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Sergeant Percival Victor Steel

8570 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment

Son of Mr Henry & Mrs Emily Steel

Aged 27 years

Died 9th May 1915

Commemorated on Le Touret Memorial
Panel 28 to 30
And in Holy Trinity Church, Norwich
(see notes at end of page)

Born at Northampton, enlisted at Great Yarmouth.
Brother of L/Cpl Frederick Steel 7251 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment, commemorated on Arras Memorial.
The Rushden Echo, Friday 23 October 1914, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Throwing Lead At the Germans - Rushden Soldier Retails a Joke At the Expense of the Enemy

Three Brothers on Service

Mr William Steel, of Rushden, has received a letter from his brother, Corpl Percy Steel, who is at the front with the Steelbacks. Corpl Steel says: "Thank you very much indeed for the fags and letter, which I got quite safely yesterday morning. I can tell you they were just lovely, and you must have known that matches are scarce here for they were just what I wanted as well; in fact, it was a jolly fine parcel, and I cannot tell you how much I thank you for it. I am glad to say I am in the very best of health at present and hope and trust that you are all the same. The papers praise us up well for the work we are doing - no doubt we deserve it. Our troops are all in good spirits, singing and joking while in the trenches. This is the latest joke we had in the firing line. On Saturday, Oct. 2nd, a small party of our men went out to try and kid the Germans to come out of their trenches. Well, our fellows couldn't get them to come out by firing, so one of the chaps shouted 'Waiter!' and over six Germans bobbed their heads up and out of the trenches in answer to that shout. I had to laugh when they told me about it - a good joke, don't you think so? Cheer up, old sport, for I am quite all right and in good spirits."

In a later letter, Corpl Steel says: "We are still throwing lead at the Germans, and they are doing the same to us, but I am sure we do more damage that they do."

Another brother, Private Edward Steel, also of the Steelbacks, has paid a visit to Rushden this week on 48 hours' leave before being moved to the front. He has just served about 4 years abroad in Egypt and Malta.

Yet another soldier brother, Private Fred Steel, of the Norfolk Regiment, is on his way home from Australia, having been ordered on active service. He expects to land in England in about a fortnight's time.

The Rushden Echo, Friday 6 November 1914, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Tommy's Rifle Smashed by a German Shell - Britishers Cool When Bullets are Flying

An extremely interesting letter has been received by Mr W Steel, of Rushden, from his brother Private Percy Steel, of the 1st Northants, and is serving with the British Expeditionary Force. We have received permission from Mrs W Steel to publish the following extract:-
"We have been amongst some very hard fighting, but what does Tommy care, for we are sure we shall be victorious in the end and take a trip to Berlin, and see all the sights there. It makes one proud to be a soldier to see how our troops behave while in action and under heavy fire, and I can say that the firing has been very heavy lately. It, however, did not frighten "Tommy," for when we were not firing in return we were joking and laughing with each other. It is a common sight to see our men coolly smoking a fag whilst bullets and shells are ringing through the air. I can't fully explain what it is like to be amongst the fighting, but we are all in good spirits and hope to finish the Germans off shortly. They greatly out number us, but we are ten times better fighting men than they are, without boasting. One thing I must tell you. I have had my rifle blown to pieces while in the trenches, but was not touched myself, for I had bobbed down under cover whilst shells were bursting over our trenches, and when I got up to take a shot at some Germans all I found of my rifle was the butt end and part of the barrel which was badly twisted."

The Rushden Echo, Friday 13 November 1914, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Man Twice Wounded Thrilling Experiences

Corpl. Percy Steel, Rushden, who has been twice wounded, writes a most interesting letter to Mr W Steel, of Victoria road, Rushden, which we are allowed to print. Corpl. Steel, who is now in hospital in France, says:-
"It was during the heavy artillery fire that I got hit. I was just going to have a shot at a sniper, but before I got my rifle to my shoulder a coal-box dropped just in front of the trench, and a piece of it hit me in the ear - such a smack - a lot harder than Jack Johnson could hit. Of course, it knocked me silly for a good time, but I was jolly glad when I found myself only slightly wounded.

"This is the second time I have been hit, the other time being four days ago, just cutting my lip, not bad enough to go into hospital. But, when I got hit this time I had to come into hospital, as it is a fairly deep cut on my ear. But I am glad to say it is not much, and I expect to get back in the firing line within a month.

The Rushden Echo, 18th December, 1914, transcribed by Jim Hollis

Corporal Percy Steel
Corporal Percy Steel
Rushden Soldier Sees The King - Royal Visit Appreciated

German Airman Drops Two Bombs - Prussians Completely Beaten
Mr. William Steel, of Rushden, has received a letter from his brother, Corpl. Percy Steel, of the 1st Northants, who is now resting at the base. After expressing his thanks for “fags” received he says :-

“There is not much to write about as we are resting in the rear of the fighting line, so we don’t get so much excitement as we did while we were in amongst the Germans, but we have had a little bit, for only this morning a German airman flew over this place and dropped two bombs. Of course, you can guess it did a bit of damage, but not so very much. We had the pleasure of seeing our King last Tuesday. We lined the road and he walked down between the ranks. He looked quite well except a bit worried, but smiled as he passed along the ranks. I am sure it pleased all the troops to see their King. I must ask you to excuse the short letter as I hardly know what to write about just now. I will let you know all the news I can as things go on. I see in the paper that Lord Kitchener says the war will last three years. I hope he is wrong, for the sooner it ends the better for everybody, don’t you think? There is one thing certain, that we shall win and be the victors if it lasts three years. We shall win, whether it lasts so long or not, for, in my opinion, the Germans are completely beaten and they are only carrying on the war to do as much damage as they can. Never mind, they will have to pay for it in the finish. I wish you a very happy Christmas and a prosperous new year”.

One Touch of Nature
Another interesting letter comes from Corpl P. Steel, of Rushden, who has been in hospital. He says : “I expect we shall have another go at them before very long. I got a good welcome when I rejoined the regiment from hospital and was glad to see my pal still alive and well. But there were a lot of old chums missing, some killed and others wounded. Still, the good old regiment is ready for another splash at them when required. I was treated very kindly at the hospital. Only a few of the boys have come right through the whole lot and some of those who got wounded in the first battle have returned, so you can guess we were able to exchange our experiences when we met. It was not all honey to tell how so-and-so fell wounded or killed. That is generally the subject for the first half-hour or so.

“I heard that my Platoon Sergeant, a great friend of mine, who had been side by side with me during the war, had been shot through the heart while chasing the Prussian Guards through the woods. It is jolly hard lines, for he was a very nice chap, married, and had two children. But there are hundreds of such cases. I feel sorry for him and trust his wife and children will not want for anything. No doubt you will think me rather sentimental, but you know the old song, ‘One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin.’ It is one of the truest songs, especially during war time. I am afraid I shall not be with you at Christmas, but never mind, I hope it will not be long afterwards; then, if I am spared, we will enjoy ourselves, won’t we?”

The Wellingborough News, Friday 18 December 1914, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Corporal and the King's Visit

Corpl. Steel, of Rushden, who has been wounded, and has returned to the front again, writes to his friends that he is now resting at the rear of the firing line, so "we don't get so much excitement as when we were among the Germans. But we get a bit. Only this morning a German aeroplane flew over us and dropped a couple of bombs. Of course you can guess it did a bit of damage, but not much. We had the pleasure of seeing our King on Tuesday. We lined the road, and he walked up and down between the ranks. He looked quite well except a bit worried. He smiled at us as he passed down the ranks, and I am sure it pleased all the ranks to see their King. I see in the paper that Lord Kitchener says it will last three years. I hope he is wrong, for the sooner it is over the better for everybody. There is one thing certain. We shall win if it lasts three years, and we shall win if it lasts so long or not. For in my opinion the Germans are completely beaten, and are only carrying on the war to do as much damage as they can. But never mind; they will have to pay for it in the finish."

The Rushden Echo, Friday 8 January 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

British Courage Rushden Soldier's Eulogy

Mr William Steel, of Victoria road, Rushden, authorises us to publish the following letter which he received from his brother Corpl. P Steel, who is at the front:-
"I am in the pink of condition and still smiling. Leaving the place where we were at rest on Monday morning, we made an attack on the enemy at night, which was very successful, as we gained a good bit of ground, and the trenches we were after. I must say it was a jolly hard fight, and a hot time while it lasted, but I thank God that I got through it quite safe and sound. Our losses were very few indeed, and it was a treat to see our men dash with so much courage at the enemy, for the bullets were coming at us just like rain. You can guess what is it was like when I tell you that they had from six to eight maxim guns firing at us.

"We got relieved on Dec. 23rd for our period of rest, and we shall go into the trenches again. I am glad to say that we are all getting on fine. We had Christmas pudding. I ate mine for dinner today (Christmas Day), so you can guess it was a treat for us. I am sure our 'Tommies' are very thankful for the kindness of all the people at home for sending us these little comforts."

The Wellingborough News, Friday 22 January 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier Made a Sergeant

Sergt Percy Steel, of the Northants Regt, has been three times promoted since he went to the front. Going out as a private he is now a sergeant. He has been wounded and has returned to the fighting line again. Our readers will remember his graphic and lengthy letters we have been able to exclusively publish. Writing to his relatives in Rushden, he now says: "We have been in action since Boxing Day, and have experienced some hard fighting, but a jolly lot harder weather. You can just picture what we looked like after being in the trenches eight solid days. It was up to our knees in thick mud, and in places the water was up to the waist. I can tell you it was not very pleasant, for there was not much chance of sleep unless you lay down in the mud. Of course it was not always as bad as this. But we have had such a lot of rain this past fortnight it made the trenches in that state. But bad as they were, we stuck to them with a good heart, and it did not damp our spirits at all, for we are so sure of victory, and that we are fighting for our King and the dear ones at home, that we don't take hardship to heart, and we make it our duty to do everything that comes along with the best ability we can, and keep in jolly good spirits. I know you will be glad to know that I have been promoted to sergeant, and am doing well. You will be glad to hear also that 'Chick' Bryant is my company sergeant major, and we get on well together." He goes on to say he drank his relatives' health on Christmas Day with a drop of tea and says he does not think the Germans can last much longer.

The Wellingborough News, Friday 29 January 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Thrice Promoted - Wounded Rushden Sergeant Returns to the Front

Sergt Percy Steel, of Rushden, who has been thrice promoted on the field. Sergt Steel went out to France with the Northants Regiment as a private, and has now been made a sergeant. He has been wounded but has now returned to the trenches. He is an excellent correspondent, and we have published column-length letters, full of interesting details of the fighting.

The Rushden Echo, Friday 5 February 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Rushden Soldier Twice Promoted Corporal P Steele Made Sergeant

We are pleased to record the news that a Rushden soldier, Sergt Percy Steel (brother of Mr Steel of Victoria road, Rushden), who some time ago we reported wounded, has now recovered from his injuries and has retuned to the trenches. He has had the distinction of having twice received promotion on the field. He went to the front with his regiment (the "Steelbacks") as a lance-corporal, then he was made a full corporal on the field, and has now been made a sergeant. Several interesting letters from him have been published in the columns of the "Rushden Echo" from time to time.

The Wellingborough News, Friday 5 February 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

When the Weather Improves

Sergt. Percy Steel, of "B" Company, Northants Regiment, who has been three times promoted, once wounded, writes to his brother, Mr W Steel, of 39, Victoria road, Rushden, saying that he had has a busy time in the trenches. "Not so very much fighting but plenty of sniping and artillery fire. The weather has been as bad as ever. It has been since we have been in the country. What with the snow and the rain, honestly the trenches are full up to our knees with water, and higher in places. And to stop in them for days you can bet is far from comfortable. But it will take more than that to break the spirits of our "Tommies." Of course, we can expect some bad weather at this time of year can't we? But, cheer up it will soon be better weather, and then we will show the Germans another taste of our fighting. I can tell you, they will have to look after themselves this time, for we shall have 'K of K's' [Kitchener of Khartoum] out here, and I am sure they mean biz. I hope and trust it will soon be over, and the Germans are all put down once and for all, for they are not men to do such things as they do - dropping bombs on the poor people and destroying their homes. It will give the people of Yarmouth a little idea of what it is like out here where towns are completely smashed to the ground, for there are dozens of places out here where there is not even a lamp-post standing. It is a shame to see how the poor people suffer for their homes, and everything they possessed is gone forever. I am glad you are pleased at my promotion, and I mean to do my best, and if I live to come home I'll stick it and go in for a pension."

The Wellingborough News, Friday 19 February 1915 , transcribed by Nicky Bates

How Bryant Died - Sergt Steel Tells the Story as an Eye Witness - Gallant Rushden Sons

Sergt Steel, of Rushden, who has been wounded, and thrice promoted on the field writes the following account of the death of Sergt-Major Bryant, of Rushden, whom he saw shot. The letters are addressed to his brother Mr W Steel, of Victoria road, Rushden.

Writing of February 9th he says: "Yes it is quite true about poor 'Chick' going under (Bryant of Rushden). I can tell you I felt upset when I saw him fall dead in the trench, for I was not more than four yards away from him when he got killed. I saw a letter from a person giving an account of poor 'Chick's' death in the "Rushden Argus". He was a great pal of 'Chick's' and was greatly upset on hearing of the death of a real good pal. I tell you exactly how it happened. It was in the morning, I forget the date. Anyway, 'Chick' and I stood talking together in the trenches and our conversation was chiefly about Rushden. We were saying 'Roll on Rushden' we'll have a royal day together when the war is over and saying what we were going to do if we got home safe. Well we walked along the trench together, when 'Chick' had a look over the trench and said 'Lend me a rifle; there's a couple of Germans working against the bridge, digging. I'll see if I can knock one of them over'. Well he had a shot or two and wounded one of them. He then got up to have a look for the other German, when 'ping' came a German bullet, and poor old 'Chick' dropped back in the trench, dead, shot through the head, the bullet entering just above the right eye. Our captain when told of it was very upset at the loss. Well we covered him over with a waterproof sheet and carried him out of the way. He was buried just in the rear of the trench in the evening, just as it was getting dark. A cross was placed at the head of the grave and the next morning a corporal of our company went to get two wreaths out of a village. This village was a mass of ruins through the enemy bombardment, and the wreaths were got out of the ruins. They were only slightly damaged. They were very nice indeed. I bet they were grand as they lay in the shop before the bombardment. That is the story of poor 'Chick'." German Snipers

Here is another story slightly concerned with Bryant's death. "The day after 'Chick' was killed we got relieved for 48 hours and when then we went back for another spell in the trenches. Well the very first day the corporal who went for 'Chick's' wreaths got shot through the head himself, while digging to improve the communication trench. I was right at the other end of the trench at the time and when they told me Corpl Farmer was killed, I was dumbfounded for a minute and then I said something about the German sniper who shot him which he wouldn't have cared to hear, especially if he was a parson's son. You see the German snipers are good at the game and want a lot of catching. Of course, they have been caught and beaten at the game, but all the same I must give praise where praise is due; they are very good at sniping. I am now resting way back from the firing line and this rest is very welcome after the rotten weather we have been having while doing duty in the trenches. I was pleased to hear H Joyce had got into the Navy, for he wouldn't have been happy out of it. Thank him for the French-English book. I don't get much time to study French and I don't think I should if I had. I am quite content to study how to give the Germans their deserts and the best way to do it. We are still in jolly good spirits and laugh at the Kaiser's latest idea of victory. For when he has blockaded Great Britain, as he boasts he is doing, he will be lucky. But he never will. Let him have a try and I'll bet our boys in blue will stop his little tricks." A "Dead Cert" win.

Writing on February 1st, Sergt Steel says: "We had an attack from the Germans the other evening, but repulsed them quite easily with great loss to them," but beyond that things had been fairly good except the weather. He goes on to say his work as sergeant makes a lot of walking up and down the trench, and the mud makes it bad. He honestly believes the Germans will never break their line. He thinks the war will last another six months, but it's a 'dead cert' that we will win.

The Rushden Echo, Friday 21 May 1915, transcribed by Nicky Bates

Sergt Steel Killed in Action at Aubers Ridge - A Brave Rushden Soldier

Mr W Steel, of Victoria road, Rushden, has we regret to say, received the sad news, from unofficial sources, that his brother, Sergt Percy Steel, of the 1st Northants Regiment, was killed in action at Aubers Ridge on May 9th. The information was sent to his mother at Norwich in a letter from a pal, who said that Sergt Steel was shot through the head and killed instantaneously. It has been our privilege to publish several remarkably interesting letters from Sergt Steel in the columns of the "Rushden Echo," and Mr W Steel has receive a postcard from his brother since the sad fatality took place, dated May 8th, viz., the night before his death.

The late Sergt Steel had just completed his seven years' service in the Army when war broke out, and he was at home working furling awaiting his discharge. He was called up on August 4th and proceeded to the front on August 14th with the first batch of soldiers to leave England. He was wounded twice in three days - on October 29th and again on November 2nd, the second wound being the more serious of the two, as on this occasion he was detained in hospital three weeks, but on neither occasion was he allowed to come to England. The deceased soldier was 27 years old.

Evening Telegraph, Saturday 22nd May 1915, transcribed by John Collins.

Death of a Sergeant Steel of Rushden

We record with deep regret the death of Sergt Percy Steel, of the 1st Northants Regt, whose very interesting and witty letters we have been able to publish from time to time. A friend of Sergt Steel wrote to Mrs Steel, of Norwich, the mother, stating that he was shot through the head, and instantly died. The sad news was then sent to Mr W Steel, of Victoria road, Rushden.

Sergt Steel was one of the most cheerful and brave soldiers of the regiment; his letters were all written in a bright tone and he always spoke of the war being ended this summer. He had just completed seven years with the colours, when the war broke out and was awaiting discharge. He was called up on August 4th, and on August 14th went to the front with the first batch. He received wounds on October 29th and November 2nd, being kept in hospital three weeks. Sergt Steel was 27 years of age.

 Kindly sent in by Stuart McLaren, 2018

The Steel brothers - Percy and Fred, are commemorated on the Roll of Honour in Holy Trinity Church, Exeter Street, Norwich.

The church is planning a commemorative publication to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice. I have been helping them with some of the names on the Roll. Percy Steel was hard to track down until I realised he was in fact Percival Victor Steel, missing presumed dead at Aubers Ridge. I then found that he was in the same battalion of the Steelbacks as a soldier I had in my book on the men from my parish, St Augustine's, Norwich - "They Are Not Dead. A Norwich Parish in the First World War" - Captain Herbert Flood Pitcher, who was one of only two company officers who returned to the trenches that day unscathed, the other being Major C H Bacon. Captain Pitcher and Major Bacon apparently sent each other telegrams on the anniversary of the battle each year addressed to Survivor Number One and Survivor Number Two.

The Memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Norwich

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