The story of a soldier painter – Lt Stuart Boyd
by Evelyn McKechnie
Lt Stuart Boyd was the only son of Alexander Stuart Boyd and Mary Stuart Boyd from Glasgow. The trio were talented artists and writers, and when Stuart succumbed to his wounds on Saturday 7th October 1916, it was like a light going out, and not just for his beloved parents. The world was robbed of a wonderful painter.
He had fought with the 1st Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment during the Battle of Morval in September 1916, one of the many battles of the Somme. So many talented and gifted writers, poets, artists, sportsmen, were lost on all sides, this is the story of just one of them.
Stuart was a painter and his paintings portrayed a warm, colourful and bright world – the very opposite of the trenches, of death, destruction and carnage of the Great War.
When he died, his parents overwhelmed with grief, moved to the other side of the world in 1920. They set up home in Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand. They had previously visited there in 1919, not long after the end of the war. It is thought, Mary, his mother, had relatives there and they decided to leave Britain for good. Some people say New Zealand is a bit like Scotland but with warmer weather, I have never been myself but heard this statement many times.
Final Resting Place
His adoring parents had the following epitaph inscribed on his headstone:
HE HAS OUTSOARED THE SHADOW OF OUR NIGHT
Casualty Clearing Stations
Field ambulances also used the nearby Communal Cemetery for Commonwealth burials from September 1915 to August 1916, and again during the German advance of March 1918. It contains 127 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.
The 45th and 56th (1st/1st South Midland) Casualty Clearing Stations came in September 1916 and remained until March 1917. The 3rd Australian were here in March and April 1917, and the 56th from April 1917 to February 1918.
The 3rd Casualty Clearing Station came in March 1918 but on 26 March, Dernancourt was evacuated ahead of the German advance, and the extension remained in their hands until the village was recaptured on 9 August 1918 by the 12th Division and the 33rd American Division. In September it was again used by the 47th, 48th and 55th Casualty Clearing Stations under the name of “Edgehill”, due to the rising ground on the north-west.
The extension now contains 2,162 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 177 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to 29 casualties known or believed to be buried among them, and to two buried at Albert Road Cemetery, Buire-sur-Ancre whose grave could not be found on concentration.
The extension was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. (Info CWGC)
One of the first to join up – Sherwood Foresters
Stuart was a soldier in the Sherwood Foresters, 3rd Battalion; attached 1st Battalion The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He was one of the first of many to sign up in August 1914 and take the King’s shilling, originally enlisting in the Army Service Corps as Private No 856.
He was later commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in 13th Battalion The Sherwood Foresters on 10th March 1915.
However, he did not remain with the 13th which was a reserve training battalion based at Rugeley and Broeten in Staffordshire. He was posted to the 3rd Battalion at Sunderland which was a training and holding battalion responsible for posting officers and men to battalions in France and Flanders.
On many occasions, they also posted men to other regiments as the need arose. He was promoted to Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion on 1st January 1916. And he was subsequently attached to the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in France in August 1916.
Stuart was wounded between 25th/28th September 1916 in the phase of the Battle of the Somme known as the Battle of Morval. It has not been possible to refine the time of his wounding more precisely although the battalion was involved in several attacks on German trenches in front of Eaucourt L’Abbaye on 26th, 27th and 28th September during which it suffered 212 casualties.
Stuart was brought back to the casualty clearing station at Dernancourt and lingered for over a week before succumbing to his wounds. The arrow is the location where Stuart and his battalion were fighting during the battle.
Epitaphs on the headstones were restricted to a maximum of 66 letters on four lines at a cost of around 3.5 pennies in old money. The Imperial War Graves Commission (the precursor to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) did not usually seek to recover the cost of the headstone inscription, if not paid. I suspect Stuart’s parents being quite financially well off, were one of those families who were able to pay.
Sadly there are many headstones with no epitaph as many simply could not afford the cost. There is a vast difference in the number of epitaphs on Great War headstones as to those found on Second World War headstones. For those unknown soldiers, they always have the same epitaph – ‘Known Unto God’.
A FAMILY OF ARTISTS
Stuart, son of Alexander Stuart Boyd and Mary Stuart Boyd, was born in Glasgow in June 1887. He was an only child. His father, Alexander, was a painter and illustrator. He worked for years for the Punch magazine and illustrated many of his wife’s books. Alexander was 33 years old when Stuart was born and Mary was 26 years old.
Like many affluent Victorians and Edwardians, the Boyds loved to travel and they documented their jaunts by Mary’s writing, supplemented with Alexander’s illustrations and paintings. At a time when there was no Instagram, no Twitter, many revelled in the exploits of these travellers. Mary’s books are wonderfully illustrated sometimes in colour, sometimes in pen or ink drawings.
It is very easy to see how influenced Stuart was by his parent’s travels with their talent of expression in print and in imagery. He travelled with his mother in October 1909 to Majorca and it is wonderfully documented in ‘The Fortunate Isles’.
Stuart had such a keen eye, he spotted that the twin masted steamship they travelled from Barcelona to Palma on, although named Balear, had the name ‘Princess Maud’ showing beneath the paint. This steamship was built by William Denny & Bros, Dumbarton in 1904. They both delighted in the fact that a ship built on the famous River Clyde was now taking them into the delightful harbour of Porti Pi in Majorca.
Mary Stuart Boyd – The Mother
Mary Rennie Wilson Kirkwood was born on 15th October 1860 in Glasgow, and her father was an accountant. She married Alexander on 6th August 1880 and they moved to 100 Buccleuch Street, to set up married life. They then moved to London in 1891 when Alexander joined The Graphic just four years after the birth of Stuart.
The Boyds were well travelled and today Mary would probably be known as a travel blogger as well as a writer. Her writing is simple, informative, descriptive and very humourous.
She wrote eight books – some of those were travel books – ‘The Fortunate Isles – Life and Travel in Majorca, Minorca and Ibiza’; ‘Our Stolen Summer’, her account of her family’s round-the-world voyage on board the Orient (170 pen and ink sketches by her husband), and ‘A Versailles Christmas-Tide’, where they wintered while their son Stuart was stricken with scarlet fever.
The Fortunate Isles (1901) – read for free here https://www.gutenberg.org/files/39199/39199-h/39199-h.htm
“I hear you think of spending the winter in the Balearic Islands?” said the only Briton we met who had been there. “Well, I warn you, you won’t enjoy them. They are quite out of the world. There are no tourists. Not a soul understands a word of English, and there’s nothing whatever to do. If you take my advice you won’t go.”
So we went. And what follows is a faithful account of what befell us in these fortunate isles.
Mary Stuart Boyd
A Versailles Christmas-Tide (1900) – Read for free here https://www.gutenberg.org/files/10813/10813-h/10813-h.htm Listen for free https://archive.org/details/versaillechristmas_1411_librivox/versailleschristmas_01_boyd_128kb.mp3
This book was written when the doting parents rushed across the channel to their son, who was stricken with scarlet fever. He was being schooled at Versailles and they decided to spent the winter over there while their son recuperated.
She used to called Stuart, ‘The Boy’…
“The Boy is an ordinary snub-nosed, shock-headed urchin of thirteen, with no special claim to distinction save the negative one of being an only child.“
Mary’s complete list of novels :
The First Stone
With Clipped Wings
The Man in the Wood
Her Besetting Virtue – Read for free https://archive.org/details/herbesettingvir00boydgoog/mode/2up
The Missus Make-Believe – Read for free https://archive.org/details/missesmakebelie00boydgoog/mode/2up
Alexander Stuart Boyd – The Father
Alexander Stuart Boyd was born on 7th February 1854 in Glasgow. His birth was only sixteen years after Queen Victoria was crowned and right in the middle of the ‘golden age’ of Victorians. Alexander’s father was a muslin manufacturer and the family lived in the Gorbals. Old Gorbals was full of wonderful tenements and townhouses and many affluent people lived there before the area became run down in the late part of the 19th century.
The Victorian age began as an age of realism, in literature, art, nationalism, romanticism in music and culture but was renowned also as the age of travel. The Victorians travelled widely in the UK, Europe and further afield, for those who could afford it. Journey by train meant the continent was opening up.
When Alexander married Mary Kirkwood in 1880, they would not have foreseen what lay ahead on the horizon – the Great War and the loss of their only son. All they could see was a bright future for them and Stuart, now a promising painter in his own right.
Alexander was a leading illustrator for Punch and the Graphic, and a regular contributor at the Royal Academy, although latterly he concentrated more on illustrations than painting. He and Mary were cultured Glaswegians who could mingle very easily with the cream of the artistic society of London in their St John’s Wood residence at 17 Boundary Road.
Rudyard Kipling himself was a guest. He would lose a son too, John, and in his grief, he became involved with the Imperial War Graves Commission. Kipling was the main architect for many of its memorial inscriptions – ‘Known Unto God’, ‘The Glorious Dead’, and ‘Their Name Liveth for Evermore’.
Alexander and Mary collaborated well, he contributed eight colour plates and 52 pen drawings for ‘The Fortunate Isles’, which compliment wonderfully with Mary’s prose. Alexander also contributed 53 pen drawings for ‘A Versailles Christmas-Tide’. To read her stories with the text punctuated by these delightful drawings is a lovely experience. They take you back to a wondrous time gone by, where sights and sounds are described in words and lovingly by drawings.
Alexander found illustration work was in less demand after the war, photography was becoming the preferred medium for reporting. So in 1920, they emigrated to New Zealand. He died on 21st August 1930, predating Mary’s death by six years. They have both left a wealth of literature and art. Sadly their son’s legacy was tragically cut short.
Lt Stuart Boyd – The Son
Stuart Boyd was born on 7th June 1887 at 257 West George Street, Glasgow. Early census records show him named as Alexander Stuart Boyd but he dropped Alexander in later life. Perhaps not wanting to be confused with his father as he made strides to become an accomplished painter himself. Although his father was more renowned as an illustrator and cartoonist, and not a painter.
Stuart was educated at Versailles and University College School, Hampstead. He was a promising artist and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1909, 1914 and 1915.
Paintings in the Royal Academy Exhibitions
1909 – In Hyde Park
1914 – The British Resident and Lluch-el-Carre, Majorca
1916 – From under the vine
Sadly his painting at the 1916 Royal Academy would be his last ever exhibited as he died in October 1916.
His parents’ love of the Balearics, especially Ibiza influenced his paintings, they all have a rich, colourful, vibrant appeal – nature at its best. You can almost feel the sunlight on your face, the warmth of the Mediterranean environment appealing to all your senses.
I wonder if Stuart’s parent’s visited his grave before they embarked for New Zealand, I think they would have done, albeit, heartbreaking for them as they knew they would not return. At least, they had a grave to pay last respects to.
Their friend Rudyard Kipling and his wife Carrie, would spend many years trying to find out if their son, John was still alive. It was only decades later, a grave in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station cemetery, near Loos in France, had ‘Known unto God’ removed and replaced with John’s name.
For the Boyd’s they said goodbye to their son and embarked on the second chapter of their life, sadly for Stuart, he had hardly even turned the page on his life. We can only speculate what might have been, but that could be said for the lost generation of all combatants of the Great War.
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