This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.
William Richard Eveleigh was born on 29 June 1881 at Dartington near Totnes in Devon, the sixth of the ten children of John and Harriet Eveleigh. The family moved to Rattery in 1892. His father and brothers were farm labourers and that is how William Eveleigh was employed until he enlisted into the Royal Marine Light Infantry at Totnes on 28 August 1899. He was allocated the number 9932.
After his recruit training at the Depot at Deal, he finished his training as a ship’s gunner at Plymouth and joined the cruiser HMS Niobe on 10 December 1900—she acted as an escort for troopships at the latter stages of the South African War but he joined the ship too late to receive the Queen’s South Africa Medal. After a period ashore at Devonport he then served almost continually with the Fleet, interspersed with brief periods ashore. He served in British waters in the cruisers HMS Doris from January 1903 and HMS Theseus from April 1905; he rejoined HMS Niobe in April 1906 and then joined the battleships HMS Caesar in May 1907 in the Home Fleet, HMS Cornwallis in June 1908 in the Atlantic Fleet, HMS Majestic from November 1910 in the Home Fleet, and HMS Empress of India in November 1911; he returned to cruisers with short stints in HMS Andromeda from April 1912, HMS Euryalus from May 1912, and HMS Caesar from March 1913; and he joined the battleship HMS Centurion in December 1913 in 2nd Battle Squadron in the Grand Fleet, where he was serving when war broke out.
Just before joining HMS Centurion, towards the end of 1913, Private Eveleigh married Alice Hodge and the couple established a home in Plymouth. It was in HMS Centurion that Eveleigh reached his 15th year of service and, with an unblemished record, was awarded the Royal Naval Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
In April 1915 Private Eveleigh joined the base ship HMS Columbine at Rosyth, where he remained for a little over a year. In July 1916 he went ashore at Plymouth for a period of gunnery training and in October 1917 he joined HMS Teutonic as one of her gunners.
The former SS Teutonic was a steamship built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast in 1889 for the White Star Line—it was purpose-built for use as an auxiliary cruiser, armed with eight 4.7-inch guns. She took part in the Spithead review for the visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II in August 1889 and, immediately after the review, with her guns removed, began her maiden voyage to New York. Two years later she took the Blue Riband from her sister ship, SS Majestic, with an average, westbound, Atlantic crossing speed of 20.35 knots.
Teutonic entered service with the Royal Navy as an armed merchant cruiser in September 1914. She was assigned to 10th Cruiser Squadron and spent the first years of the war operating north of the British Isles. In December 1916 she was placed in reserve but was re-commissioned in October 1917, when Private Eveleigh joined as one of her new crew.
Assigned to the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, HMS Teutonic sailed to Murmansk late in the month and spent the rest of the year operating out of Scapa Flow. From January 1918 she operated out of Liverpool on trans-Atlantic escort duties to Halifax and New York. The final Atlantic crossing for Private Eveleigh began on 15 July. This crossing saw a significant increase in the number of men on the sick list, peaking at 41, but after HMS Teutonic arrived in New York on 24 July there is no record of any discharges to hospital.
It is not known when Private Eveleigh fell ill but he died onboard HMS Teutonic at 7.00am on 28 July 1918, aged 37. The ship’s log records that he died of complications following heat exhaustion. Later that morning, having finished her replenishment and the receipt of her cargo at Pier 62, HMS Teutonic was moved to an anchorage in the Hudson River. The funeral service took place onboard at 9.00am on 30 July and afterwards Private Eveleigh’s remains were taken ashore for burial in the Seamen’s Church Institute plot in The Evergreens Cemetery, Brooklyn, in Grave 32. There are 12 other CWGC burials in this cemetery. His gear was auctioned off on 1 and 2 August and, after boarding troops for passage to England, HMS Teutonic departed New York on 16 August.
Private William Richard Eveleigh is one of ten men commemorated on the Rattery village war memorial, which stands in the churchyard of the Church of The Blessed Virgin Mary. He is also commemorated on a wooden memorial inside the church.
His medals group comprises: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal, and Royal Naval Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.
He was not the only member of his family to die in the war: His nephew, Sapper, Alfred Frank Coaker, Corps of Royal Engineers, died on 4 November 1918.
William P. Gonzalez for the photographs of Private Eveleigh’s grave.
With the British Army in Flanders for the photographs of Rattery War Memorial
The log of HMS Teutonic at Naval-History.net.
1. (Back) John Eveleigh (1848-1934) married Harriet Seaward (1852-1933) in Totnes, Devon in 1870: Mary E. (1869-1944); George (1871-1934); Alice Jane (later Coaker) (1873-NK); John Henry (1875-1944); Emily (1878-NK); Thirza (later Cox) (1887-NK); Maud May (1889-NK); Arthur (1892-1948); and Edith (1894-NK).
2. (Back) It appears likely that Private Eveleigh may have been married previously, in Devonport in 1908, to Florence Elizabeth Heard; she died in 1911 in or near Totnes. I have been unable to find records of any children, from either marriage.
3. (Back) See also: Serjeant George Birkenhead, Trimmer John Walter Bowles, Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves, Trimmer Percy Hyett, Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh, Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller, Leading Seaman Sydney Stephen Milliner, Fireman Low On, Scullion William B. Parr, Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden, and Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills.