Robert William Eyton was born in Leintwardine, Herefordshire on 22 Dec 1895. He was the son of Lt Colonel Philip Eyton, late of the Border Regiment and Agnes Isabella (nee Seymour) of Gwydr House Overton. He was the younger brother to John, Muriel and Phyllis.
The 1901 census records Robert and his family living in Knockin Hall, Shropshire, together with 5 servants. In 1907 Robert’s father died. Robert was away at school at the time. The family had a connection with Gwydir House, Penyllan Street, Overton. Gwydir House was owned by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and in 1911 was the home of his land agent Godfrey Wynne Newcome. The widowed Mrs Eyton must have moved there after 1911 with her children, although by 1920 Gwydir House had been turned in to the Overton branch of the Maelor Co-operative Society shop (most recently in to the Cup‘nSaucer cafe) and Mrs Eyton had moved back to near where she was born in Hampshire.
Robert was educated at Mill Mead School in Shropshire, at Mr J.A.Lush’s School at Hillbrow, Rugby, and at Lancing College where he won a scholarship. He was a sergeant in the Officer Training Corps, achieving Certificate A, was a Librarian in 1914 and was Captain of Fives the same year. He was also Head of House in September 1914. On leaving school he was offered a place at Queens College Oxford but instead joined the Army. He was 19 when WW1 broke out. He joined the Overton Rifle Brigade. He enlisted in January 1915. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion Rifle Brigade and embarked for France on 22nd July 1915 He transferred to the 41st Trench Mortar Battery on 23rd April 1916 and was promoted Temporary Lieutenant while attached on 10th June 1916. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 1st July 1917.
In 1917, Robert was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ ie His name appeared in an official report written by a superior officer and sent to the high command, which reported his gallant or meritorious action in the face of the enemy
By 1918 he was promoted to Lieutenant and was attached to the 41st Trench Mortar Battery. He would have been 2nd in command of the battery at the Battle of St Quentin (on the Somme) which began on March 21st 1918. The Rifle Brigade suffered very heavy casualties, losing all their guns and with almost 6,000 men killed or injured.
At 4.40 am on the 21st March 1918 the bombardment began which marked the opening of the long awaited German spring offensive on the western front. There was dense fog supplemented with gas shells making visibility for the British defenders as low as 10 yards in places.
The 41st Trench Mortar Battery was part of the 41st Brigade which held the line to the south of St Quentin around the villages of Urvilliers and Essigny.
At 9 am the infantry attack began and contact was lost with the front line.It was not until nearly noon when a message reached 14th Division HQ that the Germans had broken through the line after years of stalemate. By 5.30 pm the 14th Division (of which the 41st was part) held a line from a mile to the north of Hinacourt to the railway cutting due west of Essigny. At 9.15 pm orders were given that the Division would withdraw accross the Crozet canal and the withdrawal took place at 11.30 am.
By 7 am the following morning the Germans had arrived on the eastern bank of the canal and, after making a number of attempts to cross the canal during the early part of the day, they settled for firing enfilade machine gun and artillery fire on the defenders on the western bank. There was little cover for the men of 41st Brigade and casualties were so high that the Brigade almost ceased to exist but held the line throughout the day. Robert William Eyton was killed near Flavy-le-Martel during this action, 22nd March 1918, age 22 years.
There is an index card for Robert William Eyton in The Flintshire Roll of Honour at The County Record office in Hawarden. (Card Overton F 7). The address given on the card is Gwydyr House, Overton. He was a Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade and served from from January 1915 at Ypres and on the Somme, at Arras. He was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’. He was Killed on March 22nd 1918 whilst fighting against the Great Push near Flaveg. The Card was signed by Agnes Eyton on the 16th October 1919. On the reverse of card is written
“Robert William Eyton was second in Command of a trench Mortar Battery. On March 20th he was at Brigade Head Quarters near Essigney le Grand when the enemy advanced under cover of thick mist in the early morning. He fought bravely in a railway cutting until nearly surrounded. Later collected men King’s Liverpool Rgt. And made a stand in the railway cutting between Guesy & Flaveg where he fell” . (Obviously written by Agnes Eyton)
The England and Wales National Probate Calendar (index of Wills and Administrations) includes an entry for Robert William Eyton. It says
Eyton Robert William of Gwydr House, Overton on Dee, flintshire, a lieutenant in his Majesty’s Army, died 22nd March 1918 in France. Administration St Asaph 11 January to Agnes Isabella Eyton Widow Effects £266..17sh (Agnes Isabella Eyton was of course his widowed mother. Robert wasn’t married).
There is an index card in the Record Office for Robert’s brother, John Seymour Eyton who survived the war. (Card Overton L30)
Robert is also commemorated on the memorials at Mill Meads School and Lancing College.
Thanks to the Overton Oracle for additional information for this soldier’s story.