Researched by John Mills. Flora Sandes was the only woman to officially fight on the front line during WW1, having joined the Serbian Army.
Flora was born on the 26th January 1876 in Nether Poppleton, near York, the youngest of eight children. From an early age she exhibited an adventurous nature, a real tomboy, somewhat surprising for the daughter of a vicar! At the aged of 9 the family moved to rural Suffolk. Even her middle class upbringing didn’t dull her desire for adventure. After school she trained as a stenographer in London and scrapped together all her money, and together with the proceeds of a legacy from an uncle she went off to see the world travelling to places like Egypt, Canada and America.
Flora was 38 years old when WW1 broke out and was living in London at the time. She enlisted as an Ambulance Service Volunteer and just 8 days later she was on her way to Serbia with the first volunteer unit to leave Britain. She worked in Military Hospitals and by October 1915 was fluent in the Serbian language. She eventually enlisted in the Serbian Army, one of the few countries in the world that accepted female soldiers. She soon made a name for herself, rising through the ranks to Sergeant within a year. It wasn’t just soldiering that Flora matched her male counterparts. She could hold her own racing cars, shooting, smoking and drinking.
She survived the front line fighting, received a terrible shrapnel wound in November 1916, and even the Spanish Flu. She received Serbia’s highest Military decoration, the ‘Order of the Star of Karadorde’. When the war ended Flora stayed in the Army until 1922. She married in 1927 to Yuri Yudenitch, a soldier 12 years her junior whom she had served with. They lived for a time in France before settling in Yugoslavia. In April 1941 when Germany invaded Yugoslavia Flora donned her uniform prepared to fight for the Yugoslav Army. She was 65 years old! Germany’s victory, however, was swift, just 11 days. Her husband died of heart failure the same year.
Flora was alone and penniless at the end of WW2. She moved to live with her nephew in Jerusalem and then to Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe). She eventually returned to Suffolk and died on the 24th November 1956 aged 80.
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John was born in 1896 in Leyburn North Yorkshire. In 1900 the family moved to Burtersett near Hawes where John’s father Jeremiah worked as a stonemason at the local quarry. John had two younger brothers, Anthony and George. On leaving school John also worked at the quarry. In February 1916 he had married a local girl, Jane Ann Dinsdale. By the time of his wedding John was with the 4th Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, having enlisted at Askrigg in October 1915. John embarked for France in April 1916. The Battalion would not take part in the Somme offensive until September 15th with the eventual plan for the 26th was for the Battalion to attack and capture German trenches running from Flers. It was during the German counter attack that the Battalion suffered heavy casualties, one of which was John. His body was never found and it wasn’t until early 1917 that his wife Jane was officially notified that her husband had been killed. By the time of his death Jane had given birth to a child. Private John William Horn’s name is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Philip Mayne was the last surviving British officer from World War One to die. He died at the age of 107 years and 139 days at a care hostel in Richmond, North Yorkshire in 2007. Philip’s war service was was brief and he never saw any action. However he was the last verteran to die who held the rank of officer. This happened thanks to a cadetship into the Royal Engineers which meant he was fast-tracked to second lieutenant — the lowest officer rank — in September 1918 at the age of just 18. The war ended six weeks later and he was demobilised on Christmas Eve 1918 without having set foot in France. Following the war he studied at Cambridge and became an engineer. With a birth date of 22 November 1899, Mr Mayne was alive in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. At his death he had three children, eight grandchildren and twenty-one great-grandchildren.
Submitted by Jon Bemrose. Private Fred Ward (50236) born 1898 in East Yorkshire. Working as a lad porter on the railway at Ampleforth before joining up. Joined the Green Howards at Richmond, but he was transfered to the Northumberland Fusiliers. Fred was in France, near Arras in early 1917 – Jon states: “The fateful day was the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday 9th April. It must have been terrible, having heard and seen all the death and destruction that had occurred before they set off at around 9:00am. My best guess is that they reached the “Blue” line, where they were hit by machinegun fire. Whether initially buried by shell fire or his comrades, Fred was later found and finally burried at Orchard Dump Cemetery, Arleux en Gohelle. I visited his grave in 2016, the first of the family to do so I am led to believe.”