First Scottish advocate to die in Great War revealed as poet who wrote in trenches

Alastair Shepherd has researched all the advocates who died in the First World War

Alastair Shepherd has researched all the advocates who died in the First World War

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The first Scottish advocate killed in action in the First World War has been revealed to be a poet who composed his works in the trenches.

The story of Lieutenant Walter Lyon of the Royal Scots who lost his life at Ypres on 8 May 1915, aged 29, was uncovered by solicitor Alastair Shepherd who researched the stories of all the advocates who fell in the Great War listed on the War Memorial of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh.

Walter Lyon of The Royal Scots, an advocate and war poet who was killed in action at Ypres in 1915.

Walter Lyon of The Royal Scots, an advocate and war poet who was killed in action at Ypres in 1915.

Lyon’s best-known poem “I Tracked A Dead Man Down A Trench” published posthumously in 1916 in his book Easter At Ypres 1915.

It contains the lines: “I tracked a dead man down a trench / I knew not he was dead / They told me he had gone that way / And there his foot-marks led.

“I stole up softly where he stayed / With head hung down all slack / And on his shoulders laid my hands / And drew him gently back. /And then, as I had guessed, I saw / His head, and how the crown – / I saw then why he crouched so still / And why his head hung down.”

Shepherd, a solicitor with Coulters in Edinburgh, spent nine months carrying out the research using resources such as war diaries for battalions, questionnaires sent to families and newspaper archives including The Scotsman.

“It is always very exciting when I find something unexpected,” Shepherd said. “I don’t think Lyon’s poem is anti-war, but he was writing about the horrors of war. It was so universal there must have been people who were anti-war, but were stuck in the system.”

The memorial lists the names of 22 advocates and four “intrants” (trainee advocates) killed in the First World War. It also bears the name of an advocate killed in the Second World War. Of the 400 advocates in Scotland in 1914, 163 served in the armed services, with a death rate of 16 per cent. The average age when they died was 37, well over the national average. Five advocates were killed at the Battle of Loos.

Shepherd added: “There is a lot of information about these advocates, and doing something like this preserves their history.

“But I often pass the War Memorial in Waverley station where the names are in alphabetical order with the job they did. All of these men, the lot of them, were in the trenches together and died together.”

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