Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo - One of the first people to undergo Plastic Surgery

Faces of Conflict Exhibition - RAMM, Exeter - 17th January to 5th April, 2015

The images of a wounded First World War soldier who became one of the first people to undergo plastic surgery have been released in an attempt to trace his family

This article appeared in several daily newspapers on the 28th August, 2008 in an attempt by artist Paddy Hartley to track down any of Walter's relatives or anyone who may know how he survived after the horrific burns. Paddy is the Project Facade Leader Artist in Residence at The Gillies Archive, Queen Mary's Hospital Sidcup and is interested in any information that contributes to the expansion of the life stories of the men whose records are held at the Gillies Archives. He is determined that these records arent how these men are remembered, but by how they lived their lives. Since 2004, Paddy has researched and interpreted the personal and surgical stories of servicemen who underwent this pioneering treatment under the care of Gillies, considered the father of modern-day facial reconstructive surgery. His exhibition, Faces Of Battle, opens at the NAM in Chelsea on November 10 and as Walter's story is part of the exhibition he wants to include any information on how Walter lived hi life after the accident.

By Daily Telegraph reporter
Last Updated: 1:28PM BST 28 Aug 2008

The photographs show before, during and after pictures of the ground-breaking medical procedure carried out on sailor Walter Yeo.

Walter sustained terrible facial injuries including the loss of upper and lower eyelids while manning the guns aboard HMS Warspite in 1916 during the Battle of Jutland.

In 1917 he was treated by Sir Harold Gillies - the first man to use skin grafts from undamaged areas on the body - and know as 'the father of plastic surgery'. London-based Gillies opened a specialist ward for the treatment of the facially-wounded at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Kent. Walter Yeo is thought to have been one of the first patients to benefit from his newly-developed technique - a form of skin grafting called 'tubed pedical'.

The young sailor, of Plymouth, Devon, was given new eyelids with a 'mask' of skin grafted across his face and eyes. Artist Paddy Hartley, 37, has previously used the images in an exhibition and is now attempting to track down Walter's family to find out what happened to him. Paddy, of London, said: "This tragedy catalysed the surgeon to transform the fledgling discipline of plastic surgery."

"Walter Yeo last went for treatment at the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth 1938, but little else is known about him."It would be interesting to know what happened to him in the years that followed. "I'm keen to find out how he and his family coped with the consequences of his injuries and subsequent surgery."

Walter was born in 1890 and after marrying wife Ada was severely injured during the battle of Jutland while manning guns.Records show he was admitted to Sir Harry Gillies' care on August 8, 1917 - just two months after he opened his specialist hospital. Documents show after the procedure Walter, a gunnery warrant officer, was 'improved, but still had severe disfigurement'.

Paddy said:

"The First World War was a war dominated by high explosives and heavy artillery. "Casualties treated by Sir Harold Gillies included an unprecedented number with horrific facial injuries. "Often unable to see, hear, speak, eat or drink, they struggled to re-assimilate back into civilian life."Gillies is credited with developing new, untried techniques to treat the injuries created by this new kind of war, taking grafts from undamaged areas of flesh.He used tubular 'pedicles' from the forehead, scalp, chest, neck or shoulders but retained a connection to allow blood flow.

Paddy has previously used similar images for an exhibition called Faces of Battle at the National Army Museum in London.

The Queen's Hospital, opened in June 1917, provided over 1,000 beds. There Gillies and his colleagues developed many techniques of plastic surgery and carried more than 11,000 operations on over 5,000 men.

Follow Up in the Plymouth Herald

WALTER YEO the facts

RECORDS show that Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo was born on October 20, 1890, youngest of three children born to Petty Officer First Class Francis Yeo and his wife Rhoda. Within three weeks his father was dead, lost when the Devonport torpedo cruiser HMS Serpent, en route to Sierra Leone, hit rocks in Punta Bay on Spain's Galician coast. Only three of the 150 men aboard survived.

The 1901 census records the Yeo family as living at 25 Arundel Crescent in Plymouth. Walter had two elder sisters, Adelaide and Elsie; his mother was then an alemaker at the Royal William Yard. Walter enlisted into the Royal Navy aged 12, serving as a Bugler until 1911.

He was promoted to Leading Seaman in 1912, becoming a Petty Officer in 1915 and a Warrant Officer in June 1917.At this time Walter was married to Ada and the family home was listed as 24 Staddon Terrace, North End, Plymouth.He was wounded on May 31, 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, while manning the guns aboard the battleship HMS Warspite.

There is some uncertainty as to where he was first admitted to hospital due to the poor quality of the documents. However, he is known to have been admitted to Plymouth Hospital while waiting for a place at Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, which was granted on August 8, 1917.

By July 1919, he was found to be fit for active service again and was recorded as having completed courses in September 1919. He underwent a further operation in August 1921, after which his disfigurement was recorded as 'improved, but still severe', and he was recommended for medical discharge, which took place on December 15, 1921. Walter later received further treatment for a corneal ulcer at the Royal Naval Hospital in Plymouth in 1938, but little else is known about him.

Family Tree - Sheila Yeo, September 2008

Walter 's parents were Francis Frederick Yeo born 1857 in Calstock, Cornwall, and died 1890 and Rhoda Sarah Jarman Jun 1879 in Plymouth, Devon. Francis Frederick was also in the Navy and was killed just three weeks after Walter was born.

Their children were

    • Frederick Henry Yeo, born 1886 in Plymouth, Devon. Who married Violet May Talbot
    • Adelaide Maud Yeo, born 1887 in Plymouth, Devon.
    • Elsie Elizabeth Yeo, born 1889 in Plymouth, Devon.
    • Walter E O'Neil Yeo, born 1890 in Plymouth, Devon; died 1960 in Plymouth, Devon.

Walter married Ada Edwards in 1914 in Plymouth, Devon. Walter died in 1960 in Plymouth.

Their children are Lilian Evelyn Yeo, born 21 Oct 1914 in Plymouth, Devon; died 1993 in Plymouth, Devon. She married Noel M Lewis 1935 in Plymouth, Devon and Doreen Y Yeo, born 1919 in Plymouth, Devon. who married Sydney I Hookway 1940 in Plymouth, Devon. So did either of his daughters have any children?

In 1972 Sydney was living at 22, Moorland Drive, Bridge Fm Est, Plymouth and his phone number was Plymouth 36700

If anyone has any information on Walter's children or their descendants can you please contact either myself or Paddy

Walter's descent from Humphrey Yeo & Phillipa of Launceston, Cornwall

  • 1 Humphrey Yeo b: 1720 in Launceston St Stephen d: 16 Jan 1762 in Launceston St Stephen
  • .. +Phillipa
  • . 2 Thomas Yeo b: 30 Dec 1746 in Launceston St Stephen
  • ..... +Mary Featherstone m: 06 Mar 1767 in Launceston St Stephens
  • ..... 3 John Yeo b: 1770 in Launceston St Stephen, Cornwall
  • ......... +Ann Ellis b: 1780 in East Stonehouse m: 01 Jan 1800 in East Stonehouse
  • ......... 4 Samuel Yeo b: 30 Jan 1825 in East Stonehouse d: 1860 in Calstock, Cornwall
  • ............. +Adelaide O'Neil b: in East Stonehouse m: Jun 1850 in Plymouth, Devon
  • ............ 5 Francis Frederick Yeo b: 1857 in Calstock, Cornwall d: 1890
  • ................ +Rhoda Sarah Jarman m: Jun 1879 in Plymouth, Devon
  • ................ 6 Walter E O'Neil Yeo b: 1890 in Plymouth, Devon d: 1960 in Plymouth, Devon


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