Details of the life of soldier Joseph Yates have proved difficult to accurately pinpoint. From his service records it would seem that he had been born in Stoke-on-Trent whilst living in Biddulph when he enlisted in Congleton, Cheshire. A report of his death from the Congleton Chronicle seems to substantiate his residence when he joined up:
“Prior to ‘joining up’ he was employed by Mr. John H. Clowes, of Biddulph Hall Farm, Biddulph, and was greatly respected in the immediate vicinity in which he lived.”
Joseph was not living at Biddulph Hall Farm in 1911. The photograph supplied by the Chronicle seems to indicate a birth date round the mid-1890s. From the 1911 census this would seem to point to Joseph being the son of Samuel (a collier/hewer who had been born in Biddulph) and Elizabeth, nee West. In 1911 the family was living at 11, Sun Street (now St. Aiden’s Street), Tunstall. The census indicates that Samuel worked at Goldendale Ironworks owned by Williamsons who had business interests in Biddulph.
No marriage for Joseph Yates is listed on Staffsordshire BMD from 1911 to 1916 so it would seem that Joseph was unmarried.
Joseph became a private in the 10th battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, a regiment with its headquarters at Bury. On leaving Biddulph, Joseph travelled south to Dorset for his basic training; this was at various locations in the county. In May 1915 the battalion transferred to Winchester to complete their preparations for war.
Attached to 52nd Brigade, 17th Northern Division, this was a division originally destined for Home Defence duties - this was until orders were countermanded and the lads were to see action in Flanders. The division crossed the English Channel landing at Boulogne and moving to St. Omer for concentration. The 10th Fusiliers had their first action in an area south of Ypres defending their lines. Throughout the winter of 1915-16 Joseph and his mates remained in the Ypres salient. Springtime saw the battalion fighting actions at the Bluff, on the Comines canal.
In early summer the 17th Division travelled south into France to prepare for battle; our farm labourer Joseph would now see the beautiful rolling countryside of the Somme district before it deteriorated into the battlefield of the Somme. The wiring, trench strengthening and general preparation occupied the battalion making ready for battle.
The division were held in reserve at first, and then used to defend their lines. During this part of the Somme offensive known as the Battle of Albert, 10th Lancashire Fusiliers fought bravely in attacks at Bernafay Wood. Under a bombardment of shelling the battalion suffered many casualties. It is believed that it was in this action our gallant soldier, Private Joseph Yates, fell in battle.
The Chronicle headline ran: “Biddulph Soldier Killed In Action – Officer’s Tribute To A Brave Soldier”:
“The third phase of the battle, which has occupied over a month, has seen us steadily eating our way up the final slope, and over the bare shell-swept summit of the ridge. Some of the places mentioned will be indelibly stamped on the minds of Congleton and Biddulph people, as soldiers hailing from both Congleton and Biddulph have earned undying fame while fighting there. What tales they could tell were it permissible. Some are there whose lips are sealed for ever, who lie at peace within the sound of bloody strife, yet, although their tales remain untold, the Recording Angel has put ‘paid’ to their account. Another name to be added to those who will not return – Private Joseph Yates, of the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers, who, to coin the words of his superior officer ‘died a soldier’s death like the brave fellow that he was’ in the battle of the Somme, on July 24th.”
The Chronicle also printed a letter to his mother from Lieutenant H.D. Williams:
“He was one of a party I had in a most important part of our line. A German shell fell amongst us, and I am sorry to say that Yates and his friend were hit. Death was instantaneous and he cannot have felt any pain. I can only say how sorry we are and how deeply we sympathise with you in the loss you have sustained.”
Joseph is another of the many soldiers without a known grave; he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme and the Biddulph memorials.
Elaine Bryan and Mike Turnock.
Note: The Chronicle article states that Joseph served in the 18th Battalion but the CWGC records that he was in the 10th.