b. 06/06/1897 Thornley, Durham. d. 27/10/1918 Asiago, Italy.
John Scott “Jack” Youll (1897-1918) was the younger son of Richard William and Margaret Youll, and was born at the family home on 6th June 1897 at “Thorncroft”, Thornley, County Durham. John was educated at Thornley Council School and later became a student at the technical classes held by the Durham County Council at Wingate. When he was about 15, he began work at Thornley Colliery as an apprentice electrician.
Nearly a year after the start of the Great War, he joined the Army as a sapper in the Royal Engineers (RE) (Durham Territorials, 1/1st Durham Field Company) when he enlisted on 24th July 1915. He trained for a year before leaving for France on 11th August 1916, and did such a good service that he was recommended for a commission, returning home for officer training on 22nd February 1917. In June he was gazetted to the Northumberland Fusiliers and returned to France at the end of July.
Two months later, Youll was mentioned in despatches for his part in the fierce fighting at Polygon Wood in September/October 1917. In October he was transferred with his battalion to the Italian Front.
On 15th June 1918 south west of Asiago, Italy, Second Lieutenant Youll was commanding a patrol which came under heavy enemy fire. Sending his men back to safety he remained to watch the situation and then, unable to rejoin his company, he reported to a neighbouring unit where he took command of a party of men from different units, holding his position against enemy attack until a machine-gun opened fire behind him. He rushed and captured the gun, killing most of the team and opened fire, inflicting heavy casualties. He then carried out three separate counterattacks, driving the enemy back each time.
He was the first officer in his regiment to be awarded the VC since the Siege of Lucknow in 1857 and was decorated by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th September 1918. He was also one of just eight men from County Durham to receive the VC in the Great War. Tragically, just over a month later, on 27th October 1918, John was killed during an attack across the River Piave. In the attack they had three objectives to take. The first objective was taken with all officers wounded except Youll. At the capture of the second objective, Youll was wounded in the arm, but it was only slight. The Army Chaplain arrived and advised him to stay where he was, as the passage of the river was being heavily shelled. About 6pm, the Chaplain returned to the bridge and found Youll’s body laid out on a stretcher. He had been struck by a shell. His last words were “It’s all right Cowling (his adjutant), we got them stone cold.”
He was first buried at Lonadina BC Spresiano and, later, in June 1919, reburied at Giavera British Cemetery, and his family were notified of his death on 10th November 1918, the day before the Armistice was signed. In 1997, his medal group including the VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and Italian Silver Star were sold at Spink’s for £36,000. They were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: GIAVERA BRITISH CEMETERY, VENETO, ITALY.
Jack Youll's medals including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT I, ROW H, GRAVE 2.
Jack Youll's memorial in Thornley, County Durham
Thornley, County Durham (Andrew Swan)