Sergeant Yells and his work with Lawrence
In September 1914 Charles Reginald Yells, a 24 year old labourer from Kapunda, South Australia enlisted with the AIF. Joining the 9th Light Horse Regiment, he trained at Broadmeadows in Victoria before embarking on the HMAT Karroo for Egypt in February 1915. In July 1915, he was promoted to Temporary Sergeant to teach at the Imperial School of Instruction at Zeitoun, Egypt. He worked as an instructor at the school until assigned for “special duty” to the Red Sea Ports on 10 August 1917.
The special duty assigned to Yells was to instruct Lawrence and his Arab squads in the use of the Lewis gun. Throughout 1916 and 1917 Lawrence and his Arabs regularly mined the Hejaz railway as a means of diverting Turkish resources and disrupting their lines of communication. Lawrence had acquired Lewis guns and trench mortars to secure the trains and provide cover during their attacks. Yells was assigned to instruct on the use of Lewis guns and a British Servicemen, Lance Corporal Walter Herbert Brooke of the 25th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers was to instruct on the use of trench mortars. In Seven Pillars Lawrence wrote:
Their names may have been Yells and Brooke, but became Lewis and Stokes after their jealously-loved tools.
When the training had been completed, Yells offered to join Lawrence’s party. Lawrence wrote that this was an attractive idea but also warned Yells and Brooke that if they should join them they would be taking on a more challenging lifestyle.
They were warned that their experiences might not at the moment seem altogether joyful. There were no rules; and there could be no mitigation of the marching, feeding, and fighting, inland. If they went they would lose their British Army comfort and privilege, to share and share with the Arabs (except in booty!) and suffer exactly their hap in food and discipline. If anything went wrong with me, they, not speaking Arabic, would be in a tender position. (Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Book V, Chapter LXI)
Yells replied that he was looking for "just this strangeness of life". He joined Lawrence’s party as a Machine Gun Sergeant and during an operation on the 10 September 1917 provided crucial machine gun coverage for an attack on the railway station at Mudowwara (aka Mudawara) for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The exploits of Yells and Brooke are covered in several chapters of the Seven pillars of wisdom.
Little is known of Sergeant Yells outside of his service with Lawrence. He had a brother, Cyril Alfred, who served with the 15th Battalion and was killed at Bullecourt in April 1917. From the Memorial’s Roll of Honour circular sent by his mother Anna Yells in 1931, we know that Sergeant Yells changed his surname to Wells after the war and continued living in Australia in Innisfail, Queensland and Trundle, NSW. There is also a note on his service record that he was deceased in 1981.
The Australian War Memorial is seeking further information regarding Sergeant Charles Reginald Yells. Information could include photographs or information about his life during or after the war.