The Boys from Poor House Yard

By Judith Phillips

On 19th September 1916 Private Robert Smith of 1/6th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry was killed during the Battle of the Somme. He was the first of five sons of John and Margaret Smith of Bridgegate in Barnard Castle to die in the First World War. The sixth and youngest, Wilfred, was brought out of the front line following the intervention of Queen Mary after the wife of Barnard Castle’s vicar wrote to her. The story of Barnard Castle’s First World War ‘Private Ryan’ has been told many times and you can find it on the Internet. But it never stops affecting those who hear about it.

Last year the history teacher at Thrybergh Academy in Rotherham told her students about the Smith brothers as part of their preparations for marking Remembrance Day. The story inspired fellow teacher Chris Clayton to write a poem which he then turned into a song to music by Craig Harrison. Chris and students at the school have recorded the song and it is available to download at

Money raised from sales of the song will go to the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes charities.

On 19th September 2016 – exactly 100 years after Robert Smith’s death – Chris brought students from Thrybergh Academy to The Bowes Museum to launch the song and, on this occasion, they were joined by students from Barnard Castle School.  Descendants of Robert and Wilfred Smith joined the mayors of Barnard Castle and Rotherham, the Lord Lieutenant of Durham, the Chair of the museum’s Board of Trustees and representatives of the charities for the occasion.  

After hearing the song everyone was invited to follow musicians from the Royal Dragoons to the war memorial in the museum grounds for a service of remembrance.  The war memorial records over 120 men from Barnard Castle who died in the First World War.  Among them are Robert Smith, George Henry Smith, Frederick Smith and Alfred Smith, as well as their brother John Stout who took his mother’s name.

The whole morning was a very inspiring and moving event for everyone.