Frederick Youens had been with the battalion for less than four months. He had only joined them - newly commissioned and fresh from officer training school in England - in March, whilst the battalion was resting out of the line in billets at Bollezeele in Belgium. And now he was dead, mortally wounded by a German bomb, whilst gaining for himself the Victoria Cross - the seventh awarded to The Durham Light Infantry and the second to the battalion.
He was born on I4th August 1893 at High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, the son of Vincent and Lizzie Youens. In 1899, he started at the local National School, winning a scholarship in 1906 to the Royal Grammar School in High Wycombe. There he excelled at sports and gained his first military experience in the Officer Training Corps. He left school in 1911, with ambitions logo to Oxford University, and began work as an assistant school master at St Peter's School in Rochester.
In August 1914, tens of thousands of young men left their homes, their families and their work and volunteered for the Army. Frederick Youens was no exception and enlisted as a Private in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Later, he transferred to the 7th (Service) Battalion The East Surrey Regiment and went out to France with this battalion on 1st June 1915. After the battle of Loos in September, he worked all night in the field, dressing wounds and helping the wounded to shelter before he was seriously wounded in the arm.
It was a year before his arm had sufficiently healed for him to rejoin the Regimental Depot at Kingston upon Thames. There his ability was recognised and he was offered a commission, which he accepted, and he was sent to an Officer Cadet Battalion for training. At the end of the four months' course, Frederick Youens was commissioned, on 25th January 1917, as a Temporary Second Lieutenant and was attached to The Durham Light Infantry. On 13th March 1917, Temporary Second Lieutenant Youens joined the 13th (Service) Battalion DLI in Belgium, as part of the 68th Brigade of the 23rd Division, and was posted to "C" Company. Just after 3am on 7th June 1917, nineteen huge mines exploded under the German trenches on Messines ridge, south of Ypres. These mines had taken months to dig and many Durham miners had worked on them before they were filled with explosive. Then two thousand guns opened fire. At the northern edge of Messines at Hill 60, the 23rd Division advanced across the shattered ground. 13 DLI was in reserve south of Zillebeke lake at the start of the battle but was sent the next day to strengthen the newly captured positions around Impartial Trench, west of Klein Zillebeke.
13 DLI began a second tour of duty at Impartial Trench and Hill 60 on 6th July. The Germans had now recovered from their defeat and the area was under constant shell and machine gun fire, with German patrols by night seeking out any weaknesses in the new British line.
Just after midnight on 7th July 1917, Second Lieutenant Youens led a three-man patrol out into no-man's-land. There they found a group of forty Germans and, in the fight that followed, Frederick Youens and another soldier were wounded by bombs and the patrol was forced to retreat. About 2am, a fierce bombardment began to fall on the battalion's positions and, half an hour later, under cover of the shelling, fifty German soldiers raided the trench held by "C" Company. Frederick Youens was in a dug-out having his wounds cleaned and dressed, when he was told that a shell-burst had just nearly knocked out a nearby Lewis machine-gun and that German raiders were near. Ignoring his wounds, he ran from the dug-out, forgetting his shirt and jacket, to rally the Lewis gunners and get them firing immediately at the attacking Germans. A bomb then fell amongst the machine-gunners but failed to explode.
He "immediately picked if up and hurled it over the parapet. Shortly afterwards another bomb Jell near the same place/ again, Second Lieutenant Youens picked it up with the intention of throwing it away, when it exploded in his hand, severely wounding him and also some of his men. There is little doubt that the prompt and gallant action of Second Lieutenant Youens saved several men's lives and that by his energy and resource the enemy's raid was completely repulsed." [Citation]
On 2nd August 1917, the London Gazette announced the award of a posthumous Victoria Cross to Second Lieutenant Frederick Youens - "For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty." [Citation] On 29th August, his mother went to Buckingham Palace and was presented with her son's Victoria Cross by King George V.
Six weeks before, on the same day as Major Downey had written his letter, the Brigade Chaplain also wrote to Mrs Youens -
"I want to tell you of my deep sympathy in the sad news of the death of your son..... When he was going up to the line a week ago, he was so bright and showed no sign of nervousness, so common when men are going straight into danger. As I wished him good luck and he started off, one of the senior officers turned to me and said 'That's a fine chap, just the sort of fellow we want in this battalion'. On Friday evening, I visited the Forward Dressing Station and was told that a young officer had died there that day."
Frederick Youens was twenty-three years old when he died. He was buried at Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) near Zillebeke, south of Ypres, He lies there still
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