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Major Charles Allix Lavington Yate – The Victoria Cross, RUSI and the First World War, Part V
As part of our series looking into the lives of the RUSI members who were Victoria Cross holders and fell in the Great War, we profile Major Charles Allix Lavington ‘Cal’ Yate.
Charles Allix Lavington Yate, known as ‘Cal’, was born on 14 March 1872 in Ludwigslust, Mecklenburg, Germany. He attended Weymouth College and, in 1891, the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, where he completed his course ranked as ninth out of 1,100 men. Yate saw action several times before the First World War. He was shot in the abdomen at Enslin, during the Battle of Graspan, in 1899. He returned home to Madeley, Shropshire, to recover and was met at his local train station by a party of miners, who took it upon themselves to pull his carriage home as a mark of respect for his bravery. Another military operation saw him presented with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th Class, by the emperor of Japan. Yate followed up these deployments by work in the War Office between 1908 and 1914.
Yate’s leisure time was spent playing polo, riding horses, hunting and skiing. He had a facility with languages, and became an interpreter in German, French and Japanese. He also spoke Persian and Hindustani. Yate wrote about war, with regular articles for Blackwood’s Magazine, including an article on ‘Moral Qualities in War’, which was published following his death in September 1914. Previously, in 1908, he won third prize in RUSI’s annual Trench Gascoigne Essay Prize competition. Yate's essay concluded with:
‘A really satisfactory system of organising and maintaining … our defensive resources will only be possible when our countrymen realise that each one of them is responsible for the defence of our world-wide Empire, even as they are all inheritors of its glories’.
It was this sense of personal responsibility that Yate was to display in combat.
Yate was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Le Cateau, France, on 26 August 1914. Yate commanded B Company of the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. That day’s action was to hold the German advance. It saw no less than five Victoria Crosses awarded. The day began with an order to fully stock all trenches with food, water and ammunition – there would be no retreat. The Germans had six times the number of guns compared to the British artillery. By the afternoon, most of the surviving British guns were forced to withdraw, and Yate’s company of men soon found themselves fighting the Germans at a range of 600 yards. B Company’s guns remained silent for as long as possible, to draw the Germans out, and their ensuing attack caused a temporary German retreat amid numerous casualties. But by 1620 hours, following fierce machine-gun fire and shelling, Yate and his men found themselves encircled on three sides. At this stage, the Germans issued the bugle call for cease fire, hoping to convince them to surrender. Instead, this produced an even fiercer volley of fire from the British. Yate was now in command of both B and D Companies, comprising just nineteen surviving men. Ignoring further German demands for their surrender, he ordered his men to rush the enemy line. Since their ammunition was spent, he led his men in a fixed bayonet charge in which Yate was wounded.
Yate was taken prisoner and less than a month later he was dead. There are conflicting accounts of the circumstances surrounding his death, but he made several attempts to escape.
Yate died on 21 September 1914. He was buried in Berlin South-Western Cemetery in Stahnsdorf, Berlin, plot II, row G, grave 8. He was mentioned in despatches in October 1914 and his Victoria Cross was gazetted on 25 November 1914. It was posted to his widow on 11 January 1915. However, after the war, Yate’s VC was presented to her at Buckingham Palace on 2 August 1919. His VC is now held by the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum, Doncaster.
A colleague in the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, Corporal F W Holmes VC, described him in these words:
‘Major Yate was a very fine officer … He was always in front, and his constant cry was “Follow me!”’
By Ashley Ryan, RLMH volunteer, 2016 Trench Gascoigne Essay Prize third place winner
This article is the fifth in a nine-part series to be published in the RUSI Library News.
If you would like to learn more, go to https://RUSI.org/GreatWar
Brazier, Kevin, The Complete Victoria Cross: A Full Chronological Record of All Holders of Britain's Highest Award for Gallantry (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2010).
Finkelstein, David, ‘Literature, Propaganda, and the First World War: The Case of Blackwood’s Magazine’, in Jeremy Treglown and Bridget Bennett (eds), Grub Street and the Ivory Tower: Literary Journalism and Literary Scholarship from Fielding to the Internet (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).
Gliddon, Gerald, VCs of the First World War: 1914 (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1994).
Oldfield, Paul, Victoria Crosses on the Western Front, August 1914–April 1915: A Guide to the Locations from Mons to Hill 60 (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2014).
RUSI Journal, ‘Great War Stories: RUSI’s Fallen Members’ (Vol. 162, No. 3, June/July 2017), pp. 4–10.
C A L Yate, ‘Third Prize Essay: The Best Way of Organising and Maintaining a Reserve
of Efficient British Officers for the British Forces at Home and in India, Including the Indian Army’, RUSI Journal (Vol. 52, No. 364, 1908), pp. 751-803.