Thursday, August 23, 2007
Monday, August 20, 2007
This particular piece of research was triggered by one of my periodic googlings of the name YELF. A chance search had revealed a new reference to a site that seemed to consist of names of soldiers, including one referring to Frederick Yelf. This site was owned by Kevin Asplin and seemed to focus on the IY (whatever that was…) However, of more immediate interest was the entry for ‘Yelf, Frederick 4673, Trooper 41st Coy., 12th Bn. I.Y.’
Now I have a couple of Frederick Yelfs on the file, in fact recent articles have dealt with Freddie Yelf and Frederick Steane Yelf, but I wasn’t aware of any regular army service from any of them, so at first I was rather intrigued as to what sort of dates I was looking at in this particular instance. Trooper meant he was in a cavalry regiment, but the initials IY didn’t ring any obvious bells. Looking at the rest of the site though, especially the home page and it was soon obvious that IY stood for Imperial Yeomanry, units of mounted infantry that served during the Boer War in South Africa from about 1899 to 1908. They were disbanded soon after the conclusion of that particular war so their history was a short, although fascinating one.
I was able to do some background reading on the Imperial Yeomanry on Wikipedia and other specialist sites and found out that they were initially a response to the obvious lack of mounted, mobile infantry required to campaign across the veldt of South Africa. The British government turned to the local units of Cavalry Yeomanry, a sort of 19th century Territorial or part-time local militia, as a means of raising troops quickly. These Yeomanry units had tended to attract the reasonably well-off sons of the middle-class who had undergone some basic military training and turned out for shooting competitions and parades. In the heady atmosphere of patriotic fervour large numbers volunteered for service in South Africa but their terms and conditions of service were not the same as their regular army compatriots. In the first place they only signed on for a year and in the second place they supplied both their own horse and their own uniform! No doubt they hoped that a year would be enough to see off the Boers, serve the Queen and have a bit of an adventure at the same time and they signed up in large numbers.
The different Companies of the Imperial Yeomanry were drawn from specific Yeomanry regiments. The 41st Company of the 12th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry, Frederick’s company, were drawn from the Hampshire Carabiniers (a carbine being a shortened musket for use by mounted troops) and they seem to have been based in Southampton, but who no doubt had sections over the rest of the county as well). As it turned out, the Frederick in question was Frederick Yelf, son of Richard Yelf, wine-merchant of Sandown, Isle of Wight. Frederick was born in Brading in 1878 and was 22 years and 9 months old when he signed his short–term Attestation papers in Newport on 8th January 1900. This document is preserved in the National Archive Office along with those of Frederick’s colleagues, and gives information about Frederick at the beginning and end, of his service. From the document we know that Frederick was 5’8” tall and weighed 144lbs, of fair complexion with blue eyes and brown hair and was declared fit for service by Lt. Col. Will Woods following his successful medical. The attestation documents broke Frederick’s service down into three sections; 24 days in England, 1 year 23 days in South Africa and a further 36 days back in England before his final discharge on 31-3-1901. His conduct over this period was described as ‘very good’ and his campaigns were recorded as ‘S. Africa, Senekal, Biddulphsberg’
I spent some time looking up these campaigns and found a very informative and descriptive set of accounts of the battle of Biddulphsberg as well as another showing the battlefield as it is today (complete with Boer anthem!). It is impossible to know what experiences Frederick had in the campaign but the note of his medals and clasps on the Attestation papers – namely the Queens South African medal and four clasps (the bars with names on attached to the ribbon) pinpoint exactly when and where he served. The following information is taken from the North-East Medals website where I was able to find out just what these clasps refer to. Frederick’s four clasps consisted one campaign clasp, two regional clasps and one date clasp, namely;
Wittebergen : All troops who were inside a line drawn from Harrismith to Bethlehem, thence to Senekal and Clocolan, along the Basuto border, and back to Harrismith, between lst and 29th July, 1900, both dates inclusive.
Cape Colony : All troops in Cape Colony at any time between 11th October, 1899, and 31st May, 1902, inclusive, who had not received a clasp for a specific action in the Cape Colony, or the " Natal " clasp.
Orange Free State : All troops in Orange River Colony at any time between 28th February, 1900 and 31st May, 1902, inclusive who had not received a clasp for a specific action in the Orange River Colony.
South Africa 1901 : All troops who served in South Africa between 1st January, 1901, and 31st December, 1901, both dates inclusive, who were not eligible for the King's South Africa Medal.
By all accounts the Boer’s choice of guerrilla tactics left many of the Imperial Yeomanry with only routine and boredom for much of the time and when their time was up they either applied for release or a transfer to the more exciting life of a mounted policeman. Frederick seems to have preferred to return to his life in the wine-trade and his documentation notes that he was
“Discharged at his own request from further service in connection with the War in South Africa”
He was finally paid-off on the 31-03-1901 having attained the rank of corporal after one year and eighty-three days of service. Fredericks’s South African adventure was over, but the war was to drag on for a further eight years.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
There were a number of Yelfs who served in the forces during the First World War, including a number of Canadians, one of whom was killed. These however are the service medals awarded to those serving in the British forces. The abbreviations are as recorded.
YELF Alfred Robert
Labour Corps - 2nd Lt. / Capt.
Victory Star, British War Medal and Emblems
YELF Francis William
D of Cum.L.I. - 2 Lt./Capt.
Victory Star, British War Medal France
6th Lond. Rifles
Victory Star, British War Medal, 1914-1915 Star France
YELF Robert Herve
L.N.Lan.R. - 2Lt./Lieut.
Victory Star, British War Medal, 1914 Star France
6th London Rifles - C.S.Maj.
Victory Star, British War Medal, 1914-1915 Star
(also D.C.M.) France
YELF Frederick C.
Hampshire Rgt. / M. G. C. - Cpl.
Victory Star, British War Medal, 1914 Star
YELF Jack Robert
R.E./ Comm. & Staff - Lieut./Capt./Maj./Lt. Col.
Victory Star, British War Medal/1914-1915 Star
YELF Robert H.
Northn. R./ Y. and L. R. - Pte.
Victory Star, British War Medal Killed 1916
YELF Albert V.
Hampshire Regt. / M.G.C.* - Pte.
British War Medal
(*IND. GS.A?GN. NWFF. 1919 [Roll 17917-183])
YELF Geo. Henry
R.D.C. - Lieut
YELF Robert Edward Burnet
R.A.M.C. - Lieut
Victory Star, British War Medal H.S. Valdivia
Monday, August 6, 2007
For some of the sixties a Yelf was officially the oldest Isle of Wight inhabitant. At the grand old age of 106 Freddie Yelf had seen the reign of Queen Victoria, two World Wars and one World Cup before dying in November 1966. The following photographs are scanned from poor quality photocopies but I hope they give a flavour of the life of one of our more illustrious Yelfs, not many of whom could have been presented to the Queen!
"Mr F. Yelf of Warwick Cottage, St Lawrence, is on the right of the above picture. He will be 96 years old in March. With him is Mr Fred Shepherd, another nonogenarian who lives in Southampton Road, Lymington. The picture was taken over 18 months ago when Mr Yelf was in Lymington talking over old times with his former school chum. They were both educated at Lymington Congregational Church School. Mr Yelf left at the age of 12 to come to the Island, later becoming a coachman, a position he held for almost 50 years. He served the St. Lawrence ward faithfully and well on the Ventnor U.D.C. Mr Yelf is a prominent member of the local Baptist Church. The picture is reproduced by courtesy of the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times."
Caption to the picture on the right reads "The pictures of Mr Yelf of St Lawrence in this issue are by Mr Weighell and the blocks are loaned by the Evening News, Portsmouth. Mr Yelf, who was 104 last week, asked the Mercury to express his grateful thanks to all kind friends for his gifts, cards and messages of congratulation. He had 130 birthday cards, 11 telegrams and numerous presents, including money, and he particularly appreciated a letter from Alderman Woolnutt, the Island Member of Parliament, and cards from Australia and New Zealand. Mr Yelf told us "It is not so much the gift as the love and thoughts behind them".
July 1965 "The Queen had a long chat with the oldest inhabitant of the Island, 105 year old Mr Frederick Yelf"
"After 105 years his crowning day"
Ventnor Park was looking its very best for the Queen's visit to the holiday town which was crowded with sightseers and ablaze with flags and flowers. On arrival at the park, the Governor presented Mr Albert Payne, Chairman of Ventnor Council and also his daughter Mrs D. Ross. Also present were Mr Charles Davies council clerk and his wife and Mr Frederick Yelf of St. Lawrence. aged 105, the oldest inhabitant of the Island. Mr Yelf was accompanied by his daughters who are both in their eighties and he insisted on standing to meet the Queen and Prince Philip. They spoke to him for several minutes.
A TREE PLANTED
...the Queen said she was amazed at the vitality of Mr Yelf and described Ventnor as a charming place that she would like to visit again..."
"Mr Fred Yelf, 106, Dies"
The Islands Grand Old Man Mr Walter Frederick yelf of Warwick Cottages, St Lawrence died on Tuesday night at the age of 107 and seven months. He had been in very poor health for about a month.
The funeral service is tomorrow at the Baptist Church with the Rev. B. R. Pinches officiating. Former Minister the Rev. F. Glover, now at Bournemouth will also take part and internment will follow at St Lawrence.
Born at Carisbrooke and the son of a dyer for Bright & Minns, Mr Yelf went to school at Lymington when his family moved to the mainland. He was a groom for Mr Lane then Mr Langton at Gatcombe, later Mr Mew, the brewer, of Newport, earning £8 a year. His early days of drinking and smoking changed radically as he would put it "when he saw the light" and then throughout his life he assisted in various churches and brotherhoods. About 1900 he went to St Lawrence as a coachman to Mr Spindler of Old Park and later for the Rev. Brent who built Warwick Cottage for him. Mr Yelf served on the parish council 25 years and was overseer for 12 years before St Lawrence was annexed to Ventnor. He represented the village on Ventnor council and was vice-chairman, also opening the first council house to be built at Lowtherville after the war. Cottages completed at St Lawrence in 1955 are named after him. He represented St Lawrence on teh Assessment committe; was the Chairman of the Agricultural Labourers Union at Whitwell; and also in charge locally of the County Hospital contribution scheme. He spoke at many men's meetings and church gatherings; served on the Co-op Education Committee; and organized various concerts, in his younger days being a popular singer. He was also in the chopir at St Lawrence church and on two occasions painted the exterior. Mr Yelf later became a Deacon at the Baptist Church.
Up to a few months ago he had been remarkably active and last year was presented to the Queen. Mr Yelf has been devotedly cared for by two of his three daughters and his son. Mr Fred Yelf, a former postman, lives at Ryde. Mrs Yelf died in 1930."