The men who fought at First Ypres in the 7th Division were special. This formation was not part of the original British Expeditionary Force, and was created from units which had been serving all over the world in August 1914. The 2/Yorkshire Regiment was in the Channel Islands; the other infantry units came from Wales, Malta, Gibraltar, Egypt and the Cape, with reservists making up a large percentage of the numbers. The Division eventually crossed the Channel on 5 October; by 14 October the 2/Yorkshire Regiment was in touch with the enemy, and the First Battle of Ypres had begun. By 7 November, when some relief arrived, the Division had lost 364 officers and 9,302 men killed, wounded and missing, of which the 2/Yorkshires' share was 25 and 631 respectively, about 7% of the total.

One of the men who fought in this battle was George Mitchell, and although I treasure all the medals I have that were awarded to First Ypres men, I regarded his group as very special when it came up in auction in July 1989. By October 1914, 7911 Sergeant Mitchell had been a regular soldier for nearly ten years; he was well-trained and experienced, although his promotion to Corporal did not come until March 1912. A wagon repairer from Retford, Nottinghamshire, he had enlisted at Mansfield on 10 November 1904, giving his age as eighteen years one month. Initially serving with the 1st Battalion, he transferred to the 2nd Battalion in South Africa in March 1906, joining A Coy. He was regularly recorded as a marksman, and he also served with the Signallers. He may have had a certain amount of luck as well, because a correspondent writing in the Green Howards Gazette for December 1914, and signing himself only '6061', included in his memories of his experiences at Ypres: 'I never remarked about our own machine-gun section, they were really good lads, they did some very good work; everyone stuck to the gun until all but Sgt Mitchell were killed or wounded'. Apparently Mitchell was one of the three hundred or so Green Howards who came out of the battle without being incapacitated.

He was wounded at least twice later in the war, the first occasion being when he won his Distinguished Conduct Medal, during the battle of Festubert on 16 May 1915. His officer, 2nd Lieut. William Sheay DCM, was killed by a bullet ricocheting off a machine-gun at 0315 on that date, and Mitchell had to take over. His DCM citation read: 'After his officer was killed, he commanded, with great efficiency, his detachment until he was himself wounded by a high-explosive shell. Throughout the campaign he has shewn untiring energy, and was responsible for the training of three machine-gun detachments. When the machine-gun officers were killed he displayed high powers of command.'

After the war he was Company Sergeant Major at the Depot in December 1920, when he was appointed A/Regimental Sergeant Major of the 5/Yorkshires, a battalion that had been virtually annihilated on the Chemin des Dames in May 1918. He was awarded the Long Service Medal in April 1923, and he was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire in June 1928. He retired from the Army in 1929, and at a function at the Pavilion Hotel, Scarborough, Lieut-Col Cranswick said that 'everyone...loved him for his excellent worth, his great soldiering qualities and his extreme courtesy'. He died at his home, Beech Grove, Scalby, of lung cancer on 28 November 1946.

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