An Unsung Hero
The Battle of St. Julien (2nd Battle of Ypres 24 April 1915 to 4 May 1915)
In April 1915 the weather in Ypres, Belgium was cold, wet and thoroughly miserable. The last week of that month saw a ferocious battle for possession of the town which has become known as the Second Battle of Ypres. It was fought at four separate locations including the little village of St. Julien. This was a village which was held at the beginning of the battle by Canadian and French troops. At St. Julien the battle raged between 24 April 1915 and the 5 May 1915. It was a battle which saw the first German use of gas as a weapon of war and the Allied soldiers that fought in it did so fighting not only the weather, the gas but also constant machine gun and artillery fire.
It was into this battle that the East Yorkshire Regiment was thrust despite having only arrived in Belgium on 17 April 1915. Amongst their number was their Second in Command, a 33 year old Captain called Bede Farrell and his younger brother Adrian. Both were the sons of Thomas Farrell, a Partner in this firm (then known as "Rollit & Co"). Bede, himself, had been an Articled Clerk and later a Partner in this firm between 1910 until late 1913 when he left and formed his own firm. It was a short lived venture as within a year he closed it down to volunteer for the Regular Army (he had been a Territorial Army Officer since 1900 when he was 19). In April 1915 Bede was Second in Command of a battalion of 229 men (including his brother) of the East Yorkshire Regiment.
Upon their arrival in Belgium the East Yorkshires were to be stationed at what were, until 24 April 1915, reserve trenches at the village of St. Julien. On 23 April 1915 Bede's battalion spent the evening trying to get some sleep in huts about one and a half miles from Ypres. Sleep, however, is difficult when it is freezing cold and artillery shells are exploding all around you. In any event their sleep was interrupted at 2.00 am on the morning of 24 April 1915 when they received the order to go forward to the reserve trenches at the village of St. Julien. Upon their arrival (at about 3.15 am) they were ordered to dig themselves in. This involved each man digging a hole deep enough to stand in and then digging sideways to join up with holes dug by their mates. In this way a trench was created. This task was undertaken in the terrifying circumstances of shrapnel exploding only a few yards away.
Luck was certainly not with Bede's battalion as it was this day the Germans decided to launch an attack on the village of St. Julien beginning with a gas attack and following it up with ferocious artillery and machine gun fire.
At 10.30 that morning Bede's battalion was ordered to leave its recently dug trench and advance and again dig themselves another trench. Having done so they then spent that day avoiding the shrapnel which was exploding all around them. At 4.00 o'clock in the afternoon Bede's battalion got its order to "go over the top" and attack the Germans. Despite knowing the chances of survival or avoiding serious injury were slim Bede and the rest of his battalion went "over the top" and attacked the Germans facing up to terrific artillery and machine gun fire. As might be anticipated the battalion suffered heavy losses with many men killed and wounded. Sadly amongst those killed was Bede who was reported to have been shot in the heart as he led his men towards the German lines. Tragically also a little over a week later on 3 May 1915 his younger brother Adrian was also badly wounded. Whilst he survived the battle he died of his wounds a year later.
The efforts of the East Yorkshire Regiment and the other Allied troops involved in the battle were not in vain as they helped not only rescue Canadian and French soldiers who occupying the front line had been the first to face the German bombardment of gas and artillery, they also successfully defended the town of Ypres which remained in control of the Allies.
Bede has no known grave and is remembered only by the inscription of his name on the Menin Gate War Memorial.
Our firm will this year celebrate its 175th birthday. In doing so we should not forget that the last 100 years of our firm's existence and ability to practice law to serve the people and businesses of Hull, East and North Yorkshire and beyond was bought by the courage and sacrifice of thousands of soldiers like Bede Farrell, his brother Adrian and, of course, parents such as this firm's partner Thomas Farrell and his wife.
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