Our Cornish granite memorial was unveiled in 1922. The names on it belong to people who once lived and breathed, formed part of the community and gave their lives for it – and I didn’t want them just to become a list.
So in 2013, on behalf of the branch commitment to centenary commemorations, I started to research the First World War casualties, with a view to displaying that information on the memorial.
Researching First World War Casualties
I produced an A4 sheet for each man, detailing family and military service, and attached them to the railings – for a few days, I thought, but several sheet replacements meant that two years later, they’re still there.
My research started with notices in our local press, asking for information and photos. And the very first reply was from Mike Wright, the great, great nephew of Private Richard Yeo.
I researched 35 Looe men, each one unique and offering an interesting or thought-provoking story. Some of their stories were very sad – Pte William McCreedy MM, Machine Gun Corps, for example, killed two days before the war ended, aged just 19 – but Richard Yeo stood out, not least because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) had no record of him whatsoever.
Discovering Private Richard Yeo
When I obtained a copy of his pension record, it became evident to me that he deserved recognition as a World War One casualty.
"Richard Yeo stood out because the CWGC had no record of him"
There’s an official criterion for being recognised as a World War One casualty, and that’s to have died between 4 August 1914 and 31 August 1921.
Richard had served in the trenches for two years before he was wounded during the third Battle of Ypres, after which he contracted tuberculosis. Six weeks before the end of the war he was discharged, dying on 8 June 1920 and being laid to rest in West Looe Cemetery.
Lobbying The CWGC
I lobbied the CWGC to get recognition for Private Yeo, offering his death certificate, medal index card, pension record, the location of his grave and much more.
A new CWGC headstone honouring Private Richard Yeo
I wanted this evidence pack to make the case indisputably for him being added to the list of men who had died as a result of their war injuries – not just who had gone off to fight.
After some months, the CWGC contacted me and Mike to say they agreed, and Richard Yeo would henceforth be officially classified.
The Dedication Service
And so last December our Mayor, himself a Legion member, joined around 50 of us, including Steve Stewart from the CWGC and our branch’s standard bearers, to hold a dedication service at Richard Yeo’s grave, and unveil a new CWGC headstone honouring his sacrifice.
Looe Branch standards at the dedication service
It took three years from initially seeking information to reach that stage, but I was proud that we were finally able to do it.
How many more Richard Yeos are there, men who died as a result of their Service but whose sacrifice was not passed to the CWGC by the authorities because of the time that elapsed between 1918 and their deaths?
I should imagine there are countless more, and I know the people at the CWGC are keen to see them all recognised in time.
I’m glad I was able to see one man from my own community honoured and recognised; I hope other Legion members might consider doing the same in their part of the world.