Sergeant Robert Edward Hyslop
28708 2nd Bn., Suffolk Regiment who died on 21 November 1916
Robert Edward Hyslop, the eldest son and second child of Robert and Louisa Hyslop, was born on 19 February 1889. He had an older sister, Mary, born 1887, two younger brothers, Arnold, born 1898 and Ronald, born 1900 and a younger sister Annie Louise, who died aged four months in March 1909. Their mother, Louisa Emma, was the daughter of Sir Edward Wood J.P. who was four times the mayor of Leicester.
The Hyslops were a prominent Leicester family involved in the boot and shoe industry. Robert Edward’s grandfather, also Robert, born in Scotland in 1829, had begun a shoemaking business in Leicester, which, by 1871, employed forty people and was sufficiently successful to enable him to live at 132, New Walk, Leicester. Robert senior followed his father into the trade describing himself as a boot factor and an employer. He was a business associate and brother-in-law of Samuel Lennard of Lennards Footwear Ltd. as well as a director of Freeman Hardy and Willis. By 1901 the Hyslop family was living at ‘Glenholm’ 16, West Walk, Leicester.
In 1906 the Hyslop family bought one of the newly appointed plots on Manor Road, Oadby and built a large family house with stables, a coach house and extensive grounds. They named the house ‘Sorrento’. Now owned by the University of Leicester as student accommodation it is known as ‘Shirley House’.
Robert Edward was educated first at St. Andrew’s, Eastbourne and, between 1904 and 1906, at Malvern College, where he played football for his house.
On leaving school, Robert Edward followed his father and grandfather into the footwear trade and is listed in the 1911 census as a retailer. At the time of the census, he was visiting his fiancée, Margaret Stacpoole Ellis at Hungarton, where her father was the vicar. The couple were married at Hungarton in May 1911. They had two sons, Mark Robert born in November 1912 and Edward John born in December 1913. At the time of Robert’s death, the family were living at The Cottage, Brome, Suffolk.
It is possible that Robert suffered intermittent ill health as his military career is somewhat chequered.
Like many Leicester businessmen, in addition to his day job, Robert joined the part time volunteer force. On 1 April 1908 he was awarded a commission in the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment. This force was drawn from the town’s factory workers and commanded predominantly by the firms’ owners and their sons who had trained for their roles at public school and university. The force trained on a Saturday night and at an annual summer camp. Shortly after Robert received his commission, the Haldane Reforms of 1908 saw the establishment of the Territorial Force and the 1st Volunteer Battalion became the 4th Leicestershire (Territorial) Battalion. Robert resigned the commission on 11 July that year.
Robert’s war service began in April 1915 when he enlisted in the Surrey Regiment at Lowestoft. He received a commission the following June. His obituary in the Illustrated Leicester Chronicle (16 December 1916) mentions that he held a commission ‘earlier in the war….but owing to a breakdown in health relinquished it’. On his recovery, Robert re-enlisted as a private in the 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment and was in due course promoted to acting sergeant. From 13-18 November 1916 the 2nd Suffolks were involved in the Battle of Ancre, the last British offensive of the Battle of the Somme. Their objective was the town of Serre but appalling weather and waist deep mud forced the attack to be called off. It is likely that Robert was injured in this battle. He died of self-administered opium poisoning while being transferred from the battlefield to hospital on 21 November 1916. It must be remembered that opium was a legal and widely used painkiller at the time. Its non-regulation meant that the potential for an accidental overdose was high. In 1916 concerns were raised about its free availability and its use by troops both on the battlefield but also when on leave. However it was not until the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act that controls on the use of opium were implemented.
Robert is Remembered with Honour at Varennes Military Cemetery, France
Robert is also commemorated on the Hyslop family memorial in Welford Road Cemetery, Leicester which also includes his sisters Mary who died in 1915 aged 28 years and Annie who died in 1909 at the age of 4 months.
Other family members
Robert’s maternal grandfather was Sir Edward Wood JP. He was Mayor of Leicester four times and laid the foundation stone for Oadby Baptist Church in 1897 (below).
Robert’s younger brother Arnold George, born in 1897 also served during the war. He was awarded a commission in the 4th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment at the age of just 18.
Robert’s mother Louisa died in 1918 aged 51 and the following year Robert senior married Clara Orton in Leicester. He died 26 November 1938 at Bournemouth aged 79.