Soldier’s moving poem to his children still touches heart after 100 years

The handwritten version of 'My Three Kids'
The handwritten version of 'My Three Kids'

Exactly 100 years ago, a war poet who was raised and educated in Ballymena, fell during one of the many actions which were part of the battle of the Somme.

The Ballymena Observer recorded: “Captain Robert Stewart Smylie, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was a son of Mrs. R. Smylie of Bridge End, Ballymena.

Close up of a family picture from Smylie's wallet

Close up of a family picture from Smylie's wallet

“He was educated at Ballymena Model School and Mr. T. Ferguson’s Intermediate School, and took his degree at the University of London.

“Before the war he was head master of the County Grammar School, Sudbury, Suffolk. His wife and three children reside at Sudbury.”

A number of artefacts relating to Captain Smylie, including original notes for a number of his poems are now in the collection to the Imperial War Museum in London.

To mark the anniversary of his death we are re-producing two radically different poems.

Captain R S Smylie

Captain R S Smylie

One is a simple and heartfelt attempt by a lonely man to connect with his children.

The other is a bleak examination of the dying moments of a soldier in a dressing station just behind the front.

Early on 14 July Smylie, who was born in Birmingham, led C Company of the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers into position near a quarry to the north of Montauban.

The battalion was in support and did not advance until around 07.00. When they moved forward onto the slopes of Longueval Ridge, they suffered heavy casualties. Five officers were killed, including Smylie. They were buried close to the nearby road but the grave was later moved to Flatiron Copse Cemetery.

Items from Smylie's wallet and his shrapnel torn tunic

Items from Smylie's wallet and his shrapnel torn tunic

MY THREE KIDS

I am writing this tonight, My three kids

By a little candle-light, My three kids

And the candlestick’s a tin

With some dry tobacco in

And so that’s how I begin, To three kids

Now I wonder what you’re at, My three kids

Moll and Bids and little Pat, My three kids

Why of course there’s two asleep

But perhaps Moll’s thinking deep

Watching little starts that peep, At my kids

Since I left you long ago, My three kids

There’s a lot you’d like to know, My three kids

That has happened to your dad

In the varied luck he’s had

In adventures good and bad, My three kids

I have soldiered in a trench, My three kids

Serving under Marshall French, My three kids

Once a shell dropped with a thud

Quite close, covered me with mud

And its lucky ‘twas a dud, For my kids

And I’ve crossed the ground outside, My three kids

It’s at night that’s chiefly tried, My three kids

And the bullets sang all round

Overhead, or struck the ground

But your daddy none has found, No my kids

I have mapped our trenches new, My three kids

And some German trenches too, My three kids

I have sprinted past a wood

Counting steps, for so I could

Judge the distance, as I should, My three kids

I have placed our snipers where, My three kids

On the Germans they could stare, My three kids

And they killed their share of men

Quite a lot for snipers ten

From their little hidden den, My three kids

And I’ve slept in bed quite warm, My three kids

But I haven’t taken harm, My three kids

When upon the ground I lay

Without even straw or hay

In the same clothes night and day, My three kids

When they sent us back to rest, My three kids

Then they seemed to think it best, My three kids

To send on your dad ahead

To discover where a bed

Could be found, or some old shed, My three kids

And new officers were trained, My three kids

And the men we’ve lately gained, My three kids

And while that work was in hand

I was second in command

Of B Coy and that was grand, My three kids

But it didn’t last all through, My three kids

There was other work to do, My three kids

When they made me adjutant

I was busy as an ant

And its not much catch, I grant, My three kids

I have ridden on a horse, My three kids

Captured from a German force, My three kids

And I’ve marched and crawled and run Night and day in rain and sun

And shall do it till we’ve won, My three kids

And I’d rather be with you, My three kids

Yet you know I’m lucky too, My three kids

Lots of men I used to know

Now are killed or wounded, though

I remain, and back I’ll go, To my kids

And I hope you’ll all keep well, My three kids

Just as sound as any bell, My three kids

And when this long war is done

We shall have some glorious fun

Moll and Bids and little son, My three kids

Title: No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station

A bed at last, in a long low-roofed hall.

Full of soft footfalls, moans and sharper cries.

At intervals now I can see it all -

White beds, red nurses, khaki orderlies.

Then nightmare: dying, crushed by the victor Hun;

Or struggling madly, shoulder-deep in mire.

Or straining demon horses until one

Rolls over me with breath and eyes of fire.

I waken from these horrors and thank heaven.

Finding myself all safe in bed, but then

The real grows more clear and fearful

Even equals the dream.

Beside me lie two men

One young and fragile, with the bubbling cough

Of men shot through the lungs and dying slow;

A nurse is bending over to wipe off

The red foam from the quivering lips below.

The other, huge, grim. silent save for rare

Expostulation: “Why the hell can’t he keep quiet like the rest of us.”

And there I almost break in to reprove him too.

But just refrain and later in the night

Someone steals gently to the strong man’s bed.

And peers into his face in the dim light.

And brings the bearers to remove the dead.