This Day In History

  • 1691 Castleton’s Regiment (later 1st East Lancashires) embarks at Portsmouth for active service in Flanders as part of the largest English Army sent abroad since the days of Henry the Eighth.
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Private William Young VC

William Young VC

William Young was born in 1876 in Maryhill, Glasgow, Scotland, joining the Army as soon as he was old enough, aged 15. He served his enlistment term, went on to the Reserve, and settled in Preston with his family, where he was working at the Gas Works when World War I broke out.

Recalled to the Army, he sailed for France in September 1914. He was wounded in November, returned to duty and was gassed in the spring of 1915. His eyesight was affected, and he spent most of 1915 recovering.

He had only been back in the trenches for a very short time, serving with the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, when he performed the deeds for which he was awarded the VC, near a position nicknamed “Little Z,” east of Foncquevillers, France, on 22nd December 1915. Conditions were dreadful – wet December weather had made the trenches virtually a frozen swamp, the situation requiring platoon reliefs every 24 hours.

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.

William Young during treatment on his jaw

William Young during treatment on his jaw

His award of the Victoria Cross was promulgated in the London Gazette on 28th March 1916 :-

“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 spent the next four months in hospital and was well enough to attend a civic reception in his honour in Preston in April 1916.

Private Young on the steps of the Town Hall in Preston on 19th April 1916. He died of his wounds 27th August, 1916.William Young with his family during his civic reception at the Town Hall in Preston in 1916

He 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. He was the only World War I winner of the Victoria Cross to die and be buried in Britain while the war was still being fought.

William Young's funeral passing through Preston, 31 August 1916

William Young’s funeral passing through Preston, 31 August 1916

In 2013 the Government initiated a programme to install memorial pavements in the home towns of all World War I VC winners. All were modelled on that of William Young. The architect who designed them had learned of his story while working in Preston.

William Young's memorial pavement., unveiled in Preston on 16 April 2016 in the presence of over 50 of his descendants.

William Young’s memorial pavement., unveiled in Preston on 16 April 2016 in the presence of over 50 of his descendants.

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. They were on long-term loan to the Museum of Lancashire until its closure, and are now amongst the proudest possessions of our Lancashire Infantry Museum.

An illustrated biography of ‘Jock’ Young VC is available for purchase from our on-line Bookshop, click HERE