Born around 1879 at Madeley, Shropshire, Charles William was the eldest son of William R. Yorke and his wife Eliza. William had been born in Dawley, Shropshire and in 1891 was a signalman at Hough, Nantwich. The family seemed to have moved frequently – from Shropshire, to Fenton in Stoke-on-Trent, then on to Shavington, Cheshire and finally Lawton Gate. John Henry, younger brother to Charles, also worked on the railways and in 1901 he was employed as a railway goods guard. Another brother, Richard, was also a railway signalman.
Charles initially gave employment on the railways a wide berth – enlisting instead in the militia and the Cheshire Regiment. On January 25th 1896 in London, he transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers. At his attestation he was described as 5ft 4¾in with grey eyes and dark brown hair. Private 4882 began his career with the Northumberlands in Portsmouth. He was appointed to Lance Corporal in January 1899 and in 1903 he rose to Corporal. He served in Malta, Crete, South Africa and Mauritius and received the Queen’s South African medal with clasp and the King’s South African with clasp (1901 & 1902). From 1903 until 1908 he remained in the Reserve.
In 1907 he married Betsy Dale at Odd Rode. The 1911 census records Charles as a married, 32 year old railway signalman, at Railway Cottages, Biddulph. His wife Betsy was visiting relatives at Church Lawton at the time. With her were their two daughters Norah (3) and Ruth (1). Both daughters had been born at Cheddleton. As a seasoned traveller he probably kept his fellow railway workers amused with tales from his trips around the world.
The list of names of those who came forward at the first recruiting meeting at the Public Hall in Biddulph included that of Charles W. Yorke of Station Houses, Biddulph. It appears though, that like many others on that list, he actually enlisted at Macclesfield. For unknown reasons “Soldiers Died” states that he initially joined the Army Cyclist Corps. In October 1914 the Sentinel reported that he was with the Northumberland Fusiliers at Aylesbury and in November that: “Sergeant Charles Yorke, one of the signalmen from Biddulph Railway Station, a reservist of the Northumberland Fusiliers, has been stationed near Harrow for some time. He came home last Saturday on four days leave, and looks remarkably well. He says that since his promotion (he was a corporal when he re-joined his regiment in August) he has been kept very busy drilling new recruits.”
The 12th battalion Northumberland Fusiliers trained at Halton camp Tring, High Wycombe and Witley camp Maidenhead and with training complete the men were now battle ready. Attaching to 62nd Brigade 21st Division the troops were inspected by Lord Kitchener on Auust 12th 1915. The following month the division crossed the channel, landing in France on September 8th, and assembled in the Tilques area. The battle of Loos was where Charles was to see his first action on the Western Front. After a long night march, the morning of September 26th brought the battalion to an area known as Bois Hugo, Chalk Pit Wood and Hill 70 redoubt; at the latter the enemy held strong defensive positions. The 12th Northumberlands attacked this redoubt and although the fusiliers fought bravely, the assault which was under unbelievable deteriorating conditions failed, with many casualties.
The division were withdrawn to recover, being deployed in a defensive role until the spring of 1916. In the Somme district during early summer the battalion was busy preparing for the forthcoming Battle of the Somme. Charles as a Lance Sergeant would have had extra responsibilities for the preparations; his battalion were in an assembly area north of Becordel-Becourt.
Following an enemy artillery bombardment on their position they endured many casualties. Evidently it was in this area that Charles Yorke was to fall on Thursday June 22nd 1916. Newspaper reports state that he was killed instantly by a bursting shell. In little more than a week, the Battle of the Somme was to open on July 1st.
The Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel of July 22nd 1916 reported that “previous to enlisting he served all through the Boer War and when the present war was declared he was anxious once more to serve his King and country. He enlisted at the end of August 1914 and went to France in September 1915.”
Charles left a widow and four little girls.
The Sentinel also reported that Mrs. Yorke had received a letter from him on June 28th (written on the 21st) the day after she had received notification of his death from the chaplain, the Rev. Stanley Keene, in which he wrote to cheer her up, and to tell his little girls that “Daddy will soon be home now to take them for walks.”
The Sentinel continued to inform the reader that Sergeant Yorke’s father was Mr. William Yorke, signalman at Alsager station and his brother John was a goods guard at the Junction, also Alsager.
Mrs. Yorke received a letter from Lieutenant J. Brunton in which he wrote: “At such time as this when you have suffered such an irreparable loss, words of sympathy seem so very inadequate, but I know you will believe me when I say that your husband’s death was a very serious blow to myself personally, and also to our company. As his immediate officer your husband and I came very much in contact and I am proud to have had the honour of commanding such an N.C.O.”
Lance Sergeant Yorke now lies in the Dartmoor Cemetery, which today is situated in a beautiful wooded area on the outskirts of the village of Becordel-Becourt. A unique addition to Charles’s grave is an old ceramic plaque, presumably placed there by a French person in the 1920s when the cemetery was laid out. The text reads: “Le Temps Passe Le Souvenir Reste (as time passes the memory remains).” At home Charles is commemorated on the memorial at Stoke-on-Trent railway station, which is dedicated to the men of the North Staffordshire Railway who died in the Great War. He is also commemorated on the Biddulph war memorials.
Mike Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.