Bertram Saxelbye Evers,
“B” Company, 9th [Service] Battalion
[Prince of Wales’s Own] West Yorkshire Regiment, 32nd Brigade
3 November 1891-14 September 1916
Bertram Saxelbye Evers was born on the 3rd November 1891 in Aldborough, North Yorkshire, the youngest of the ten surviving children of Rev. Edwin and Mrs Saxelbye Evers. When he was not either studying history and theology at Jesus College Cambridge or playing football, between 1911 and enlistment in 1914, Bertram Evers lived with his parents and two older unmarried sisters at Morton Lodge, 9 Eastnor Grove, Leamington Spa. He was a talented footballer, awarded a football “Blue” in each of his three years of study at Cambridge, and was a member of the Amateur Football Association (AFA) as an English International, playing for the “Casuals” and the “Corinthian” Football Teams. (The Amateur Football Association (AFA) was founded by university sides in England in 1907 to protect the amateur game from the Football Association (FA)’s ever increasing professionalism. Amateur Internationals were played against countries such as France but these are not recorded as being official “A” game Internationals.) Bertram represented England three times: on 6th January 1910 against Wales (won 4-3) , 6th November 1912 against Slavia in Prague (lost 2-1) and on 28th February 1913 against France in Paris (won 4-1) He also played for the “Corinthians” three times: on 25th October 1913 against Oxford University in a 0-0 draw; on 31st January 1914 against Oxford University in a 2-0 win; and lastly, before a crowd of 3,000 at the West Ham Hospital Club on 27th April 1914 against West Ham, where Corinthians lost 4-2.
When war was declared, Bertram enlisted in September 1914 in the 1st Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment in West Yorkshire, transferring a year later to the 9th Battalion, 32nd Brigade, 11th [Northern] Division who were involved in operations at Gallipoli. Although the 32nd Brigade was almost wiped out on the 9th August 1915 at Tekke Tepe Ridge, only two weeks later they were in action again at the Battle of Scimitar Hill. Bertram was wounded at Suvla Bay, but was nonetheless promoted to the rank of Captain. He then led the Battalion withdrawal from Suvla in December, sailing for Alexandria, where in February 1916, they took over a section of the Suez Canal defences.
Four months later they were ordered to embark for France for the seventh phase of the Battle of the Somme (1st July-18th November 1916), and by the end of July had taken over trench positions at the Western Front, to the south-west of Arras. Over the next four weeks, often travelling through the night, the Battalion was posted on to Simencourt, then to Menin and back to Senlis. In mid- September the weary battalion, led by (temporary) 2nd Lt Evers, received orders to seize the Thiepval defences which also included the infamous Schwaben Redoubt in the centre of the Somme Salient. Supported by the 8th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and the 6th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howard’s) with the 6th Battalion Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment in reserve, they were to capture the Turk Street trench and the Wundt-Werk (Wonder Work) trench. Spearheaded by the 9th Battalion, the assault began on 14th September, with the objective of cutting through the German line by massed artillery and infantry attacks between the villages of Flers, Courcelette and Martinpuich. As the men of the 9th Battalion left the Hindenburg Trench deployed in strategic formation to protect their flanks, they came instantly under heavy machine gun and rifle fire. They succeeded in taking the Turk Street trench, but only at the cost of very heavy casualties. By midnight they had also taken the Wonder Work trench, and having repulsed three heavy German counter-attacks, the exhausted 9th Battalion was relieved by the 1st/7th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. A week later, by 22nd September, the nearby villages of Flers, Courcelette and Martinpuich had all been recaptured, due in no small measure to the assault on the Thiepval defences’ having drawn German reserves away north.
The cost of this action was heavy: out of a 9th Battalion strength of 20 Officers and 780 Other Ranks, four senior officers were wounded and eight officers, among them 2nd Lt B S Evers, were killed. Amongst Other Ranks, 33 died, 240 were wounded and 33 reported missing. Another Leamington man, Lt Col C G Forsyth D S O, commanding officer, 6th Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment also died fighting alongside his men to take the trenches.
2nd Lt B S Evers was leading “B” Company on the left flank during the assault, and it is believed that he died under shell fire during the assault on Wonder Work trench. His Commanding Officer wrote of him: “He fell leading his men splendidly”. His obituary was published in The Times three weeks later on 6th October 1916. He was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.
In France, 2nd Lt Evers is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, and in England on the War Memorials of St Andrew’s Church and Aldborough Town, in North Yorkshire, St Bartholomew’s School Newbury (Where there is a school house named in his honour), Jesus College Cambridge, Corinthian Football Club 1914-1918 War Memorial, and in Leamington Spa, on the War Memorials in Euston Place, All Saint’s Parish Church, and St Mary’s Church.
On the same day that Bertram enlisted, his older brother Reverend Mervyn Saxelbye Evers, was confirmed as Chaplain to the forces, 4th Class. On 11th December 1916, Rev. Evers was awarded the Military Cross, for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. [He] worked continuously for 18 hours in no man’s land caring for and carrying in wounded under heavy fire. He displayed great courage and determination throughout.” Rev. Evers survived the war, dying in Hastings in 1981 at the ripe old age of 93.
“In God’s Keeping We Trust”
I would like to thank Mr Alex Jackson and Peter Holme of The National Football Museum, The English Football Association, Mr Robert Athol of Jesus College, Cambridge, St Bartholomew’s School, and St Andrew’s Church and the residents of Aldborough, North Yorkshire for all their help and continuing remembrance. A copy of this article was requested by, and has been sent to the English Football Association for inclusion in their commemorations later this year as Bertram’s entry.