100 years ago to this day, Scottish born Private William Young residing in Heysham Street, Preston and a soldier serving with the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment was holding the front line along the Foncquevilliers – Monchy au Bois line between the towns of Albert and Arras. Young risked his life to rescue a wounded officer and was badly injured – a bullet shattered his lower jaw and another entered his chest. For this act of absolute bravery, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.Advertisement
As dawn broke the morning of 22nd December, Young looked out over no-man’s land and saw a wounded NCO, a Sergeant Allan, lying wounded in front of the wire. Allan had apparently only made it back that far from a patrol the night before. On his own initiative Young went through the wire, dodging heavy enemy fire, and went to Allan’s aid. Allan ordered Young back to the line without him, but Young ignored the order. As he was pulling Allan to safety, he was hit twice, one bullet shattering his jaw and the other lodging in his chest. Despite the wounds, Young, later joined by a Private Green, managed to get Allan to safety. On his own, he walked the nearly half-mile back to the dressing station in Foncquevillers to have his wounds tended to.
Private Young spent the next four months in hospital and was well enough to attend a civic reception in his honour in Preston in April 1916. The homecoming was filmed by Preston film maker Will Onda. To express the town’s admiration for Private Young a fund of £562 was raised to support his family.
Private Young V.C. left Preston on 25 April 1916 to continue his treatment. After a series of operations he did not react well to the anaesthetic and died at 8.55am on Sunday 27 August 1916 of heart failure at the Cambridge Military Hospital in Aldershot.
On 28th March 1916 the London Gazette wrote: “For most conspicuous bravery. On seeing that his Sergeant had been wounded he left his trench to attend to him under very heavy fire. The wounded Non-Commissioned Officer requested Private Young to get under cover but he refused and was almost immediately very seriously wounded by having both jaws shattered. Notwithstanding his terrible injuries Private Young continued endeavouring to effect the rescue upon which he had set his mind and eventually succeeded with the aid of another soldier. He then went unaided to the dressing station where it was discovered that he had also been wounded by a rifle bullet in the chest. The great fortitude determination courage and devotion to duty displayed by this soldier could hardly be surpassed”
Private Young V.C. went into Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot, for a final operation in August, 1916, but he never recovered consciousness; the anaesthetic had caused his heart to fail. He was 40 years old. He was buried in Preston Cemetery following a civic funeral with full military honours, attended by thousands.
William Young’s medals, including his Victoria Cross, were presented to the Museum of the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, then the successor of his old regiment, by his son in 1985. William is buried in Preston Cemetery and his Victoria Cross is on display in the Lancashire County Museum, Preston. A Memorial Pavement in his honour is scheduled to be unveiled on the Flag Market, Preston, in April next year.
More about Private William Young V.C. on the Lancashire Infantry Museum and on the Preston Remembers website:
Did you know about the story of Private William Young V.C. and have you seen his V.C. medal? Let us know in the comments below.