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John Boyes Young

Private John Boyes Young or John Boyce, 20622, Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment), 1st Battalion

John Boyes Young was born in Malton in 1885, the son of Henry Young and Elizabeth Boyes, who had married in Malton in 1882. However, by 1911, John Young was living as the "adopted son" of teamer John Spencer and his wife Elizabeth, of Eastwood Buildings, Roundwood, Ossett. The couple also had an adopted daughter, Edith Gosnay, who was aged 16 in 1911. John Spencer was a bye-worker at Roundwood Colliery.

John Boyes Young was working at Roundwood Colliery, Ossett and living with his adoptive parents at nearby Eastwood Buildings when he enlisted in the army at Wakefield on the 2nd February 1910. On the 29th July 1910, at Helmsley, Private Young J.B. of the Yorkshire Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance was marked "fair" and recommended for posting for "general duty." He was at a training camp at Ripon for two weeks in August 1911 and then at Bridlington for two weeks in August 1912.

Private John Boyes Young, Royal Army Medical Corps, T Corps, was discharged on the 3rd April 1913, after 3 years and 59 days in the army, "having deserted."

John B. Young had married Beatrice Broom in the Wakefield Registration District in 1911 and this marriage links him to John Boyce who enlisted at Glencorse Barracks, Penicuik, near Edinburgh on the 8th February 1915 as Private 20622 in the Royal Scots Regiment. John Boyce, a coal miner, claimed to have married Beatrice Broom in Wakefield on the 22nd July 1911. Clearly, John Young could not admit to his desertion from the R.A.M.C. in 1913 or the Dragoon Guards in 1914, and since Scotland is a long way from Ossett, he probably felt secure in re-enlisting in the army using a false name in 1915.

On his Royal Scots enlistment papers, John B. Young lied about his age, and stated that he was 23 years and 7 months old, when in fact, he was 30 years of age. He was 5ft 7½" tall with a 36" chest and on his right forearm he had two tattoos: a woman's head with a floral background and Buffalo Bill's head. His next of kin was given as "none"; but his marriage was recorded to Beatrice Broom (spinster), at Wakefield on the 22nd July 1911 and her address was given as 27, Thornhill Street, Wakefield.

When John Boyes Young, aka John Boyce, was killed in action on 11th May 1915, the Army contacted his wife, Beatrice Young (nee Broom) to let her know the sad news of her husband’s death. Beatrice expressed surprise at this turn of events, for when John left home on the 5th February 1915, he had told her that he would be back in half an hour. She was not aware that he had enlisted in Scotland on the 8th February 1915, let alone that he was serving in France.

As John Young’s wife she sought to claim her right to a separation allowance and widow’s pension and had to prove to the Army that John Boyce and John Boyes Young were the same man. With the help of the local Soldiers and Sailors Families Association, and the Wakefield Police she finally managed to convince the Army that this was the case and in October 1915 she was awarded the allowances to which she was due as John’s widow. John also left his wife his personal effects and the army returned to her all that was left comprising a belt, razor, photos and his testament.

The Police revealed that John Boyes Young had a habit of going by the name of John Boyce and he had left his wife on several occasions without notice and for months at a time. On the most recent occasion, on the 26th June 1914, he was arrested for his second desertion from the Army: this time from the Dragoons. His wife put this unusual behaviour down to her husband contracting enteric (typhoid) fever during his army service, allegedly, in the South African Wars prior to their marriage in July 1911.

Thus John Boyes Young had served in the Royal Army Medical Corps (deserted and discharged, 3rd April 1913); the Dragoon Guards (arrested in Wakefield for desertion on the 26th June 1914), and finally, the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots (killed May 1915). It is possible that he served in the R.A.M.C. and the Dragoons at the same time.

The 1st Battalion, Royal Scots were serving in Allahabad, India at outbreak of the Great War. They returned to England on the 16th November 1914 and landed at Le Havre on the 20th December 1914, serving in France and Flanders with 81st Brigade, 27th Division. In December, 1915, the Battalion moved to Salonika.

Private Boyes (or Young) embarked for France on the 16th of March 1915 and was killed in action at Ypres on the 11th of May 1915. The entry from War Diary for the 1st Battalion, Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) for the days leading up to Private Boyce's death is reproduced below:

"On the 8th May 1915, the 1st Battalion Royal Scots were ordered to form part of Composite Brigade with two Companies each: 2nd Brigade Royal Irish Fusiliers and 2nd Brigade Leinster Regiment. The composite was dissolved at 6pm and the Royal Scots battalion proceeded with all speed to the Zouave Wood (Hooge) under command of Lt. Col. Callender. The Germans attacked the area of woods south of the Menin Road after a horrendous artillery bombardment all day. Heavy fighting near Hooge and North of Menin Road.

The 1st Battalion Royal Scots were sent up the line in support of 81st Brigade. The 81st were in a small salient and the northern side was 'sagging'. When the 1st Royal Scots arrived they found the unit to their left had been forced from their trenches and the Germans were in the process of occupying them. The 1st Royal Scots fixed bayonets and charged, evicting them in disarray. The 1st Royal Scots and their territorial companions in the 9th Royal Scots held these trenches, without losing a sap, until relieved on the night of 22nd/23rd May.

About 6pm orders were received to proceed to Sanctuary Wood. The battalion arrived soon after dusk and were halted at Zouave Wood. Officers went ahead and inspected trenches held by 2nd Gloucester's, and the battalion took over these trenches before dawn the following day. Disposition of battalion - A & D Coys fire trenches, B & C Coys support trenches.

9th May 1915: Very heavy artillery bombardment. By 2am the battalion was moved up to Sanctuary Wood. They had heavy fighting in Sanctuary Wood and got badly cut up. At dawn the order came to fall back and occupy the GHQ line some 2 miles West. This was done. The enemy's guns had the range of this line to a nicety, and put in a number of shells. Line maintained. Two hundred men out digging at night. Casualties this day: Killed 4 men. Wounded Lt. G. M. V. Bidie 25 other ranks.

10th May 1915: A message came to the effect that all was not well on the left. B Coy was ordered to move out to the left in support and to clear up the situation. On arrival it was found the unit on our left had been driven from its trenches by the combined effect of shells and gas. Seeing the enemy about to occupy the trench in some strength, Captain Farquharson advanced his company at the double and the enemy fled in disorder. B Coy had 1 man wounded. The company occupied the trench and proceeded to make the flank more secure. Casualties this day: Killed 2 men. Wounded 13 men. (1 since died of wounds)

James Baird. Private 10826. (Ypres Menin Gate), John Boyce. Private 20622. (Ypres Menin Gate), Thomas Murray. Private 4429. Died of wounds (Klein-Vierstraat Cemetery).

11th May 1915: Trenches heavily shelled but with little result. Trenches held A Coy on the right, D Coy in the centre, B Coy on the left, and C Coy in support. The left company worked hard to consolidate there position which was overlooked by the enemy from the left."

As a final twist in the tale, John B. Young's 1914/15 Star was "returned for amendment" because his name had been entered as John Bryce not John Boyce on the medal card!

Sanctuary Wood, Zillebeke, Belgium, May 1915

Above: The battlefield at Sanctuary Wood, Zillebeke where Private John Bryce (Young) was killed in action in May 1915.

Private John Boyes Young or John Boyce died on the 11th May 1915, aged 30 years, in the heavy fighting at Sanctuary Wood, Zillebeke, Belgium and is remembered on Panel 11 at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial 1, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Ypres (now Ieper) is a town in the Province of West Flanders. The Memorial is situated at the eastern side of the town on the road to Menin (Menen) and Courtrai (Kortrijk).

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.

The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

There was little more significant activity on this front until 1917, when in the Third Battle of Ypres an offensive was mounted by Commonwealth forces to divert German attention from a weakened French front further south. The initial attempt in June to dislodge the Germans from the Messines Ridge was a complete success, but the main assault north-eastward, which began at the end of July, quickly became a dogged struggle against determined opposition and the rapidly deteriorating weather. The campaign finally came to a close in November with the capture of Passchendaele.

The German offensive of March 1918 met with some initial success, but was eventually checked and repulsed in a combined effort by the Allies in September.

The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient. In the case of United Kingdom casualties, only those prior 16 August 1917 (with some exceptions). United Kingdom and New Zealand servicemen who died after that date are named on the memorial at Tyne Cot, a site which marks the furthest point reached by Commonwealth forces in Belgium until nearly the end of the war. New Zealand casualties that died prior to 16 August 1917 are commemorated on memorials at Buttes New British Cemetery and Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial now bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known.


1. Commonwealth War Graves Commission web site