YORKE Edward 1890 – 1917

EDWARD YORKE 1890 – 1917

14952 Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke, 7th Battalion, The Border Regiment was killed in action, 23 April 1917, aged 26.  He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France[1] and the Witton Park war memorials.

Family Details

Edward Yorke was born 1890 at Witton Park,[2] the son of Enoch and Emily Yorke.  There were at least 7 children:

  • Frederick bc.1888 at Escomb
  • Edward bc.1891 at Witton Park
  • George bc.1893 at Witton Park
  • Elizabeth bc.1895 at Witton Park
  • Albert bc.1899 at Witton Park
  • Louisa bc.1891 at Witton Park
  • Enoch bc.1904 at Witton Park

4 July 1887, Enoch and Emily Margaret Longstaff married at Bishop Auckland. [3]  In 1891, Enoch and Emily lived at Thompson Street, Witton Park where 34 years old Enoch worked as a coal miner.  Enoch was born at West Bromwich, Staffordshire,[4] the family moved up to Darlington and by 1871, 10 years old Enoch worked as a labourer in an iron works.[5]  In 1879, as a 19 years old, Enoch enlisted into the Army and saw 6½ years’ service with the Rifle Brigade in Ireland and India.[6]  Emily’s birth was registered at Bishop Auckland.[7]  

By 1901, the Yorke family lived at Albion Street, Witton Park where Enoch worked as a coal miner (hewer).[8]  In 1904, 34 years old Margaret Yorke died.[9]  In 1907, 46 years old Enoch Yorke died.[10]  In 1911, the census records all 7 children living with their 70 years old grandmother Elizabeth Longstaff.  Frederick (aged 23), Edward (aged 20) and George (aged 18) were all recorded as “putting and hewing” ie coal miners.[11]

The family details recorded in Edward’s service forms confirmed that both his parents Enoch and Emily had died, he had 4 full blood brothers but only 2, Frederick and Albert were named and 2 sisters, Elizabeth and Louisa.  Elizabeth Longstaff of 26 Low Thompson Street, Witton Park was named as his grandmother.  All the recorded brothers and sisters lived at the above address.  Frederick was given as next of kin. [12]

c.1905 The Yorke brothers, Witton Park F.C.,

Left, Frederick: Centre bottom, George: Right, Edward

Military Details

31 August 1914, aged 23 years 8 months, Edward Yorke attested joining the Durham Light Infantry but he was immediately posted to the 7th (Service) Battalion, The Border Regiment and was allocated the service number 14952.  He stood 5’10½” tall and weighed 164 lbs, his complexion was fresh, his eyes were hazel and hair dark brown.  His religious denomination was given as Church of England.[13]  He was medically examined at Bishop Auckland and considered fir for general service, infantry.  That day, Private Edward Yorke was despatched to Carlisle then 14 September 1914, he was transferred to Ludworth Camp.[14]

The 7th (Service) Battalion, the Border Regiment was formed at Carlisle 7 September 1914 as part of K2, Kitchener’s New Army and came under the orders of 51st Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division. 

The Border Regiment Cap Badge

It moved to Andover and onto Bovington in January 1915.[15]  The 51st Brigade consisted of the following units:[16]

  • 7th Bn., the Lincolnshire Regiment
  • 7th Bn., the Border Regiment (7/Borders)
  • 8th Bn., the South Staffordshire Regiment
  • 10th Bn., the Sherwood Foresters
  • 51st Machine Gun Company, joined 12 February 1916, left 24 February 1918
  • 51st Trench Mortar Battery formed 3 July 1916

While at Ludworth, Private E. Yorke committed 2 offences, namely absent from the tatoo and drunk, for which he was fined a total of 10 days’ pay.[17]  Having spent 317 days at home, he went to France with the Division and his battalion, 14 July 1915.[18]

The Division moved to the Western Front from 12 July and concentrated near St. Omer, France.  In 1915, the Division spent its initial period of trench familiarisation and then holding the line in the southern area of the Ypres Salient.  Private Edward Yorke committed 3 offences between 7 and 10 February 1916, namely absent, drunkenness and losing, by neglect, his equipment for which he was punished 14 days “Field Punishment No.1” and forfeited 4 days’ pay.[19]

14 and 15 February 1916, the Division was involved in fighting at the Bluff, south east of Ypres on the Comines Canal and 2 March which were part of a number of engagements officially known as the Actions of Spring 1916.  During this early period on the Western Front, 7/Borders lost 3 officers and 151 other ranks, killed in action or died of wounds.[20]

From there, the 17th Division went to the Somme and was involved in various actions at the Battle of Albert, 1 July to 13 July and the Battle of Delville Wood, 15 July to 13 September 1916.  During the period on the Somme, until the end of 1916, 7/Borders lost 8 officers and 110 other ranks.[21]  

Private Edward Yorke was promoted as follows:[22]

  • 25 September 1916: acting Corporal
  • 23 February 1917: acting Lance Serjeant
  • 2 March 1917: Corporal (confirmed)

2 to 11 October 1916:  He was granted leave.  The next large scale engagement was the Arras Offensive of 1917 and the 17th Division saw action at the First and Second Battles of the Scarpe, 9 to 14 and 23 and 24 April 1917.  Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke was killed in action 23 April 1917.

The Battle of Arras – an overview

The new French Commander in Chief, Robert Nivelle prepared his Master Plan for a new offensive against the German lines.  Nivelle’s plan was as follows:

“He would attack at the shoulders of the great German salient on either side of the Somme.  The French would take the southern Aisne sector, the Chemin des Dames, as their front of assault, while the British, by inter-Allied agreement would reopen an offensive on the northern shoulder of the Somme salient, at Arras and against Vimy Ridge.”

The objective of the British and Canadian Corps was to capture Vimy Ridge which would lead the way into the Douai Plain and (it was hoped) the un-entrenched German rear.  Then a rapid advance by the cavalry would link up with the French forces which would have broken through at Chemin des Dames, 80 miles to the south. 

The British Army launched a large scale attack at Arras.  Although initially successful, it soon bogged down and became another costly affair.  The battle was composed of the following phases:

  • 9 -14 April 1917: The Battle of Vimy, The First Battle of the Scarpe
  • 23 – 24 April 1917: The Second Battle of the Scarpe 
  • 3 -4 May 1917: The Third Battle of the Scarpe
  • 11 April – 16 June 1917: The Battle of Bullecourt

The infantry was able to shelter in the great subterranean quarries at Arras and they were brought to the front line through tunnels dug by the Army’s tunnelling companies.  Similar tunnels had been dug at Vimy Ridge for the Canadian troops.  Such preparation did not arouse suspicion amongst the Germans and von Falkenhausen, commander of the Sixth Army kept his Reserves 15 miles behind the front.  The German defences were bombarded by 2,879 guns, one for every 9 yards of the front, which delivered 2,687,000 shells – shorter in duration but double the weight of that delivered before the Battle of the Somme the previous July. 

9 April 1917, the first day of the battle was a triumph for the Allied forces.  In a few hours the German front had been penetrated to a depth of between 1 and 3 miles, 9,000 prisoners were taken, few casualties suffered and a way forward was (apparently) cleared.  The success of the Canadians at Vimy Ridge was sensational!  But the usual inflexibility in the plan prevented further progress – a pause of 2 hours after objectives had been gained, the day was shortening and the impetus ran out allowing the Germans to bring up their reserves 10 and 11 April.  The April weather was atrocious – rain, sleet, snow, relentlessly low temperatures and the shelling had turned the chalky surface into gluey mud. The attacking troops were exhausted, a halt was called to allow casualties to be replaced and the troops to recover – losses totalled nearly 20,000 (1/3rd of casualties suffered at the first day of the Somme). 

23 April, hostilities recommenced, the Germans had reorganised and were reinforced so could counter-attack and as a result, a month of attrition set in bringing a further 130,000 casualties for no additional gain of ground. On the southern front, whist the Germans were caught by surprise on the Vimy-Arras sector, they were not on the French sector, Chemin-des-Dames.  Security failures had alerted the Germans to the proposed attack so their forces were prepared.  After 5 days of intensive fighting when the French suffered 130,000 casualties including 29,000 killed, the offensive was effectively abandoned.  There had been a penetration of 4 miles over the 16-mile front but German defences remained intact.  There had been no breakthrough. The aftermath of the Nivelle’s offensive had major repercussions on the French army.  The offensive was judged to be a failure.  29 April 1917, Nivelle was replaced by Petain.  In addition, the failure punctured the French fighting spirit and precipitated what historians called “the mutinies of 1917.”

The Second Battle of the Scarpe: a summary [23]

23 April 1917, the British launched an assault east from Wancourt towards Vis-en-Artois.  Elements of the 30th and the 50th Divisions made initial gains and were able to secure the villages of Guemappe but could not advance further east and suffered heavy losses.  Farther north, German forces counter-attacked in an attempt to recapture Monchy-le-Preux but troops from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were able to hold the village until reinforcements from 29th Division arrived.  British commanders did not push forward in the face of such stiff opposition and the attack was called off the following day, 24 April.

7/Borders in action[24]

9 April, 7/Borders moved from Latre St. Quentin, arriving at Arras the next day. There was a snow blizzard on the morning of the 10th.

13 April, they were at billets at Railway Triangle (H.19 Central) then dugouts in the railway embankment until the 18th.  Enemy shelling inflicted casualties, 2 killed, 5 wounded.  They were in the line for a couple of days then back to Arras.  A captured German prisoner informed that 3rd Bavarian Division (17th 18th and 23rd Bavarian Infantry Regiments) held the line from Guemappe northwards to a point between Monchy and the Scarpe.  Relief by the 4th Bavarian Division would take place on the morning of the 20th April.

22 April, 7/Borders were in the support line and at 8.15pm moved up to the assembly trenches south of Lone Copse then moved up to the front line.  The 29th Division was in front of Mochy le Preux, 17th Division in the centre and 51st Division was on the right.  They were to be in position by 3am. 51st Brigade led the attack with 50th Brigade in support and 52nd Brigade in reserve.  The objective was “the blue line”, a position to the east Pelves and the road to the east of Bois de Sart, on the southern edge of Roeux Wood.  A and D Companies were to lead the attack with B and C Companies in the support line.  A and B Companies were to the left, there was 100 yards between waves, 200 yards between the attack and support waves. 

23 April, zero hour was set for 4.45am when a creeping barrage was put down on Bayonet Trench, at a rate of 3 minutes per 100 yards, finishing at Cartridge and Grenade Trenches, 60 minutes later and remaining on them. [25] The war diary reports that D Company (the right leading company) lost direction and moved too much to its right striking old German trenches.  It then moved left, over Bayonet Trench and were met by intense machine gun fire from Rifle Trench.  They managed to enter a German strong point and consolidated.  D Company was joined by the survivors of the right support, C Company.  The left leading company A Company entered Bayonet Trench at the junction with Rifle Trench.  It was hit by intense machine gun fire from across the river Scarpe and from Rifle Trench.  The left supporting company, B Company followed and was mown down by machine gunfire.  The survivors of B and A Company retired with companies of the S. Staffs to assembly trenches north east of Lone Copse.  No officers of either company survived.  Another advance by the Borders was repulsed by machine gun fire.  Some survivors held out in shell holes until dark when they attempted to make their way back.  Many were hit by machine gun fire.  About 50 men, wounded and unwounded made their way in to a portion of Bayonet Trench.  Battalion HQ was at trenches which were held by 9th Northumberland Fusiliers.  They were shelled throughout the day but few casualties were suffered.  The battalion was ordered to move to Railway Triangle about 1½miles to the east of Arras.  Battalion HQ and about 100 men who had come in started to move about 2.30am and arrived at about 4am.      

25 April, the war diary reports that the survivors marched to Arras then entrained at 10am to Saulty station.  They then marched about 6 miles to Grand Rollucourt and into billets at the chateau and huts.

The summary of casualties records a total of 413, as follows:[26]

  • Officers: 15 in total comprising 2 killed, 3 wounded, 10 missing
  • Other Ranks: 398 in total comprising 11 killed, 183 wounded, 204 missing 

Later research recorded that between 9 and 26 April 1917, 7/Borders lost 8 officers and 186 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds, including Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke.   All officers and 168 men were killed in action 23 April 1917.  [27]  Many deaths were presumed to have taken place on or since this date.  Their bodies were not recovered.

Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke served a total of 2 years 246 days in the Army, 1 year 284 days abroad.[28]

 Awards and Medals

Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[29]

Medal Roll Card Index

Effects

Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke’s brother Enoch received his effects[30] and his sister Elizabeth, his pension.[31]

Commemorations

Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke is commemorated at Bay 6, the Arras Memorial which stands in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery at Arras.  It commemorates 35,000 servicemen from Britain, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between spring 1916 and August 1918 who have no known grave.  It was unveiled in 1932.[32]

The Arras Memorial

Summary

Edward Yorke was born in 1890 at Witton Park, the second child of 7, to Enoch and Emily Yorke.  They lived at Thompson Street then Albion Street, Witton Park. Both parents died and by 1911 the children were registered with their Grandmother, Elizabeth H. Longstaff in Thompson Street. The oldest three boys, Frederick, Edward and George were the breadwinners, working as miners.

Aged 23, in August 1914, Edward enlisted at Bishop Auckland, joining the 7th Battalion, the Border Regiment.  He entered France in July 1915, saw action at the Ypres Salient and on the Somme in 1916.  In early in 1917 he was promoted to Lance Serjeant.  The battalion attacked the German lines at the Second Battle of the Scarpe part of the Arras Offensive of April/May 1917.  Aged 26, Lance Serjeant Edward Yorke was killed in action 23 April 1917, a presumed date, officially recorded as “on or since April 23rd.”  He has no known grave and is commemorated n the Arras Memorial.


REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10 p.175 Hartlepool 1890 Q3 CHECK

[3] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.257 and Postcards from Witton Park

[4] England & Wales Birth Index Vol.6b p.601 West Bromwich 1859 Q3

[5] 1871 census

[6] Attestation Form B.96 of 4125 Enoch York dated 21 April 1879

[7] England & Wales Birth Index Vol.10a p.205 Auckland 1870 Q4 1891 census

[8] 1901 census

[9] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.118 Auckland 1904 Q2 Note: 21 April 1904 (Postcards from Witton Park)

[10] England & Wales Death Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.142. Auckland 1907 Q4 Note: 19 November 1907 (Postcards from Witton Park)

[11] 1911 census

[12] Army Form W.5080

[13] Army Form B.2065: Description of Edward Yorke on Enlistment

[14] Table IV – Service Table

[15]https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/border-regiment/

[16] http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/17th-northern-division/

[17] Army Form B.120 Regimental Conduct Sheet

[18] Military History Sheet Note: Medal Roll card index records 24 July 1915

[19] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[20] Officers and Soldiers Died in the Great War (ODGW & SDGW)

[21] ODGW & SDGW

[22] Statement of the Services

[23] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Arras_%281917%29#Second_Battle_of_the_Scarpe_.2823.E2.80.9324_April_1917.29

[24] 7th Battalion, the Border Regiment War Diary National Archives catalogue reference WO95/2008/1

[25] 51st Infantry Brigade Operation Order No.155 dated 22/4/17 & addendum

[26] 7th Battalion, the Border Regiment War Diary April 1917: Summary of Casualties dated 1 May 1917

[27] ODGW & SDGW

[28] Military History Sheet

[29] Medal Roll card index, Rolls dated 1 October 1919 & 27 February 1920

[30] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929

[31] Pension Claimant card index

[32] CWGC