South Street, Peterborough. He was born in Crowland, Cambridgeshire, and enlisted in Northampton. *This date is wrong, see the Reports page.

I then found a copy of the Regimental History in the local library and read that the 1st Battalion was stationed at Dettingen Barracks, Blackdown, Aldershot, in 1914. The battalion strength was brought up to 1,000 men all ranks, and they became part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, sailing from Southampton to Le Havre on the GALEKA, on 12th August, 1914. At this point I was prepared to stop as there were no relatives left alive who had known Sam and I was satisfied that I had found out all that I could about him.

Then a few years later I was told that microfilm of local newspapers from that period existed at the town library and were open to inspection. These priceless records of the old ‘Peterborough Advertiser’ opened the door for me and I discovered a man who’s story I knew I had to pursue. During this research I found that there were in fact five brothers, three in the Army and two in the Navy. I chose the newspapers nearest the date of Sam’s death and soon found out the actual circumstances of his final action. I was greatly affected by what I read and realised that each man’s death during the war was a tragedy that involved many people, both soldiers and civilians, some of whom had probably never even known them such as myself.

I have related Sam’s death as it appeared in date order in the newspapers along with other small articles that I could find which concerned him, this information can be found on the ‘Reports’ page. I started at the first issue of the war and read right through until his death in the search of any snippet that would help me build up a picture of the real man. I should say first that on discovering the report of his death I also found his photograph printed along with many others from Peterborough who had died that week and looking in to his eyes for the first time, as I had no idea what he looked like until then, I suddenly felt very close to him and at the same time sensed that I had a duty to discover all I could.

Peterborough Advertiser

Peterborough Advertiser July 1916. Sam Yerrell marked with cross

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