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TOPIC: The Yeomanry Mystery - 300 men missing!

The Yeomanry Mystery - 300 men missing! 1 year 4 months ago #56926

  • BereniceUK
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Myth of the War.


No Trace of their Whereabouts.

The Central News says that an extraordinary story of the total loss to all record and knowledge of two officers and some 300 men of his Majesty's South African Army, which incidentally throws some light on the Yeomanry scandal, has just leaked out. The two officers and 300 men have not been captured by the Boers, nor have they appeared as missing in any list of casualties, for they were lost some time before they left England, and only the vaguest rumours of their whereabouts have since been forthcoming. The following is the story : - Many months ago, when the war fever was at its height, a Yorkshire gentleman and officer offered to raise a body of Yorkshire Volunteer Artillerymen for service in South Africa on condition that he was allowed to himself command them. The offer was, after some hesitation, accepted by the War Office, and soon afterwards there arrived in London some 300 sturdy Yorkshiremen, gathered from the farming and manufacturing centres of the North Riding, all of them Volunteer Artillerymen. They caused at the time some amusement by their extraordinary appearance, for the majority of them were dressed partly in their private clothes and partly in the uniform of the Volunteers to which they belonged. Some had on helmets and Corduroys, others had on jack boots and military breeches, while the rest of their attire was the ordinary attire affected by countrymen when they visit the Metropolis. Despite their heterogeneous appearance, they were just the material which was required, and Captain Grigg, the officer who had raised them, was very proud of his men. Khaki soon gave the necessary regular appearance to the troop, and a name being proposed for them they were called the 98th Company (North Riding of Yorkshire) Imperial Yeomanry. From the day that they were christened nothing more has been heard of them. They disappeared from all record as completely as if they had never been. After a time it occurred to the War Office that a knowledge of the whereabouts of the 98th Company would be interesting, and the inquiries then began have been carried on to this day without anyone becoming any the wiser. Aldershot reported at the time that it was believed that the 98th Company had gone to South Africa. Soon after the men were reported to be at Kimberley, but in reply to a cable the officer commanding communications reported that no such company as the one named had passed through Cape Town or any other of the South African ports. Inquiries in Yorkshire showed that the men were not in Yorkshire. The most diligent inquiries in South Africa failed to find the corps, but, nevertheless, letters arrived at many villages in the North Riding from the men, describing plenty of the fighting which they had had. The letters were forwarded to the Yeomanry officers in London, but as the only address which many of them bore was 2Ten Miles from Nowhere" or "On the Veldt" bit was impossible to locate them. Singularly enough, a letter written by one of the 98th Company was received from Aldershot in which a trooper described how sick "they" were of waiting for orders to proceed to the front. It is now nearly a year since the 98th disappeared, and though the inquiries have been going on all that time, the mystery remains unsolved. The War Office have only one hope, which is that its decision to open an office in London for the settlement of the Yeomanry pay arrears will lead to the men discovering themselves. A Central News representative who made inquiries was informed that South Africa was a large place. It was admitted that there was no knowledge of the men's whereabouts, but it was believed they were fighting somewhere.
Evening Express, Thursday 29th August 1901

The Yeomanry Yarn.


Or "Grotesquely Absurd."

Further inquiries made by the Central News on Thursday fully confirmed the story of the disappearance in a mysterious way of the 98th Company of Imperial Yeomanry. At the hedquarters of the Imperial Yeomanry Sir Robert Baillie said he had been informed that the company had gathered together at Jamestown, and were at Kimberley on April 10, but the War Office, who supplied this information, inquired as late as June whether the 98th Company had been formed, and Captain Grigg, who was to have commanded it, had been despatched to Kroonstad to take command of another squadron. It seems quite clear that the 98th Company was sent out in several drafts, and had never got together again in South Africa. This view is supported by some correspondence which the Central News has seen. One of the original 98th Company, writing on the 21st of April, said he was with Thorneycroft's Horse, another informed his people that he was at Elandsfontein, and a third, in a letter dated June 1, said he was with the 41st Company Imperial Yeomanry.
A representative of the Press Association has seen highly-placed officials at the War Office and at the offices of the Imperial Yeomanry regarding what one of the former described as "the grotesquely absurd story" of the loss of the 98th Company Imperial Yeomanry. The War Office officials admitted they knew nothing of the whereabouts of this company, but pointed out that in hardly any conceivable case would they be likely to know. Had disaster or exceptional distinction happened to the Yeomen, or had they been shipped home as a complete unit the department would have expected information, but otherwise they were likely to be exactly where Lord Kitchener most desired them, or was in a position to place them, and they would be lost in the same sense that every other unit would be lost by inclusion into one or other of the numerous forces into which the South African army is split up. At the Imperial Yeomanry headquarters the story was treated in the same humourous light, but more details were available. While disposed to treat the effusion as a product of the silly season, the officials declared that part of it were distinctly mischievous and untrue. For example, one newspaper had stated the company had been lost for a year, whereas it was not despatched to South Africa till last February. Another statement was that no such company had landed at any South African port. But the men were sent out as drafts, and would not, therefore, be expected to land as a complete unit, and would be described as drafts. What very commonly occurred was that these drafts were collated at their destination and formed into their original units or distributed as occasion might require. In this instance the 98th Company existed as a company, and under its proper number. Up to April 10, in an official return, it was shown to be at Kimberley, while as recently as the end of June the officer in command reported his men still together. Since then they might have been split up or sent to place after place.

A Possible Explanation.

The Central News Darlington correspondent says that a communication to Lieutenant Coates's relatives show that he has been attached to Thorneycroft's column with half the Yorkshiremen, and Captain Greig is with the remainder elsewhere. The mistake is due to the War Office declaring that the Yorkshiremen were the 98th Company instead of the 75th, and they persisted in giving this as the address of Lieutenant Coates for a considerable time after they had been apprised that he was with Thorneycroft's column. A month ago Lieutenant Coates and his men were at Aliwal North.
A Middlesbrough correspondent states that on July 31 Colonel Bell received a letter from Captain Grigg, who commanded the 98th Company, to the following effect: -
"You will see I am in Kimberley; am on my way to Mafeking with a party of troops; not Middlesbrough men. As you well know I was gazetted to the 98th Company, but it seems that the 98th have a captain, so that I shall not go to them. That is the lot Coates brought out, and, of course, the lot that came with me are all in the 63rd, and I have had to leave them now."
Colonel Bell computed that, setting aside the information dated April 10, he was unable to say what had become of the men.
A Middlesbrough woman has been informed by the War Office that her husband was dangerously ill, and there was unofficial news of one of the men, named Evans, being accidentally shot.
In an interview Mr. Grigg, father of Captain Grigg, expressed the opinion that the 98th had as a unit entirely disappeared.
Not a single intimation, he remarked, had ever yet been received of casualty or illness to any in the 98th, though it is well known that casualties had occurred.


Many of Them May be Welshmen.
A Middlesbrough correspondent states that the report is not causing alarm there, although the men who are supposed to have disappeared were recruited at Middlesbrough by Colonel C. L. Bell.
Colonel Bell says the only official information he has is that in the Imperial Yeomanry Orders, dated June 4, it is shown that on the 10th of April Squadron No. 98 were stationed at Kimberley.
On July 31 Colonel Bell received a letter from Captain Grigg, who stated that he was on his way to Mafeking with a party of troops - not Middlesbrough men. Captain Grigg says he was gazetted to the 98th, but, as that squadron had a captain, he did not expect that he would get to them. So it would seem that the men have been divided.
It is interesting to know that, on account of its ironworks, there are large numbers of Welshmen resident in Middlesbrough, and probably many of the missing Yeomen have relatives in South Wales.
Evening Express, Friday 30th August 1901


Official inquiry.
The Central News learns that the War Office has decided to hold an inquiry touching the defunct 98th Company of Imperial Yeomanry. Since publicity was given to the matter Pall Mall has renewed its investigation into the whereabouts of the company, and has been in cable communication on the subject with different officials in South Africa. The authorities, it is understood, have now satisfied themselves that the 98th never existed in South Africa, and that its members are scattered amongst other companies. Why no information of this fact was sent to headquarters, and who is to blame for the omission, are the objects of the inquiry which has been instituted by Mr. Brodrick, who cannot agree with those who regard the matter as a joke. Trifling as the affair may seem to most people, it nevertheless points to looseness in administration, and therefore embodies a principle. It will take a deal of trouble to probe the mystery to a solution. Practically every letter dealing with the formation of the 98th, and the company's subsequent movements, will have to be looked up. Who was apprised tat these 300 Yorkshiremen received a company number; when, where, and why was the company broken up; and who was responsible for seeing that it ultimately came together on arrival in South Africa are some of the questions that will have to be answered. The London Yeomanry officials refuse to take any responsibility in the matter. Aldershot deny that it is their duty to acquaint anybody of anything, and the officials at Durban say they were never made aware that such a company had been formed. One of those who will be asked to say what he knows about the matter will be Lord Arthur Hill, the chief official of the Duke of Cambridge's Own, under whose auspices the 300 Yorkshiremen left London.

The Central News understands that the Yeomanry officials have decided to make an exhaustive report on the Yeomanry organisation as a reply to the strictures that have been passed by the Press, and in order to justify their action throughout the war. With reference to Lord Kitchener's criticism of the unsuitable condition of a number of the members of the Duke of Cambridge's Own, the Central News was informed by Lord Arthur Hill that the utmost care was exercised by the responsible officials in the selection of the men who left London. The number sent out was 2,424, and the rejections represented 33 per cent. Lord Arthur points out, however, that many men from the provinces who had never been tested by the D.C.O. officials in London were attached to the D.C.O. They were sent out from other ports, and on arrival in South bAfrica were drafted into the Duke of Cambridge's Own.
An ex-member of the Imperial Yeomanry writes to the "Daily Mail": - "I think I am in a position to give you some definite idea as to the whereabouts of Captain Grieg and at least a portion of the missing 98th Company Imperial Yeomanry.
"I belonged to the 63rd Company, and when in April last our relief company came out to us we were surprised to find they were all Yorkshiremen, commanded by Captain Grieg. They did not know their regimental numbers, and said they left Aldershot as the North Riding Yorkshire Yeomanry, being changed on board to the Duke of Cambridge's Own, and eventually, when they arrived at Elandsfontein, they were split up, Captain Grieg taking a portion and joining the 63rd (Wilts), and I believe another portion relieved the 66th Yorkshire.
"They seemed a very serviceable lot of men. They were with Captain Byng's column (South African Light Horse mainly) when we left them in May. They joined us at Smithfield.
The Cardiff Times, Saturday 7th September 1901
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The Yeomanry Mystery - 300 men missing! 1 year 4 months ago #56930

  • BereniceUK
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Captain Grigg was Captain R. L. Grigg. A mention of the 98th Company, and both Captain Grigg and Second Lieutenant W. N. Coates, in the London Gazette - www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/27301/page/2290/data.pdf

Captain Grigg left South Africa on 3rd June 1902, as an invalid on board the Plassy; due at Southampton on 21st June 1902.

Lieutenant Coates was Lieutenant W. North Coates, 75th Company IY.
Major W. North Coates was one of the editors of The Lincolnshire Magazine, c. 1933-1938. www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/author/ED...=brcr-_-bdp-_-author

Looks like he was William North Coates, Mentioned in Despatches, M.C., Croix de Guerre, who served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the Great War, and was a Temporary Captain by the end of the war. He received his Military Cross in the 1918 New Year Honours. In the January 1954 New Year Honours he was Director of the Lindsey and Holland Rural Community Council, Lincolnshire, and possibly received an O.B.E. He died in 1957.
The William North Coates Memorial Trust was established in 1974.

Was he the William North Coates who was born in Chevington, Northumberland, in 1876?

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