Indigenous Australian, William YEO, 54th Infantry Battalion
William Henry Yeo was very keen to serve for his country, but his first two offers to volunteer from Queensland in 1914 and 1915 were rejected.
Born in 1890 to William Yeo (1854-1895) and Harriet Chown (1863-1926) at Frogmore, NSW, he was only 5 when his father died, leaving his mother to raise William, Elizabeth & Lucy, alone.
Undeterred by his initial experience, William he made his way back to his home state, and without mention of his previous attempts, was welcomed in 1917 as a member of the 9th Reinforcements for the 54th Infantry Battalion.
Yeo left Sydney on board the troopship ‘Anchises’ in January 1917 with just 3 weeks training, bound for England. Yeo became ill during the voyage and was admitted to the ship’s hospital for several days, before landing in Devonport, England in March 1917.
The reinforcements spent the first 6 months of their overseas service in camp at Hurdcott. Here Yeo fell foul of the authorities, having neglected to obey a general order, and was fined and confined to barracks for his ‘crime’.
In September 1917, Yeo sailed for France and eventually joined his Battalion in the field in October in the front lines of Westhoek Ridge. Yeo’s health was plagued by the horrid conditions, he was admitted to hospital several times with bronchitis and a painful autoimmune skin disease.
In June the next year he was given two weeks leave which he spent in Paris, before rejoining his unit in the field. In the first week of September 1918 the 54th Battalion were involved in operations outside of Peronne, with orders to advance on the town. On the eve of 1 September, they were engaged along with the 53rd Battalion in a fierce battle against the Germans and many men were killed, including William Henry Yeo.
Yeo died alongside many of his comrades that day and was buried where he fell. When the war ended William Yeo’s body was exhumed and re-interred at Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension.
Harriet Yeo received her son’s effects and was also the recipient of his service medals and memorial plaque. She wrote a heartfelt inscription which appears on the headstone of his grave.
“The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken away, for he was my darling boy”
Read more …
- SERVICE RECORD: YEO, William Henry
- EMBARKATION ROLL: 5th Reinforcements, 54th Battalion
- Roll of Honour
- Roll of Honour circular
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- One of the soldiers in SLQ’s HistoryPin Collection
- View the whole Collection: Indigenous enlistment
- Queensland’s Indigenous Servicemen Digital Story and Oral History
Marg Powell & Des Crump | QANZAC100, State Library of Queensland