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Robert Smylie

Robert Stewart Smylie, a 42-year old father of three, died on the Somme with a photograph of his wife and three children in his shrapnel damaged wallet. 

By the summer of 1914, Smylie had been Headmaster of Sudbury Grammar School for three and a half years.  He was an experienced schoolmaster who had taught English, Latin and Mathematics for 20 years.  Despite his age and responsibilities, on the outbreak of war he joined the army and obtained a commission in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, eventually joining the 1st Battalion in Flanders.

Smylie was a conscientious officer, who was deeply concerned for the welfare of his men.  He clearly held their respect and admiration.  He was also a devoted father and in November 1915 he wrote a long poem about his experiences for his three children, ending with the hope that they would all soon be together again.

On 1 July 1916 the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers left Flanders and by 5 July had arrived on the Somme.  To build upon the most successful part of the Battle’s opening phase, an assault was ordered between Bazentin and Longueval.  The troops were to move up during the night and attack at dawn.

Robert Smylie's grave in Flatiron Copse Cemetery
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Early on 14 July Smylie 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.

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Robert Stewart Smylie in 1914 when headmaster of Sudbury Grammar School
Shrapnel damaged wallet and pocket book belonging to Lieutenant Robert Stewart Smylie
Letter to Mrs Smylie from Donald Graham, 7 August 1916, expressing his grief over the death of her husband and his closest friend