The ghost of a young man.

Every family has them, heirlooms handed down from previous generations. Each has a story. These are
some of mine and the stories they carry.

The ghost in the photograph, Robert Smillie

The ghost staring from the over exposed black and white photograph is the uncle I didn’t know I had. It is a scan of an old photograph that lies in my external hard drive and it is one of two objects that relate to Robert Smillie.
Today is a day significant to Robert‘s life.
I didn’t know who Robert was until I opened an email attachment sent by a family relative.
No one in the family had ever spoken of Robert. My grandfather, his brother, had never uttered a word about him to me.
It is that other object, that also lies in my external hard drive that tells Robert’s story.
Robert was in his late teens when this photograph was taken. The woman standing proudly by his side in the second frame is his mother, Mary.

She is my great grandmother.
Mary might have been relieved that her son was born to late to serve in the trenches of World War One.
She would have known mothers who had lost sons in that terrible war.
Maybe the photograph taken in that field of flowers was to mark an occasion.
Robert’s suit and polka dot tie appear new, perhaps the picture was snapped after a morning’s excursion into town to shop for clothes.
It could be that this was the day before Robert began his apprenticeship as a draughtsman.
Robert’s father was a miner and his son was set to become the first of his family to work behind a desk rather than toil.
Then Robert fell ill.
For a week, he fought the illness. A local doctor, James Malson diagnosed that his left lung was infected with Lobar pneumonia. Back then before antibiotics pneumonia was a deadly disease. There was little Dr Malson could do.
At 12,35 pm on December 8, 1923 Robert was pronounced dead.

The time of passing, marked on his death certificate, that other object lying in my external hard drive.
Robert died at his parent’s home at 64 Tuphall road in Hamilton, Scotland.

He was 19.

With the scratch of a pen John, his father, signed the death certificate, noting that he was a witness to his son‘s death.
Then a veil of silence.
Robert has faded from the family’s memory. His story can now only be told through the documents left by the state- a birth certificate, two census records and that death certificate. We will never know if Robert enjoyed liquorice

sweets, if he laughed at his own jokes, or if he had sweetheart.
What we do know for sure is that 88 years ago today Robert’s life ended.



About Shaun Smillie

Journalist, with a love of bones, fossils and other things dug up. Fisherman and occasional beer maker.
This entry was posted in artefacts from the attic, Smillie family history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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