The Sayes Brothers

The Sayes Brothers

Lieutenant John 'Jack' Sayes,
1/5th Battalion, The West Yorkshire Regiment

PS/10417 Private Walker Sayes, 
9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment)

65 Beeston Road, Leeds (Leeds Library and Information Services)

John (known as Jack) and Walker Sayes were the sons of John George Sayes and Mary Eliza Sayes (nee Kilburn). Jack was born in Holbeck on 4th September 1893, and Walker was three years his brother’s junior. There were no other children born to the marriage, however Mrs Sayes’ mother lived with the family and took care of the domestic work while Mary Sayes helped her husband in the family jeweller’s and watchmaker’s business which operated from premises at 65 Beeston Road, Holbeck. The family lived at 22 Cambrian Road, Holbeck at the time of Jack’s birth, however, by the time the 1901 census was taken, the family had moved to 6 Noster Hill, in Beeston. A further move prior to 1911 took the family back to Holbeck and an address at 9 Cambrian Terrace. The family address when Jack joined the Army in December 1915 was given as 3 Badger Terrace, Scholes. This terrace of houses still exists and stands opposite the original Anglican Church in Scholes on what is now called Main Street. Badger Terrace gets its name from the badger which features in the crest of the Gray family of Morwick Hall (York Road), which was an influential Wesleyan family in the village and the driving force behind the building of the Methodist chapel, also on Main Street. It is interesting to note that the badger motif is also depicted in the stonework of the large window in the chapel’s frontage.
Jack Sayes was educated at Cockburn High School in Leeds and he took up employment as a clerk, later becoming a heating engineer. He attested for the Army on 3rd December 1915 aged 22 years. The fact that the Military Service Act 1916, which brought with it conscription, came into being on 27th January 1916 may have had some bearing on his decision to join the Army of his own volition and retain some degree of freedom of choice as to which unit he joined. If he had waited and been conscripted he would have been sent where the Army needed him most. Instead he volunteered and was placed on the Army reserve with Leeds University Contingent of the Officer Training Corps (OTC) until he proceeded to No. 8 Officer Cadet Battalion in Lichfield on 31st March 1916.
Jack Sayes was commissioned into 3/6th Battalion, (The Prince of Wales’ Own) West Yorkshire Regiment on 5th August 1916 and the following notice appeared in the London Gazette to confirm his probationary commission:
War Office,
17th August, 1916.
West Yorkshire Regt.
Cadet John Sayes to be 2nd Lt. (on prob.).
5th Aug. 1916.
The commission was confirmed in the November of the same year in the following terms, again taken from the London Gazette:
War Office,
29th November, 1916.
West Yorkshire Regt.—
J. Sayes.

Jack Sayes’ battalion was a third line Territorial Force battalion which was based at the time at Clipstone Camp in Nottinghamshire. The role of a third line battalion was train men and feed them to the first and second line battalions, which by this time were in the main fighting in operational areas. This meant a steady stream of men into, through and out of the battalion. The battalion, the 3/6th West Yorkshire regiment, became 5th (Reserve) Battalion in the late summer of 1916 and there is a note on the file of Jack Sayes to say that he was in this battalion and therefore there is the suggestion there that he was still based in UK at this time. Indeed his marriage certificate records that he was with 1/5th Bn in May 1917 when he married Gladys Sowden, the daughter of an iron works manager at the Prospect Chapel, on Domestic Street in Holbeck. It is not known exactly when Jack Sayes was posted to a fighting battalion as it is not recorded in his file and there appears to be no surviving Medal Index Card for him, but it is known that he was posted to the 1/5th Battalion, and he was also promoted once more.
War Office,
23rd February, 1918.
West Yorkshire Regt.—The undermentioned
2nd Lts. to be Lts.: —
J. Sayes. 5th Feb. 1918
On 25th April 1918 1/5th West Yorkshire Regiment was involved in desperate fighting in the area between Vierstraat and Wytschaete (know universally in the British and Empire Armies as Whitesheet), south of the city of Ypres. The regimental history records that the forward companies of this battalion had held the line against overwhelming odds for some four and a half hours until they were overrun by the enemy. Not a single man made it back to the battalion as these companies were either killed or captured in their entirety. Jack Sayes was fortunate to have survived this action and be captured unwounded by the Germans. He was taken to Karlsruhe where his details were processed on 7th May 1918 and then he would have been further moved to a final destination. He was held as a Prisoner of War until the end of the war and he was finally repatriated in December 1918.
He reverted back to 6th Battalion and eventually relinquished his commission in 1921, retaining the rank of Lieutenant.

War Office,
8th December, 1921.
The undermentioned Offrs. relinquish
their commns., 30th Sept. 1921, under
A.O. 166/21, as amended by A.O. 332/21
and retain their rank except where otherwise
stated: —
6th Bn., W. York. R..—
Lt. J. Sayes.

Jack Sayes died in Leeds in 1982 aged 88 years.

Walker Sayes was a soldier in the 9th (Service) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). Service battalions were raised in response to the appeal from the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener for 100,000 men to join the colours and bolster the army for the long war he envisaged. The 9th Royal Fusiliers were part of the first army raised in this manner. It appears that Walker Sayes did not originally belong to the 9th Battalion as he has the PS/ prefix to his service number and this is indicative of service with one of 4 Public Schools battalions within the Royal Fusiliers, namely the 18th – 21st Battalions. The Public Schools battalions can be seen as ‘Pals’ battalions as they were made up of men with a Public School background who preferred to serve together amongst friends than serve as officers and be split up from one another. As the war progressed however the Public Schools battalions became an obvious target for the authorities who needed to replace officer casualties and these battalions lost many men as they left to take commissions in other battalions. They were replaced by ordinary volunteers and in time, conscripts, but the Public Schools title lived on.

The Thiepval Memorial

At some point Walker Sayes was posted to 9th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and he was serving with it on 7th October 1916 when his battalion, along with 8th Royal Fusiliers was ordered to attack in the early afternoon and capture Bayonet Trench, a strongly defended German position near Gueudecourt on the Somme in France. The attack was a disaster. It coincided with a relief, that is, the defending German troops were being relieved and so in effect there were twice as many Germans in the position as there would normally have been. When the attacking British troops were themselves relieved, ‘B’ Company of 9th Royal Fusiliers had been reduced to just 12 men. Overall the battalion suffered 15 officer casualties and around 250 other ranks were killed, wounded or missing. The 8th battalion fared little better. Such was their gallant conduct on the day, the Brigadier General commanding the brigade to which 8th & 9th Royal Fusiliers belonged, the 36th Infantry Brigade, sent the commanding officers of each battalion a personal note of thanks and appreciation.

It will never be known if Walker Sayes’ body was recovered following the attack or not, but if it was it was either not identified as his or it was lost in later fighting. To that end his name is now inscribed, with 73,000 others on the vast Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. He died aged just 19 years and was unmarried.