11th May 2016

Sergeant Samuel Yerrell – First World War soldier and war correspondent

June & Vernon Bull – local historians and authors

*image reproduced with kind permission from David Gray

Samuel was the fourth son of Emily Yerrell and was born in Peterborough in 1895. The family first lived at 26 South Street, Stanground, and then moved to 78 Belsize Avenue, Woodston in late 1914.

Samuel joined the 1st Northants Regiment and two of his other brothers also enlisted. John William Yerrell was a Corporal with the 2nd Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders and Frederick George Yerrell was a Leading Signalman in the Royal Navy. His other brother Jim was never posted abroad and stayed in England.

Samuel’s account of events from the trenches from the time his battalion was posted to France in August 1914 until he was killed in action in 1916 helped to keep the citizens of Peterborough fully informed, as he wrote regularly to the Peterborough Advertiser newspaper. The following letter was written on 29 January 1915 in response to a parcel Samuel received from Mr J W Claypole, a musical instrument dealer based in Narrow Street.

Dear Sir

I have received your gift parcel with great thankfulness. It was very good of you I am sure, to send them out, as no one knows how much music will cheer me up as we go on with our task.

The medolion is grand, and I must say I am having a fine time with it, being a good player myself, and the mouth-organs I have issued to my men. I am in charge of the machine guns of our regiment, and have 23 men, so we have now a decent little band.

This is the only way I can thank you at present, but if ever I am lucky enough to get home, I will call and see you and thank you personally.

We are getting on nicely out here, but have had some terribly wet weather, and it was awful for the time being. I will tell you some of my experiences if I get home, as I have been out here since the 12th August and been through everything.

I should be thankful if you sent this to the “Peterborough Advertiser”, just to let the people know that there are some of the boys left.

Yours sincerely

S Yerrell

Sergt., Machine Gun Section, 1st Northants

Samuel is one of the few survivors of his battalion that suffered severely from German treachery – writing back home to say that after a group of Germans surrendered and raised the white flag, members of the battalion moved from cover to take prisoners but then the Germans dropped their flags and opened fire, killing quite a number of British soldiers. The Germans themselves were all eventually killed but this was not an isolated incident as the same thing happened to the 1st Northants Regiment again in September 1915 when they were fighting on the Aisne.

Another battle on 9 May 1915 resulted in Samuel reaching his own trench but later found himself in hospital at Wimereux, suffering from typhoid fever. 600 Men from other ranks were killed or wounded at Aubers Ridge on 9th May 1915.

A final account of events from the front as posted by Samuel came from a letter sent to his mother by his friend Sergeant Jim Henson in July 1916 which detailed that her son Samuel had been killed in action on 20 July.

This was to be Mrs Yerrell’s second bereavement – as her son John, serving with the 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had died at Neuve Chapelle in France of wounds on 2 April 1915.

So had Samuel not written to the local newspaper of the horrific events from the trenches then it’s unlikely that readers would have grasped the severity and magnitude of human loss on both sides in the battle of the Somme during the First World War. It is only fitting that we write this article in the centenary year of Samuel’s death and remember that the Yerrell family, like so many others in this country and beyond, lost so many loved ones who will never be forgotten.

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