The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Youll was only 21 year old when he was awarded the VC 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. This is his story.
I was born at home on 6 June 1897, my parents were Richard and Margaret of Thorncroft, Thornley, County Durham. I was educated at Thornley Council School and later a student at the Wingate technical classes. I started work at Thornley Colliery as an apprentice electrician at 15.
Then in 1915 I enlisted as a sapper in the Royal Engineers of 1st Durham Field Company. We trained for a year before leaving for France on 11th August 1916. Six month later I returned home for officer training then gazetted to the Northumberland Fusiliers and returned to France at the end of summer. Later that year I was made second lieutenant and our battalion was transferred to the Italian Front.
I was commanding a patrol near Asiago, north of Venice, Italy, when we came under heavy fire so I sent my men back to safety and I remained to watch the situation. Then I reported to a neighbouring unit where I took command of some men and we held our position against enemy attack.
But behind me a machine-gun opened fire. So I rushed in and captured the gun, then opened fire killing most of them. I carried out three separate counterattacks, and drove the enemy back each time.
Tragically, just over a month later, on 27 October 1918, John was killed during an attack across the River Piave. In the attack, Youll was first slightly wounded in the arm, the Army Chaplain arrived and advised him to stay where he was.
Later the Chaplain found his body laid out on a stretcher – he had been struck by a shell. His last words were “It’s all right, we got them stone cold.”
John’s family were notified of his death on 10th November 1918, the day before the Armistice was signed. He was first buried at Spresiano, north of Venice, and later, in June 1919, reburied at Giavera British Cemetery, Veneto, Italy.
In 1997, his medals were sold for £36,000, they included the VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and Italian Silver Star. They were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
Research: Commonwealth War Graves.
Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.
Gary Alikivi May 2021