Born in Church Fenton, Yorkshire in 1889, Leonard Yorke’s life was to come to a tragic conclusion ten years after the First World War came to an end. In his early years, Leonard lived in Castleford, the son of a Station Master with the NER. He moved to London to become an Electrical Engineer and following the outbreak of war was gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. By May he was in Belgium where on 24th and 25th the 4th Battalion were involved in heavy fighting. 2nd Lt Yorke was pulled out of the line due to being a vicitm of the first gas attack of the war, not returning to front line duties until August 1915. In late 1916 he was promoted to Lieutenant and by June 1917 he had attained the rank of Captain. His Military Cross citation of 28th September 1918 states that he “displayed great courage in the leading of his platoon at a time of exceptional difficulty and danger…..He was seriously wounded during the action”. The Yorkshire Post of 11 October 1918 reported “Capt. Leonard James Yorke, Yorkshire Regiment, son of Mr James Yorke, 19 South End Avenue, Darlington, has been wounded and is in hospital abroad”. After two years in hospital, Yorke was invalided out of the army.
Leonard Yorke returned to London after leaving the army, but couldn’t cope following the stresses of war. On May 2nd 1929, Yorke shot himself on Hampstead Heath. At the inquest his wife explained that “In January last he slipped and broke his ankle, and he was laid up for eight weeks. This depressed him very much, because he loved his work. He also frequently had great pain from his wounds, especially during the cold weather….”. Before taking his own life, Leonard wrote to his wife – “I have failed you completely, and this evening I am afraid I must take the arm of a coward and walk across Hampstead Heath and go out for good…..I don’t think I can say anything else. I expect the dear old temporary insanity will come up again. As a matter of fact a lot of it was temporary madness.” A verdict of suicide while of unsound mind was returned; the jury added a rider that they thought Yorke was a victim of the war.
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Christine Howie (née Magee) visited the museum to tell us about the sad story of her Grandfather, John Magee who was born in Birkdale in 1889. 30876 Private John Magee enlisted on 24th July 1915 and served with the 12th Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment during the First World War. He was wounded by a shell burst which damaged his left wrist and led to him being hospitalised. The distinctive ‘hospital blues’ are shown on his photo, a uniform worn by enlisted men during treatment. The fingers of his hand were badly damaged and as a result he received the Silver War Badge – according to regulations he was “no longer physically fit for war service”. At home in Southport John’s wife Annie was looking after the two children. In the photograph, Christine’s father Harry is depicted age three, with his elder brother John Alfred. Tragically, as the extract from her death certificate shows, Annie was to be one of the victims of the outbreak of Spanish flu. Her death came just a few days after the signing of the Armistice that brought about an end to the fighting. John’s sister Kitty took care of the children until John returned – to bring Harry and John Alfred up as a single parent.
Herbert Webb was born in Richmond on 5th April 1882. He followed his father, James into the Green Howards. Joining as a boy in 1900, promotion soon followed and he attained the rank of Col Sergt Major by October of 1914. Attached to the 5th Battalion the Northumberland Fusiliers between May 1916 and October 1917 in order to improve disipline. Webb was present at the Battles of the Somme 1916, Arras 1917 and Ypres 1917. He was wounded at Armentieres on 11th April 1918 while acting as Adjutant to the 4th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. Webbs was twice mentioned in dispatches and eventually promoted to a commission. After returning to the line Herbert was again wounded and taken prisoner at Chemin des Dames on 27th May 1918. German POW camp records show that he was moved by July to a camp at Limburg, to the West of Frankfurt and then via two others until by November 4th 1918 he was in a Camp, Kamstigall, on a spit of land far to the East just West of present day Kallingrad, in Russia. At that time it was in Poland and called Pillau, now Baltiysk. He survived his time in the German prison camps and retired in March 1920.
Otto Wedgewood was born in July 1882 at Bredgar in Kent to Rowland and Annie Wedgwood. He was a descendant of Thomas Wedgwood, the elder brother of the famous potter Josiah Wedgewood. Otto was one of six children. The 1891 census has Otto’s father’s occupation as ‘living on own means’ and was successful enough to employ two servants. The 1901 census shows Otto was living at the home of his nephew George Maxstead in Hornsea Yorkshire. Otto at the time was an Engineer Apprentice. On the 24th October 1914 Otto embarked from London to Bombay in India. His occupation on the passenger list is given as ‘Expert’ and presumably the trip was work related. It is not certain when he returned to Britain. However, it probable that he felt he had to ‘do his bit’ for the war effort and so came home. He subsequently joined the Royal Engineers. From the 4th May 1917 he served with CRE IX Corps. The London Gazette of the 4th December 1915 details Otto attaining the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. By the end of the war he was a Captain. Otto spent time in Canada in the early 1930s but by 1939 he was back in England working as a Cement Works Manager at Gravesend in Kent. In 1944 he married Stella Vincett in Chatham. Otto died on the 23rd May 1957 and was cremated five days later at Greenwich in London. He was 74 years old. Otto’s Granddaughter, Jeanette Schofield, in Richmond.