Samuel Yerrell: Sergeant Samuel Yerrell was my Great Uncle and the inspiration for beginning my research. He was one of five sons, another, John, would die at Neuve Chapelle before the war ended. The following letter was written on 20th July 1916 and sent to Sam's mother by his friend, Jim Henson, also a Sergeant from Peterborough serving in the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment:
"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."
In another letter Jim wrote:
"At night I crawled out him [Sam] and wrapped him up 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."
* 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.
Richard Foster Bright: 5th Northamptonshire Regiment, elder son of Mr RD Bright, Chemist, Broad Bridge Street, Peterborough. The following letter was received by the family in August 1916, from the Chaplain, Rev. FN Wheeler:
"Dear sir, I expect you have already received the sad tidings concerning your son, Private RF Bright, if not, it is my sad duty to inform you that he was killed by a shell near here this morning. We laid him to rest this afternoon in a little cemetery not far from here, in the presence of his officers and comrades who assembled to pay their last tributes of honour to a brave and beloved comrade. He laid down his life as a brave soldier, faithful unto death."
Lance Corporal Frederick Arnold also wrote:
"I very much regret to inform you that your son Dick was severely wounded in action, and died at the dressing station from arterial haemorrhage after being hit by heavy shrapnel which shattered his shoulder and arm. He walked to the dressing station, a distance of nearly two miles, and was quite conscious until the end, and able to talk to those assisting him. He sent word to me that he was wounded, and as he did not expect to be able to write, asked me to write to you and let you know. We heard at 7 o'clock of his death which was unexpected, the medical man at the dressing station and the stretcher bearers spoke of his wonderful pluck in resolutely walking when so badly wounded. On behalf of his platoon and myself I offer you our deepest sympathy, he was always cheerful and a most willing worker."
Private Bright was 26 years of age and enlisted in the spring of 1915.
George Parrott: 7th Northamptonshire Regiment. In a letter dated 10 February 1916, Captain Russell Gurney of 'C' company wrote to George's mother stating:
"I am sorry to have to tell you that your son was killed last night whilst in charge of a working party. He was with a party in the front line trench when a shell burst near him and killed him. I cannot say how I sympathise with you, he was a splendid man, and one of my best NCO's, he was popular with the whole company. Perhaps he may not have told you how he missed the leave train on the day he should originally have gone. I had given him permission to leave the trenches early but just as he was going the Germans started bombing our trenches, so he was back to take charge until it was all over. He is a man I can never replace. His last wish was that we should write and tell his sweetheart. He will be buried near Ypres, and I will see that a cross is put over his grave."
Corporal Parrott was promoted from the rank of private on the field at a time when commissioned and non-commissioned officers were disabled. He rallied the men with him and led them in a charge with the result that a German trench was occupied and retained until relief came.
John William Wheatley: 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, killed in action at the Battle of Auber's Ridge, 9 May 1915. This transcript comes from a letter sent to John's mother by his friend Private A Short:
"...You said you wished to know a little more about Will, well all that I can tell you is that on the night of May 8th we went to the trenches, the regiment taking up a position called Auber's Ridge. The next morning all was very cheery, and of course Bill was the same, in fact he was always cracking jokes with someone ever since I knew him. Well, the bombardment started, after that finished a little we started to advance, Bill and I being close together, we got to a ditch eight yards from the German trenches, just a second before I was slightly wounded in the right side, where I lay undercover in a ditch in which lay dead and wounded. I was struck in the shoulder, arms and knee at the same moment, but Bill had not been touched up to then. About half an hour later I heard somebody hum, I just looked up and saw Bill with a bullet hole through his head, he just said: 'I love her, I love her', he then gradually collapsed and I never saw him move again..."
Danhoe Palmer: Sapper, Royal Engineers. Major RA Turner wrote to Sapper Palmer's wife with the following news:
"I am afraid that this letter will come as a great shock to you, but it is my sad duty to write the news that your husband has been killed. He has like so many other good men given his life for his country, we are all very upset about it and truly sympathise with you in your great loss. I know he was a very good husband and devoted to his children, he was a splendid man, and very popular in the company. He was killed together with two others last Monday night in Ypres by an armour piercing shell which pennetrated into the cellar where he slept. We recovered his body, and it was quite certain that he was killed instantaneously, and could not have felt any pain. We buried him yesterday at 4pm in the military cemetery by the mill near Vlamerttinghe. All my officers and men have asked me to express their deepest sympathy."
Percy James Deane Flecknoe: Lieutenant Flecknoe was serving in the Royal Field Artillery when he was killed in November 1917. His mother received a letter from the army chaplain, part of which is presented below:
"You will have heard of the death of your son Lt. PJD Flecknoe on the 25th inst., from wounds received the day before. The wounds were very bad causing compound fractures of both legs, and if he had recovered sufficiently from the shock to have been operated upon he would have lost both legs. As it was, all efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, he was quite without pain and he was quite content to pass on to another life particularly as he realised how badly he was wounded. He sent his love to you and his father, he was very weary and just wanted to sleep, and he passed away quietly in his sleep. We laid his body to rest in Nine Elms Cemetery near Poperinghe in the presence of the colonel and other officers and men of his battery..."
Charles Hill: Gunner Hill was serving in the Canadian Artillery when he was killed on 8th August 1918. He had emigrated to Canada from Peterborough eight years earlier and immediately enlisted in the army when war broke out. His parents, still living in Peterborough at the time received the following letter from Major Shearer:
"I am indeed very sorry to have to tell you the sad details of your son's death. I was detailed to take a composite battery from the brigade forward in close support of the infantry. Your son, who has been my personal servant for over a year, asked permission to accompany me, and he was so keen on it I consented. We advanced with the infantry, and came into action towards the end of the advance near a little wood. By this time the German resistance was commencing to stiffen, and its artillery to reasert itself. They started shelling the locality we were in, and a shell landed very close to your son, killing him instantly. His comrades, with the Rev. Captain Hughes our brigade padre buried him, and it was with much sadness that the battery moved on. I cannot speak too highly of your son's character, for he was very intimately connected with me, and looked after me like a mother. It seems a pity that he should not have been spared to see things through, as he had seen so much..."
William Leonard Slaughter: Lieutenant Slaughter was killed in September 1918 and his parents received the following letter from his fellow officer 2nd Lt. HW Wooley:
"We had taken our objective and were in a trench, and although the Germans were shelling us heavilly your son would go over to another trench a few yards away, where some of his men were, to take them some cigarettes. On his way back a shell exploded close to him, killing him instantly. I know he was loved by the men of his platoon, who all speak very highly of him. He was buried close to where he fell, and a cross erected over his grave..."
Edwin Marriott: Private Marriott had just turned 17 when he joined up in 1914 and met his death less than a month before the war's end. The following letter was written to his parents by his chaplain the Rev. Taylor:
"We buried him in the churchyard attached to the village church at a place called Lamcon. Your son's dearest friend and comrade was cleaning his rifle to get ready for an inspection, when to everyone's dismay it went off, a bullet going through your son's neck, and in a short time he was dead. These are very great pains to me to have to write such distressing circumstances indeed, and it is a sad news. Words fail to express what we feel for you, your son was a brave and noble soldier, who faithfully did his duty."