Name: Joseph Henry Sails
Service No: 23967
Date of Death: 20/01/1917
Regiment/Service: Yorkshire Regiment 12th Bn.
Grave Reference: C. 19. Cemetery: Rancourt Military Cemetery
Paul Allen writes:
Raised at Middlesborough, North Yorkshire, during January 1915 the 12th (Service) Battalion [Teesside] of the Yorkshire Regiment was unofficially a ‘Pals’ battalion. Possessing at the time only two officers (the Commanding Officer, Major (temporary Lt Colonel) H W Becher and Quartermaster, Honorary Lieutenant J W Best) orders were eventually received for the new battalion to be organised and trained as a Pioneer Battalion. Consequently those recruited for the unit were a mixture of men experienced with picks and shovels, miners, road men, and labourers, plus skilled artisans, such as fitters, carpenters, blacksmiths, engine drivers, tinsmiths, bricklayers, and masons.
According to the History of the Battalion:
‘The training quarters were especially comfortably established at Marton Hall Camp (on the outskirts of Middlesborough) and the battalion was in a measure fortunate in having come into existence somewhat later than the majority of the battalions of which the New Armies were composed, for by this time practically everything was forthcoming that was needed for the large numbers of soldiers that had been recruited’…
After a few weeks at Middlesborough the battalion was moved to Gosforth, in Northumberland, where the unit was accommodated in billets. The battalion eventually numbered a 140 ‘all ranks’, and since recruits were still arriving it had been authorised to form a depot company that would eventually supply the parent battalion with reinforcements once they had ‘gone abroad’. On 13 August 1916 the battalion received orders to move to Cannock Chase, in Staffordshire, where they made camp on Penkridge Bank.
Whilst there the battalion built four new rifle ranges which provided enough accommodation in butts and firing points to enable over 200 men to fire at any one time. From Cannock the ‘Teesside Pioneers’ were sent to Badajos Barracks at Aldershot where they joined the 40th (Bantam) Division as the Divisional Pioneer Battalion. In addition to their Pioneer duties the ‘Teessiders would be expected to fight if the need arose so, during December 1915 the Pioneers were moved to Pirbright, in Surrey, where they underwent musketry training. 
By the middle of May 1916 the 40th Division had completed training and were ready to ‘proceed abroad’. On 25 May the formation was inspected on ‘Laffans Plain’ by HM King George V. Two days later the Teesside Pioneers were mobilised, and sailed from Southampton in the Transport SS France during the evening of the 1 June 1916. The battalion arrived at Le Havre early the following morning.
Unlike infantry battalions which, on the whole, remained with their allotted divisions, the pioneer battalions, on account of their skills and expertise, were often transferred temporarily to other divisions from time to time. This was the case with the Teesside Pioneers. Shortly after the battalion arrived in France the 4 companies of the formation were sent to various divisions to work under the orders of the Royal Engineers on the front line trenches, making shelters, clearing the field of fire, making fire steps, etc.
Spared from the carnage of the early operations of the Somme offensive, the Teesside Pioneers arrived in the sector during November 1916. On 14 November the battalion arrived at Bayencourt where they were attached to the 31st Division that was in the Hebuterne sector. However, on the 20th of the same month the unit was again moved via Halloy, Autheulle, and Berneil to Ailly-le-Haut Clocher, where the men were at last afforded some rest.
Of this period the History of the Battalion says:
‘This quiet period only lasted until 8 December, when the battalion moved by rail and road and by Longpre, Pont Remy, Maricourt, and Bray to Maurepas, where it came under the orders of CRE (Commander, Royal Engineers) XV Corps for work and was chiefly employed in repairing the Combles-Fregicourt and the Combles-Rancourt roads, incurring here some few casualties, and on the 25th rejoining the 40th Division and going back to trench repair work, the trenches here being in places waist deep in mud and water.’ 
This work continued well into the year 1917, for it was 27 January before the 12th Green Howards went back to a camp about 3 miles from Bray. During this tour in the Bouchavesnes North and Rancourt Sectors the battalion lost 5 other ranks killed and 19 men wounded. Amongst them was 23967 Private Joseph Henry Sails.
Killed in action on Sunday 21 January 1917 at the age of 38, Joe Sails was born in Scarborough on 22 October 1879 (baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on 3 February 1887) at 3 Wrea Street. He was the third of five children of Sarah (formerly Tindall) and ‘Bricklayer’ Thomas Brooksbanks Sails. 
A pupil of Scarborough’s Central Board School in Trafalgar Street West (now Genevieve Court), Sails left the school at the age of 12 to begin a Bricklayer’s apprenticeship with local builder John Jaram, and with whom he was working in 1899 at the time of the outbreak of the war in South Africa. Joe enlisted into the Second Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment at their Headquarters in North Street and he volunteered for service in South Africa at the beginning of January 1900, joining the Regiment’s First Battalion at the Cape during April.
Sails served in South Africa until the end of the war in 1902 and eventually arrived back in Scarborough to live with his widowed mother and sisters Sarah and Maud at 6 Sussex Street. For his services in South Africa, Joe received the King’s and Queen’s Medals with the clasps: ‘South Africa 1900-1902’; ‘Pretoria’; and ‘Brandfort’.
Joe was married in Scarborough during 1905 to Miss Ann Gosling, the second daughter of ‘Bricklayers Labourer’ William and Ann Gosling. By the time of the 1911 Census the 31-year-old Joe Sails is described as being employed as a ‘Boarding House Porter’ and lived at 108 Nelson Street with wife Ann and their three children Frances Hannah, born 1906, George Henry, 1908, and Allan, 1910. Joe eventually secured a job with the General Superintendent’s Office of the North Eastern Railway at West Hartlepool, where he used his bricklaying skills to maintain the various railway bridges owned by the NER between Middlesborough and Stockton.
At the outbreak of the Great War Joe was working at Middlesborough where he enlisted into the Teesside Pioneers during 1915.
Ann Sails received the news of her husband’s death on Wednesday, 24 January 1917 in a letter that had been written by Joe’s former Company Commander (Captain A C Mildred), which stated that he had been killed 3 days before by ‘the bursting of a shell in a trench’.
Joe Sail’s name eventually appeared in a casualty list that was published in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, 26 January 1917.
Officially recorded as being killed in action on Saturday, 20 January 1917, Joe Sails’ remains were buried in Rancourt Military Cemetery, which is situated in fields on the southern outskirts of the small Somme village of Rancourt, where his final resting place can be found in Section C, Grave 19 of the cemetery.
In addition to the Scarborough War Memorial, Joseph Henry Sails’ name can be found on a gravestone located close to the Columbus Ravine entrance to the town’s Dean Road Cemetery in Section A, Border, Grave 11, which also bears the name of Joe’s eldest daughter, Frances Hannah. Born in Scarborough during 1906, Frances was married in the town during 1928 to Charles H Rumford. However, this marriage was short-lived for Frances died on 29 May 1929 at the age of 23 whilst giving birth to son Charles Henry.
Born in Scarborough on 6 November 1881, Joe’s wife, Ann Sails, eventually remarried in the town during 1942 to Alexander Taylor, and lived for many years at 74 Nelson Street. Ann died on 4 March 1974 at the grand old age of 92; her name is also commemorated on the stone in Dean Road Cemetery.
Joe Sails is also commemorated on the North Eastern Railway’s Memorial located in Station Road in the City of York. Designed in 1921 by the renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, this fine memorial was unveiled in 1923 and commemorates the names of over 2,000 employees of the Company who lost their lives during the First World War. Joe’s name could at one time have also be found in a ‘Book of Remembrance’ in the foyer of the former NER Headquarters across the road. However, this building (in 2012) is now a hotel and the whereabouts of this book is not known to the author.
 Once a Howard Twice a Citizen by Colonel Wade Tovey MBE TD and Major Tony Podmore MBE TD
 The 40th Division was formed at Aldershot during September 1915 and included units recruited in England, Scotland and Wales. Most of the men of the division were under the regulation height (5 ft 3 in) required for enlistment into the British Army and were thus named ‘Bantams’.
 At the time of the 1891 Scarborough Census the Sails family consisted of Thomas B. aged 37, Sarah, also aged 37, John William aged 15, George Tyco Brooksbanks (born 10 September 1876) aged 14, Joseph Henry, aged 11, Sarah Frances Elizabeth (born 1 January 1884), aged 7, and Maud Mary Hannah, aged 2. All were born at Scarborough. (George, Joe, and Sarah were all belatedly baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on the same day, 3 February 1887). John William died in Scarborough at the age of 18 during 1893.