Like most he would get his basic upbringing and do little jobs here and there but before WW1 came along John Frances Young decided a change was in order and so he moved off to Canada. Soon he'd find work packaging tobacco for the Imperial Tobacco Company in Quebec. Then came the call for men to go off to war. John tossed the tobacco aside and jumped into the uniform of a private soldier with the 87th Quebec Regiment. They were also known as the Canadian Grenadier Guards. This was not just any regiment. It was the oldest militia infantry unit in the Canadian Army, and still is today. It has been around since the late 1700's.
Well over 1,000 men would be selected to join the Grenadiers and these would be formed into the 4th Battalion of the 4 Canadian Expeditionary Force. The men of the 87th would come primarily from the St John and Montreal areas of Quebec.
In those days many of the recruits were horded off to Valcartier to do many weeks or months of basic training and then headed off to the local train station for a long ride east to Halifax. They would then board large liners for the sail across the Atlantic to England.
On 25 April 1916 John and over 1,000 of his fellow soldiers and officers from the 87th would be transported across from Halifax to England. After some shakedowns and probably more training his unit of 36 officers and 1026 other ranks would be landed in France in August to meet their foe.
And meet them they would. By the time the war was over they would have added 16 Battle Honours to their unit colours. They would also bring home 22 Military Medals, 3 Military Crosses and one Victoria Cross.
He used these as a stretcher bearer and a medic and it would be with these healing rather than destructive hands that he would earn his fame at the Dreacort-Queant Line and just beyond on 2 Sept., 1918. This was a banner day for the Victoria Cross and for Canada as well. On that day11 Victoria Crosses were earned, 6 to Canadians. All in the same battle.
When the German defensive line, so called as it ran between the two cities of the same name, was finally breached the roll of the 87th was to take a high point called the Drury Ridge. The unit faced an area were it was mostly open ground well defended by enemy rifle and machine gun fire. The unit took many casualties and it fell to the stretcher bearers to cross open lines under this fire to treat the wounded and try to get them back to friendly lines.
Pte John Young, pictured above and beside his cap badge or collar dog, found himself out in the open doing his job of treating the wounded. He was under intensive fire for over an hour doing his best to save his comrades but then he ran out of medical supplies. That did not stop him. He crawled out of harm's way and back to his headquarters and got more supplies and went right back into the danger zone to continue supplying the best aid he could. When the line there was finally broken it then fell to him to arrange for other stretcher bearers to go back to over a dozen spots to pick up the wounded he had already treated.
For this John was awarded a Victoria Cross... the only one in his unit of about 1100 men. It would be pinned on his chest by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in August of 1919.
Here is what the London Gazette had to say about Pte John Francis Young...
On November 11 1921 the US unveiled its Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery at Washington DC. Dignitaries from around the work attended as did Canada's then PM Robert Border. Young accompanied him to the service, as did another VC recipient who in later life moved to Canada. His name was Sgt George Richardson and he was 89 yars old at the time. He was then oldest living VC recipient in the word.
Several years after returning forn the war, John developed tuburculosis as a result of the mustard gasses he obsorbed from the battle grounds of Europe. The illness ultimately took his life about ten years after he was presented his VC, and he was laid to rest in Quebec in November of 1929.
The next time you are in Ottawa visited our National Military War Museum where you will find about one third of all the VC's awarded to Canadians. (There is also a large collection at Calgary's Glenbowe Museum most worthy of a visit.) John Young's is at Ottawa as well and was just added to the collection from the family a few years back.
Yesterday would have been John's 121st birthday.
Happy birthday Sergeant.
see you on Friday