YON Robert Henry 6410
21 B KiA 11/11/17
Robert Henry Yon was born in Crystal Brook, South Australia. He grew up in the local area and attended the Crystal Brook State School. He came from a large family and three of his brothers also served in the AIF. Two of these – Charles Albert and Harry – enlisted nearly 2 years before Robert and the third – Percival Edward – much younger, did not enlist until near the end of the War (1/6/18). Unlike Robert, the 3 other brothers joined units in South Australia. They all survived the War. There was a fifth, older brother – Ernest – who did not enlist. He lived in Adelaide.
When he enlisted on 25/10/16 Robert was living and working in Yarram. His name appeared on the electoral roll (1915) as ‘labourer’ of Boodyarn. He gave Yarram as his address on the enlistment papers. He had his medical and enlisted in Warragul but he was definitely local to the Shire of Alberton. The local paper – Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative – included his name in a short report on 15/11/16 detailing locals who had recently been presented with the shire medallion. He had been given it personally when he was back in Yarram on final leave. His name is featured on both the Shire of Alberton Honor Roll and the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. But for all the obvious links to the Shire of Alberton, when the oldest brother – Ernest – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he stated that the town or district with which his brother Robert was ‘chiefly connected’ was Crystal Brook.
Robert Yon’s enlistment papers show that he had tried, unsuccessfully, to enlist at least once before. Possibly he had been rejected because of his height, which was given as 5’ 3”.
On enlistment Private Yon gave his religion as C of E. However 2 of his brothers gave their religion as Roman Catholic and the third as Methodist. Such variation between siblings was not common. He was single at the time of enlistment and he gave his father as his next-of-kin. A letter in his file, written by his older, married sister – Alice James – indicates that the father died not long after the enlistment and that the mother was already deceased.
Private Yon enlisted as reinforcements for 21 Battalion and left Australia on 23/11/16, one month after enlisting. His unit reached Plymouth at the end of January 1917. In England his group of reinforcements was attached to 6 Training Battalion and he did not leave for France until June. He finally joined 21 Battalion in France on 24/6/17. While in training in England he spent a month in hospital with ‘tracheitis’. In France there was another month’s hospitalisation (2/8/17-6/9/17) but there are no details on the illness.
Private Yon was killed in action on 11/11/17, two months after leaving hospital and rejoining the battalion. The family was advised by cable dated 3/12/17. The date of the completion of the formal report of death was 19/1/18. He was buried in the field, in an isolated grave South West of Zonnebeke & 3 ¾ miles E of Ypres. In 1920 the family was advised that his body had been exhumed and re-interred in Aeroplane British Cemetery. The cemetery is a few kilometres north-east of Ypres.
Correspondence in the file reveals that the notification of death was made to the older sister, Alice James of Crystal Brook, and the information was relayed to her by 4 Military District in Adelaide. As indicated, the father – given as next-of-kin on enlistment – was by this point dead.
The battalion diary for 21 Battalion reveals that it was moved to the front line on 7/11/17 in the Westhoek Ridge area near Zonnebeke to relieve 18 Battalion (AIF). It remained in the line until 11/11/17 when it in turn was relieved by 6 Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. In the 5 days at the front, the battalion served in various working and carrying parties. The diary specifically records the men making “Pill Boxes” gasproof. These were the German defensive concrete strongholds captured in the recent fighting.
There are no casualties recorded in the dairy on the specific day that Private Yon was killed and in fact for the period the battalion was in the line (7/11 – 11/11) the diary records only 1dead (not Private Yon) and 8 wounded. Unfortunately, there is no Red Cross report, so the circumstances surrounding the death are unknown, accepting that the family might have received information from others in his battalion.
Private Yon had a will, drawn up exactly 5 months before his death (11/6/17), that left everything to his older brother, Ernist (sic) Yon of 2 Queen Street, Adelaide. However, as already indicated, notice of his death was made to his married sister, Mrs Alice James of Crystal Brook. On the attestation papers the first entry for next-of-kin recorded the father. Then after his death the name of the married sister had been added. However even later (mid 1921) her name had been crossed out and replaced by that of Ernest Yon, ‘eldest brother’. For this family the issue of next-of-kin was contentious.
Essentially, the oldest sibling in the family was the daughter Alice (James) and the oldest son was Ernest (Yon). As indicated, initially correspondence was directed to Alice as the next-of-kin. However the the issue of the distribution of medals – under the ‘Deceased Soldiers’ Estates Act, 1918’ – was a separate matter and precedence had to be given to Ernest as the ‘oldest surviving brother’. When faced with this situation, Alice was indignant. In July 1921, when she was informed that the medals had to go to her younger brother – as the oldest surviving brother – she wrote,
In reply to your letter of witch (sic) I received last week [I want to state] that my Brother Private R. H. Yon 21st Battalion No 6410 [h]as nobody older than myself living. he [h]as a brother next to me none older. he [h]as no father or mother living [.] I am the Eldest and his Next to Kin[.] the Brother that is younger than me lives in Adelaide at No 2 Queen Street. I cannot make out why my Brother witch is younger than me should get the Medal or anything concerning the late Pt R H Yon 21st Battalion No 6410[.] I trust you will carefully read this and kindly oblige.
Base Records determined that the ‘war medals etc ‘were to go to the brother.
It is obviously not possible to uncover the family dynamics involved here but the case does point to the potential for family conflict over the estate and memorabilia of the deceased son or sibling. In this particular case the oldest brother – Ernest Yon – received the Memorial Scroll, the Memorial Plaque and medals. He also received, in September 1918, his brother’s identity disc, the only piece of personal kit that was returned.
Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative