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.
“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.
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.
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.