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St George’s News - Waterlooville’s Parish Magazine

The Website for St George’s Church, Waterlooville and its Parish Magazine St George’s News

Festival 2018 issue

The Wylie Memorial, Portsmouth Cathedral

William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931) was a famous marine artist largely based in Portsmouth. His impressive diarama of The Battle of Trafalgar can be seen in the Portsmouth Naval Museum. His elaborate tombstone and grave is in Portchester Churchyard. He had the misfortune to lose two sons in the First World War and both are commemorated in Portsmouth Cathedral.

First to be killed was his fourth son Robert. He was serving in the 1 Battalion of the London Scottish which was the First Territorial Army regiment to see action in the war. A few days after landing in France in October 1914 they were rushed to the Ypres Salient to reinforce the 4 Cavalry Brigade defending the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge. They took up their positions under heavy fire. As darkness approached the Germans launched a major assault resulting in severe hand-to-hand fighting. By dawn the London Scottish, approximately 1,000 strong, had suffered 394 casualties, a loss rate of 43%. But the line remained unbroken and Ypres was saved from capture. Robert was killed in this action but his body was never found and he is commemorated on the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing. He was 26 years old.

After the war his grief-stricken father painted a large 6 foot painting to honour his memory and presented it to the cathedral. Entitled the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, it is based on the story in St John’s Gospel, Chapter 21. The white clad figure of Christ stands on a rock watching the fishermen pulling in their nets full of fish. This impressive painting hangs today in one of the nave pillars close to the Cathedral Book Shop. It is inscribed:

In memory of our beloved son
Robert Theodore Morrison
H Company 1st B London Scottish
Who fell at Messines on October 31st 1914
W L Wyliie

Mick Imlah, a Scottish poet, published a very fine poem in 2008 entitled London Scottish (1914) which he wrote to commemorate some 60 members of the famous London Scottish Rugby Club who all volunteered and enlisted in the London Scottish in August 1914. Many of them died alongside Robert Wyllie in the Battle of Messines.

April, the last full fixture of the Spring:
Feet, Scottish, Feet - they rucked the fear of God
Into Blackheath. Their club was everything:
And of the four sides playing that afternoon,
The stars, but also those from the back pitches,
All sixty volunteered for the touring squad,
and swapped their Richmond turf for the Belgian  ditches.
October: mad for a fight they broke too soon
On the Ypres Salient, rushing the ridge between

‘Witshit’ and Messines. Three quarters died.
Of that ill-balanced and fatigued fifteen
The ass selectors favoured to survive.
Just one, Brodie the prop, resumed his post.
The others sometimes drank to ‘The Forty Five’.

Neither a humorous nor an idle toast.

John Symonds