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Lieutenant Robert William Sterling


1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Division, Age 21, Killed 23 April 1915. Grave D.28. Son of John Lockhart Sterling and Clara Frances Sterling, of 30, Ashton Gardens, Glasgow. He was educated at Glasgow Academy, Sedbergh School, and Pembroke College, Oxford. In 1914, while at Pembroke College, he won the Newdigate Prize with his poem ‘The Burial of Sophocles’.  On the outbreak of war he applied for and received a commission in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and sent the remainder of 1914 training in Scotland before being sent to France in February 1915.

 

They were billeted in the village of Locre, now Loker. On the 6 February two men from the Battalion were shot at dawn Private Andrew Evans and Private Joseph Byers, he was only sixteen years of age. They are both buried in Locre Churchyard Cemetery https://www.theypressalient.com/post/locre-churchyard-1 

 

On the 20 February the 9th Brigade was transferred to the 28th Division and moved to the line north of the canal at Lankhof Farm and Bedford House. Robert joined the Battalion on the 27 February with the War Diary recording his arrival as a replacement.


War Diary

On the 4 March they were relieved by the Bedford Regiment and Sterling was surprised to find a close friend among the relieving battalion. He wrote that: ‘I walked about with him for about an hour and a half in the chateau grounds, [Lankhof Chateau] stray bullets from the firing -line whistling around us,.. but I had no idea I was afterwards going to treasure every incident as a precious memory all my life.’ On the 13 March his friend was killed and Sterling wrote these lines:

 

To J.H.S.M., killed in action, March 13th, 1915

O Brother, I have sung no dirge for thee:

Nor for all time to come

Can song reveal my grief’s infinity:

The menace of the silence made me dumb.

 

On the 12 March ‘A’ Company in trenches 43,44, and 45 in D sector at St Eloi were blown up by a German mine the War Diary reporting the casualties as fifty-eight men killed, wounded and missing. At the beginning April, he was sent to hospital in Ypres, suffering from influenza, and when this hospital was shelled, he went to a base hospital at Le Treport. He rejoined the battalion on 21 April and took part in the Second Battle of Ypres.


War Diary

There were moments of beauty in trench life and Sterling recorded one of these in a letter he wrote to a friend on 18 April: ‘ We were in trenches in woody country (just S.E. of Ypres) The Germans were about eighty yards away, and between the trenches lay pitiful heaps of dead friends and foes…The enemy had just been shelling our reserve trenches, and a Belgian Battery behind us had been replying, when there fell a few minutes’ silence; and I, still crouching expectantly in the trench, suddenly saw a pair of thrushes building a nest in a ‘bare ruin’d choir’ of a tree, only about five yards behind our line. At the same time a lark began to sing in the sky above the German trenches…


Linesman Map

He was killed by a trench mortar grenade on 23 April while defending a trench with fifteen other ranks. The War Diary recording:


War Diary

A collection of his poems was published by Oxford University Press in February 1916.

 

His brother John, a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion attached to the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, was killed in action at the Battle of Loos on 28 September 1915. He is listed on the Loos Memorial Panel 46 to 49.

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