|2nd Lieutenant Robert Archibald SCARLYN-WILSON|
3rd (Reserve) Battalion Seaforth Highlanders attached to the 7th (Service) Battalion
Date of birth: 16th May 1897
Date of death: 12th October 1916
Killed in action aged 19
Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 15C
|Robert Archibald Scarlyn-Wilson was born at 7 Warrior Square, St Leonards-on-Sea in Sussex on the 16th of May 1897 the eldest son of Dr Archibald Scarlyn-Wilson MD and Sybil Mary (nee Sanderson) Scarlyn-Wilson of 7 Warrior Square, St Leonards-on-Sea. His mother was the daughter of Dr Sanderson, the former Headmaster of Lancing College from 1862 to 1889 where she spent her early years.
He was educated at Hill House School in St Leonard's and at Lancing College from May 1911 where he was in News House under Mr. Ferguson and transferred with him to Fields House in September 1912 until he left in July 1915. He was a Sergeant in the Officer Training Corps, achieving Certificate A in March 1914. He was appointed as a House Captain in May 1914 and as a Prefect in September the same year. He achieved his School Certificate in 1913, his Higher Certificate in 1915 and was a Librarian in 1914, becoming Senior Librarian in 1915. In his senior year he studied mainly French and German. He was awarded his House Colours for cricket in 1915.
He applied for a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers for the Seaforth Highlanders in July 1915 in an application which was supported by the Reverend Bowlby, Headmaster of Lancing College. He attended a medical examination at Shoreham on the 25th of July 1915.
As well as signing his application Bowlby also wrote a letter of support to the War Office dated the 14th of July 1915: -
"Dear Captain Clive,
I put into Captain Haig-Brown's hands the duty of sending you up a list of the boys leaving us, who intended taking up commissions in the Special Reserve or New Armies at the end of the current term. I do not think we have had any further applicants since the list was sent in. I would ask you to remember rather specially the case of R.A. Scarlyn-Wilson, about whom I consulted Major Dooner. He is a very promising boy, whom I should like to see attached to a good regiment in the Special Reserve; as he has thought out the matter carefully for himself, and wants to make the very best use of his time. He is well trained, and therefore ought to able to pass through quickly and get out to the front without delay."
He was commissioned as a Probationary 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion Seaforth Highlanders on the 14th of August 1915 and was posted to the School of Instruction at Stirling on the 18th of August 1915. He was confirmed in his rank on the 13th of March 1916 and embarked for France on the 8th of July 1916 where he was attached to the 9th Divisional Trench Warfare School. He joined the 7th Battalion of his regiment in the field at Etree Wamin on the Somme on the 24th of September 1916.
On the 12th of October 1916 the 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders was given the task of taking "Snag" and "Tail" trenches and then to take a second trench to the far side of the Butte de Warlencourt. They were to be supported by two companies of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as well as by the guns of the 26th Light Trench Mortar Battery. While in their assembly trenches they suffered a number of casualties from British shells which dropped short, a problem that would follow them during their advance. At 2.05 pm they rose from their trenches and moved forward into the drizzle under a screen of high explosive shells fired by their own artillery which was to advance at a rate of 50 yards per minute. A minute after they went over the top the German artillery responded, cutting all communications with the advancing Highlanders. The Trench Mortar Battery and supporting machine gun sections were also knocked out by this counter fire. The first objective lay several hundred yards in front of them and the land rose in a gentle slope towards the German trenches providing an almost perfect field for fire for the defenders. As a result the leading ranks of the Seaforths were swept away by a hurricane of machine gun and rifle fire. The attack faltered and the surviving Seaforths and Argylls stopped and dug in just 150 yards from their start line. This new line was held and strengthened by the Argylls. The Battalion had suffered casualties during the period the 10th to the 12th of October of two officers killed with ten officer wounded and two officers missing believed killed and sixty four other ranks killed with three hundred and forty six wounded and thirty eight missing believed killed. Robert Scarlyn-Wilson was among the missing.
His father received the following telegram dated the 17th of October 1916: -
"Regret to inform you that 2/Lieut. R.A.S. Wilson Seaforth Highlanders was wounded 12 October. Further reports will be sent on receipt."
He received a further telegram sated the 18th of October 1916: -
"2/Lieut. R.A. Wilson Seaforth Highlanders previously reported wounded now reported wounded and missing."
He received a final, undated telegram: -
"Deeply regret to inform you that 2Lieut. R.A.S. Wilson Seaforth Highlanders previously reported wounded and missing October 12th is now reported killed in action. The Army Council express their sympathy."
In a letter to his father dated the 20th of October 1916 Lieutenant Colonel Robert Horn, 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders wrote: -
"He gallantly led his platoon into action on the 12th Oct. under a withering fire from the enemy machine guns and a NCO saw him hit and fall. Since then nothing has been heard of him and I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope that he is alive."
Sybil Wilson also heard from a friend whose son was serving with the battalion and had written of the officer casualties from his Company in a letter home: -
"Four were killed, among whom was my dear friend Wilson."
Lieutenant John Roger Fox MC and Bar OL, a school friend and fellow officer in the battalion, said of him:-
"The Battalion, including Wilson, went up to the front line just south of ____, on Sunday night. I saw him there on Wednesday, about 10pm; he was very cheerful, and smoking, as usual, his favorite Savory's No.5. On Thursday afternoon, the battalion went over the parapet to attack an important trench in front. Apparently the artillery had not strafed the machine guns sufficiently, for as soon as they got into the open the bullets came from both flanks, literally like hail. The Seaforths managed to get a certain distance, and then dug in. They were relived at night. About 180 returned.....of Wilson and his Company Commander nobody seems to know the fate. Probably all the men near them were also wiped out. At any rate, he was seen to fall, but, in spite of the nightly search parties, no sign has been found of them. He has done very well since he came out here, and his men loved him. He was great enough to break with convention, and treat them with kindness and look after them without acting the Sergeant Major, yet without familiarity. He used to spend all his money too on cigarettes and bread etc., when they needed it. The CO had a great opinion of him. But he promised great things apart from the army. During this last year he acquired a great power of conversation, and could talk sense---whether he was discussing poetry or lecturing his platoon. I have never met anyone with such a flow of ideas. At first he might have been called inconsistent, but as he grew older the good ideas increased at the expense of the indifferent ones; and I had a great admiration for my friend, both as to his character and powers."
Private Jenner wrote:-
"Your son was a great favorite with the men of No. 9 Platoon. He was always cheery and smiling, and the whole time I was under him I never heard him speak a cross word with any of us; the regiment has lost a good officer and the country a gentleman. I shall always remember his face when he gave No. 9 Platoon the command to go over the top, cool and smiling as usual, and we had every confidence in him, and where he went we gladly followed."
Corporal Robertson wrote:-
"I was a great admirer of your son, both as a soldier and as a gentleman. Although not in No. 9 Platoon, I had many opportunities of testing Mr. Wilson's sterling worth. In everything he considered his men first. No one ever hesitated to approach him on any subject; they were sure of his advice and help. I speak for everyone when I sat he was "one of the best"."
Private Barnett wrote:-
"I don't think we shall ever get such a good officer (from the men's point of view) as he was. He was always pleasant and cheerful and never too proud to speak to a soldier, and this is what a Tommy most likes to see in an officer."
The Scarlyn-Wilson English Prize is given in his memory.