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  • Writer's pictureSarah von Allmen

Remembrance 2020 (10)

10. James Yarwood of Heaton Mersey

I conclude my series of Remembrance blogs with a man who died on the day the guns fell silent, 102 years ago today.

Samuel Yarwood, a weaver, married Esther Williams at St Thomas’ Church, Norbury on 18 November 1866 and the couple settled in Heaton Mersey, where they raised a large family: William Edward (1868), Sarah Alice (1871), Edwin (1873), Thomas (1875; died young), Samuel (1877), Elizabeth (1879), Robert (1881), James (1883) and Thomas (1886). Samuel left the weaving trade to work in the local bleach works, and as they grew up, most of his sons joined him there.

At the outbreak of war, three or possibly four of Samuel’s sons were potentially of military age: Robert had died in his teens and Edwin, as a married man aged 41, was almost over age and not in the original category of men targeted for recruiting.

Samuel (Jr.) became a Red Cross volunteer, working as an orderly at the Red Cross hospital which had been set up at Heaton Mersey Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School to treat injured soldiers. In addition to his duties on the wards he used to meet sick convoys at the station and was responsible for training other volunteers, so he may have already belonged to the Red Cross before the war.

Thomas enlisted in the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment (the first “Pals” battalion) on 2 September 1914 and was drafted to France on 8 November 1915. He survived serious fighting on the Western Front including the Battle of the Somme where many of his regiment died, but was killed in action on 21 March 1918 at the Battle of Manchester Hill, where the 16th Battalion suffered serious losses attempting to defend a vantage point near St-Quentin.

James is known to have enlisted in the Cheshire Regiment, but was transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers before going overseas in September 1916. His service record has not survived so we have only a sketchy idea of the next two years: he served on the Western Front initially in the 9th Battalion and later in the 15th Battalion (the original Salford “Pals” battalion). He eventually died of wounds (and possibly the effects of gas) on 11 November 1918 at a casualty clearing station at Bohain, less than fifteen miles from where his brother was killed eight months earlier.

Did James know about the Armistice before he died? I would like to think so, although of course there is no way of knowing. Similarly we do not know how his family came to terms with him dying on the very day that peace was signed and when they were doubtless already looking forward to his homecoming. He was not the last local man to die from war-related causes by any means, but the irony of losing his life on 11 November 1918 is evident.

Thomas has no known grave and is remembered on the Pozières Memorial, while James is buried in Prémont British Cemetery near Bohain. The brothers are recorded on Stockport and Heaton Mersey war memorials.

My WWI website is dedicated to all First World War servicemen from the Heatons and Reddish: the survivors as well as the casualties.

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