Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Yea, Lacy Walter Giles

YEA, LACY WALTER GILES (1808–1855), colonel, born in Park Row, Bristol, on 20 May 1808, was eldest son of Sir William Walter Yea, second baronet, of Pyrland, near Taunton, Somerset, who married, on 24 June 1805, Anne Heckstetter (d. 1846), youngest daughter of Colonel David Michel of Dulish House, Dorset. The family of Yea held land in the thirteenth century under the abbots of Buckfast(leigh), Devonshire. David Yea, high sheriff of Somerset in 1726, married a daughter of Sir William Lacy of Hartrow. His grandson William was made a baronet in 1759.

Lacy Yea was educated at Eton. Lord Malmesbury mentions a desperate fight he had with a big boy of sixteen, which he won ‘by sheer pluck,’ when he was only thirteen (Memoirs, p. 13). He was commissioned as ensign in the 37th foot on 6 Oct. 1825, obtained an unattached lieutenancy on 19 Dec. 1826, was appointed to the 5th foot on 13 March 1827, and exchanged to the 7th (royal fusiliers) on 13 March 1828. He served with it in the Mediterranean and America, becoming captain 30 Dec. 1836, major on 3 June 1842, and lieutenant-colonel on 9 Aug. 1850. In 1854 he went out in command of it to Turkey and the Crimea. ‘A man of an onward, fiery, violent nature,’ he was ‘so rough an enforcer of discipline that he had never been much liked in peace time by those who had to obey him’ (Kingslake, ii. 334, 423). He himself wrote to his sister just before the battle of the Alma: ‘The Russians are before me and my own men are behind me, so I don't think you will ever see me again’ (Wood, p. 64).

At the Alma his regiment was on the right of the light division, and became engaged with the left wing of the Kazan regiment, a deep column of fifteen hundred men. The fusiliers, ‘a loose-knotted chain of six or seven hundred light infantrymen without formation,’ held their own against this column when the rest of Codrington's brigade had fallen back, and at length forced it to give way. This result was largely due to Yea's personal exertions: ‘his dark eyes yielded fire, and all the while from his deep-chiselled merciless lips there pealed the thunder of imprecation and command’ (Kinglake, ii. 424–7, 552–7). The regiment lost twelve officers and more than two hundred men. Yea received a letter of hearty congratulation from Sir Edward Blakeney, who had led the regiment at Albuera, and was now its colonel (Waller, p. 180).

At Inkerman the fusiliers, as part of Codrington's brigade, were on the slope of Victoria ridge, acting on the right flank of the Russians, but not very severely engaged. Yea was mentioned in despatches of 28 Sept. and 11 Nov., and was made brevet-colonel on 28 Nov. During the hardships of the winter his care of his men was exemplary. ‘They were the first who had hospital huts. When other regiments were in need of every comfort, and almost of every necessary, the fusiliers, by the care of their colonel, had everything that could be procured by exertion and foresight. He never missed a turn of duty in the trenches except for a short time, when his medical attendant had to use every effort to induce him to go on board ship to save his life’ (Russell, p. 495).

In the summer he had command of a brigade of the light division, and in the assault of the Redan, on 18 June 1855, he led the column directed against the left face. It consisted of a covering party of a hundred riflemen, a ladder party of about two hundred, a storming party of four hundred men of the 34th, and a reserve of eight hundred men of the 7th and 33rd. Leaving the latter under cover for the time, he went forward with the rest. They had a quarter of a mile of open ground to cross under such a shower of grape as the oldest soldiers had never seen before. Yea reached the abattis with the wreck of his parties, but there he was shot dead. His body was brought in next day, and he was buried on the 20th.

Lord Raglan, in his despatch of the 19th, said: ‘Colonel Yea was not only distinguished for his gallantry, but had exercised his control of the royal fusiliers in such a manner as to win the affection of the soldiers under his orders, and to secure to them every comfort and accommodation which personal exertions could secure for them.’ Sir William Codrington, then commanding the light division, wrote to Yea's sisters in similar terms, but more fully (Monday, p. 109; cf. also Russell, p. 494). His eldest sister put up a marble monument to him in his parish church of Taunton St. James's, Somerset. A headstone marks his grave in the cemetery at Sebastopol.

Yea was unmarried. His father survived him, dying on 20 May 1862, when the baronetcy passed to Lacy's younger brother, Sir Henry Lacy Yea (d. 1864), third and last baronet. In face Yea bore a strong likeness to Napoleon I, and he once went to a fancy ball at Bath in that character, with his brother officers as his suite.

[Monday's History of the Family of Yea, Taunton, 1885; Waller's Records of the Royal Fusiliers; Kinglake's War in the Crimea; Wood's Crimea in 1854 and in 1894; Russell's Letters to the Times, reprinted 1855; Gent. Mag. 1855, ii. 203.]

E. M. L.