Robert Boyd

Co. 64

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to research and remember my Great Grand Uncle, Robert Boyd, as part of the My Adopted Soldier project.


Background  

Robert Boyd was born in Emmet Place in the heart of Sligo town. He was born to Bridget and Andrew Boyd on 19th November 1896. He was the fourth child of 7 and one of three boys. His father was a labourer in Sligo Mill, which was just across the road from their home.  

Emmet Place at it would have looked in 1901

Emmet Place as it is now

1901 Cesnsus

In 1901 Robert was 4 years of age and, along with his older sisters, was attending school. According to the census all of the children in the house can read and write apart from the two youngest in the house as they were only 4 and 1 years old.

Schooldays

From Family Stories it is apparent that Robert attended Quay Hill National School (pictured on the left), Quay Street Sligo. This was just around the corner from his home.                                                    Quay Hill School was run by the Marist Brothers. The Marist Brothers later moved to St John’s National School in Sligo Town. 

 Unfortunately the role books didn’t go up as far as Robert’s school years. However they did document Robert’s older brother, John’s, attendance in 1904. According to Robert’s niece, Isobelle, Robert and his little brother Hugh were notorious for jumping on the back of trucks passing through the town and disappearing for the day.

The Loss of Two Maternal Figures

Robert’s mother tragically passed away in 1908 ,aged 33,of an ongoing heart condition (mitral valve disease).  Robert was 12 yrs old at the time of her death. Interestingly, Bridget died in Sligo Workhouse. However, the workhouse was often used as an infirmary at the time.

5 months later, the family experienced another major loss when Robert’s Paternal Grandmother (Mary Boyd) also passed away. Mary lived just around the corner from Robert’s family and would have been an important presence for Robert. In the space of 5 months the family lost the two maternal figures in their lives 

Bridget Boyd's (Robert's Mother) Death Cert

Mary Boyd's (Robert's Grandmother) Death Cert

1911 Census

In the 1911 Census Robert and his younger brother Hugh are not registered with their family on the census. Despite an extensive nationwide search and a search through census in England and Scotland I was unable to locate Robert and Hugh around the year 1911. Robert's sister, Katie is also missing from the family census but was registered as domestic help in a house in Finisklin, Co. Sligo.   

Robert's maternal Grandparents and aunts and uncles are also missing from the 1911 census in Ireland. There is a strong possibility that Robert and Hugh were tattie howking in Scotland with their mother's family or else following the fishing trawlers up and down the west coats of Ireland getting paid to gut the fish that were brought to shore. If that was the case they would not have been registered on any census that year.


Joining the army

Robert joined the 2nd Battalion of the Leinster Regiment. His service number was 10054. From this we can presume that Robert signed up some time between January 1912 and January 1914. This would have meant Robert was only 15 or 16 years old when he signed up. 

It was very unusual for young men in the Sligo/Leitrim area to join the Leinster Regiment. Most would have signed up with the Connaught Rangers in Boyle, Co. Rosscommon. However, Robert's brother-in-law, James Shannon, was in the Connaught Rangers at the time so it is quite possible that Robert attempted to sign with the Connaughts but James told him to go home as he knew he was underage. Still determined to join, Robert went to Birr Castle, Co. Offaly and joined the Leinster Regiment.  

Unfortunately, all of Robert's records, except for his medal card, were lost in the Blitz during the Second World War. 

the call to arms

Robert was stationed in Cork with the 17th infantry Brigade of the 6th Division. Upon mobilisation in August 1914, the 6th division was ordered to concentrate near Cambridge, England where they carried out final training before disembarking for the Western Front on 9th September. The 17th infantry was then put into reserve until mid-October.  

Battles

Battle of Armentieres 13.10.1914

on 21st October 1914, 2 weeks into the battle, Robert joined the action at Armentieres. On 28th and 29th October there were heavy German assaults which saw heavy casualties on both sides. The Battle officially ended on 2nd November. 

Hooge 09.08.15 

On 30th July 1915, the Germans attacked and captured the crater and strong points at Hooge using flame throwers for the first time in history. On 9th August 1915, the allies launched a successful counter-attack in order to regain lost ground. 

(pictured on the left is Hooge Crater in 1915) 

Move to the 24th Division

0n 14th October 1915, the 17th Infantry Brigade of the 6th Division was transferred to the 24th Division in exchange for the 71st Brigade of the 24th Division. Soon after the transfer, the 2nd Leinster Regiment was moved to the 73rd Brigade also of the 24th Division. The 73rd brigade was then stationed in Loos, France until a few days after Robert’s death. So Robert was killed while in the 2nd Battalion Leinster Regiment, 73rd Brigade of the 24th Division. 

(on the right; a sketch entitled 'A Tench at Loos, France' by Lieutenant Arthur Royce Bradbury, 1915. The sketch is displayed in the National Army Museum in Chelsea.)  

CHRISTMAS TRUCE 1914

There is a strong possibility that Robert was involved in the Christmas Truce 1914. We are not sure whether Robert was in company A, B, C or D so we cannot be definite on his exact involvement. On Christmas Eve 1914, the 2nd leinster Regiment were entrenched in Armentiéres, France. At first, they rejected German overtures for peace. By dusk, the A, B and C companies began to fraternise with the ‘enemy’.                                                                              One Soldier said:

“we remained the whole night through singing with the enemy song for song. “Give us Tipperary”, they cried. Whereupon an adjacent Irish regiment [ie: the Leinsters] let loose a tremendous “whoop,” and complied with the request in a way as only Irishmen can.” 


Robert's Death

Robert was killed in Loos, France on 17th November 1915, just two days before his 19th Birthday. The Commonwealth War Graves Commision gives Robert's age as 21 when he was, in fact, just 18 years old. This would indicate that Robert lied about his age when signing up. 

Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial record for Robert 

Robert's Name (Boyd R.) on the Menin Gate

The Story of his Death

Robert Boyd trapped hungry with comrades in shell hole said ‘I’m not going to die starving’, ran to a field and grabbed a turnip. He was shot by a sniper. The army priest went forward waving a white handkerchief . Robert said to the priest ‘I got it’ and bit into the turnip and died. 

Robert’s niece Isobel Gibbons aged 91 years, April 2017 

Isobel's Ghost Story

My Grand Aunt Isobel also told an interesting story that she heard from her uncle about the night Robert died.

Johnny Boyd, the oldest boy was on guard duty (somewhere in England)when an oncoming woman approached him. She would not stop on command and he shouted ‘In the name of God ma'am, I don’t want to shoot a woman. She cried ‘my little boy is after being killed’ then she disappeared. That was the same time Robert, his brother was killed.  


Remembering Robert

Robert is now commemorated on the Menin Gate, Addenda Panel 59. We can only hope that Robert is buried somewhere in an unmarked grave and some day we will be able to locate this grave and honour him as he deserves.   

Looking up at Robert's name high up on Addenda panel 59.

When I visited the Menin Gate I left behind some things that would have meant something to Robert. To a poem by Yeats, I attached a flower from my Great Grandmother (Robert's sister's) grave. Granny Katie had always said she wanted to visit her little brothers grave and I was glad I could bring a part of her with me. I also brought a flower from my Granny's grave and a bottle of holy water from Tobernalt  Holy Well in Sligo as this is somewhere Robert would have known well and somewhere that has gone relatively unchanged since his childhood.   


While preparing for our trip to Belgium I read the poem 'Under Saturn' by WB Yeats. One verse in particular stood out to me and I realised that every word from 'Labouring man' and 'Sligo Quay' to the 'Child's vow sworn in vain' reminded me of my Great Grand Uncle and his life. I therefore decided to read this poem for Robert when I visited the Menin Gate that June.   

You heard that labouring man who had served my people. He said upon the open road, near to the Sligo quay - No, no, not said, but cried it out - 'You have come again,                And surely after a hundred years it was time to come.' I am thinking of a child's vow sworn in vain never to leave that valley his fathers called their home.” 

                  From Under Saturn by WB Yeats

History tried to wipe Robert Boyd out as best it could. His records were burnt and his body lost in the choas following the war. I therefore felt even more compelled to ensure his name and his story did not go untold and his memory lost forever. This project has allowed me to bring this man back into history where he will live on forever. 


my story 

My name is Ciara and I am a 5th year student in Mercy College, Sligo. I first heard of the My Adopted Soldier project, two years ago while doing my TY interview. During the interview I expressed an avid interest in history. My interviewer, Michael Collins, then began to tell me about their plans for the 2015 trip to the Somme. I immediately fell in love with the idea and after seeing the documentary on RTE later that year I dreamed of being involved in a project like this. I was, therefore, delighted when my history teacher, Ms Kiernan, gave our class the opportunity to apply for the 2017 trip.  

Why I Applied

For as long as I can remember I have had a passion for history. I would probably attribute this passion to my dad who bought me my first Horrible Histories books and always made sure to share with me, his extensive knowledge in this field. I always had a particular interest in Military history as many of our family members served in the army back as far as the 1800s. My dad and I recently decided to start looking more into our family history and ended up discovering just how extensive our family's military background is. One family member served in India and the Crimean War. Another fought in the Zulu and Boer Wars. Six of our family members served in the First World War, including both of my Great Grandfathers. Eight family members fought in the Second World War, two of whom had also served in the First World War. Another was my Grand Aunt who was unexpectedly shipped out to France after she joined the Army Reserves. Many others joined the Irish Defence Forces back home and some served and still serve in the army during peacetimes. 

Because of these connections I was extremely excited to have the opportunity to research a soldier and visit the Front where many of my relations fought and some were killed. 


Family History

A few years ago, much to my dad's delight, my grand uncle sent us a folder full of records and photos regarding our family history. 

The folder included these two photos. On the right, is my Great Grandfather, James Shannon, and my Great Grand uncle, Robert Burnside. 

Pictured on the left is my Great Grandfather,again, with his brother-in-law (my Great Grand Uncle), Robert Boyd (seated). 

Beginning The Research

After being accepted to the project, Gerry sent us all an email asking if we knew anyone buried or commemorated in the Flanders area. When I saw this email, the first thing that came to mind was the above picture of my Great Grand Uncle. I knew that Robert Boyd was commemorated on the Menin Gate and immediately sent off this information to Gerry. I was more than thrilled at the first meeting on February 4th to discover I would be researching my Great Grand Uncle for the project.    


The Group at our first meeting in Collins Barracks

Myself and Maria (fellow Sligo student) pictured with our MEP, Marian Harkin 

Researching robert

Once I arrived home from the first meeting I began my research, starting with the basics. I used irishgenealogy.ie to source birth records, 1901 and 1911 Census and his parents marriage cert.

Once I had a background to Robert and his family I decided I would avail of our local library's archives of old newspaper articles. Unfortunately, there was no mention of Robert in any of the articles. I did however get sidetracked when I found some very in depth accounts of some of my other relations' involvement in the war. 


The trip to messines

Day 1

On the first day of the trip we had a lecture on the history of the Irish college and walking tour of the town of Leuven. In the afternoon, we met the German students and went on a scavenger hunt around Leuven. In the evening, two Irish students (Zoe and Rosie) and two German students (Emil and Hannah?????) presented their research to the group.   

Day 2

On Thursday, we set out for Brussels to visit the EU Parliament. Here we met with Irish MEP, Marian Harkin, and German MEP, Gesine Meissner. Sarah and Gabi also made presentations on their soldiers. We then visited the Island of Ireland Peace Park, the Pool of Peace and 3 graves in Messines and Wytschaete Cemeteries. In the afternoon, we got to walk through the German trenches at Bayernwald. This was very poignant as we realised that the boys in our group were the same age as many of the soldiers who fought and were killed in those very trenches. As our last stop of the day, we visited the death cells and execution place where many soldiers were held and shot by their own men for 'cowardliness'. Here, Joshua told us the story of his soldier who, despite being autistic, was tragically executed for being a 'coward'. 

(you can read more on this story in Joshua's archive)

Walking through the trenches at Bayrenwald. 

The place where many innocent men were shot for 'cowardliness' 

Day 3

Our third day brought a jam packed schedule starting with a visit to Vladslo German cemetery. Here we heard about the story of the two grieving parents depicted in a sculpture in the cemetery. We also each laid down a white rose in memory of all missing German soldiers. We then went on to Poelcapelle where we visited the grave of John Condon, the youngest British soldier killed during the war. At his grave, Myself, Jessica and David performed the air 'John Condon'. We also visited Langemark German Cemetery and Tyne Cot British cemetery. Both of these cemeteries were much larger than the previous and really put into perspective the massive loss suffered on both sides during this war. Lastly we reached the town of Ypres where I finally got to see Robert's name on the Menin Gate. This was an extremely emotional experience for me and is one that will resonate with me for the rest of my life. That evening we attended the Last Post Ceremony which takes place every eveining at the Menin Gate to remember all of the soldiers with no graves. At this ceremony myself and Yassin laid a wreath on behalf of the group. 

Cleaning off the Graves of the fallen German Soldiers at Vladslo cemetery.



Myself and Yassin laying a wreath at the Mein Gate during the Last Post Ceremony.