John Yeo and Penelope Sarah Collingwood, and ‘The White Rabbit’

John Yeo married Penelope Sarah Collingwood in London on 11 December 1853. The parish register for the church of St Dunstan-in-the-West records the groom as a reporter, a bachelor resident in Fleet Street and of full age (i.e. over 21); it describes his father Thomas Yeo as a gentleman. The same source records the bride as a spinster of full age, her residence as Dartford, Kent and her father as Lewis Collingwood deceased. They were married by licence and both signed their names. The witnesses Joshua Ellman and Mary Ann Symons appear to have been members of the congregation as they witnessed other marriages at the same church.

The 1861 census for St Giles, Lambeth shows the same John Yeo at 5 Rose Cottages. His age is given as 32, his occupation as ‘printer and reader’ and his birthplace as Bideford, Devon. Listed with him are his wife Penelope (35, birthplace Poplar), his niece Ada Yeo (13, birthplace Enfield) and his daughters Sophia Mary (4) and Penelope Sarah (1). The registration of Ada’s birth has not been found and might have been under the surname Rogers or Hunt. Sophia Mary Yeo’s birth had been registered at Camberwell in the first quarter of 1878. Penelope Sarah Yeo’s birth had been registered at Newington in the third quarter of 1859.

Sophia Mary Yeo married Harrison James Forrest Thomas and lived with him in France. Their son John Yeo Thomas became a coal merchant; he married Daisy Ethel Burroughs in Cardiff in 1901.

John Yeo Thomas and his wife Daisy had a son Forest Frederick Edward Yeo Thomas, born in London in 1902 (reg. Marylebone q2 1a 563). His fluent French and his desire to participate led to his joining R.A.F. Intelligence at the outbreak of the Second World War and later the Special Operations Executive. He worked with the Resistance in occupied France from early 1943, gained the rank of Wing Commander, and was decorated with the Military Cross, the George Cross and the Légion D’honneur. He was nicknamed ‘The White Rabbit’ and his wartime exploits were described by the author Bruce Marshall in The White Rabbit: from the story told to him by Wing-Commander F.E.E. Yeo-Thomas (Evans Brothers, London, 1952). He died in Paris in 1964.

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