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A Walk In The Past

Killed on the First Day

Killed on the First Day




On the 11th November 2017 I bought a World War 1 Shell at auction which had been converted into a dinner gong. This was a common practice at the time. What prompted me to buy this artefact was the inscription on the shell case which reads:






1ST JULY 1916.

Commissioned as a Lieutenant on 10th September 1914, he was appointed to ‘D’ Company on the formation of the 17th Highland Light Infantry [Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion]. ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were recruited from the business houses of the City. The 17th HLI trained for a year before crossing to France in 1915 and in that year he was promoted to Captain.

On the 22nd of November 1915 the Battalion, part of the 32nd Division, sailed from Southampton for Le Havre and proceeded to the Amiens area. Much of the following months were spent gaining experience of trench warfare and from May 1916 the Battalion was engaged in preparations for the Battle of the Somme which began on the 1st July 1916. Captain Robert Wilson Cassells died in the slaughter of the first day. He was 31 when he died.

He was born in Glasgow in 1885, the son of Robert and Marion Cassells of Huntley Lodge, Moffat, Drumfriesshire. His father, a Company Director, had died in 1913 but his mother lived on until 1940 and died at the age of 87.

Captain Cassells was unmarried and was a successful Chartered accountant with M’Clelland, Ker & Co until he enlisted. He had a younger brother, William, and sister Gladys. While there is no record of the nature of his death in the Battalion War Diary he is buried at Lonsdale Cemetery, Authuille, 11.F.20. in France and is also listed on the Scottish National War memorial.

It is the inscription that really needs further investigation, in that the way it is inscribed is rather unusual.

The first part simply says ‘Sent home from the Somme by Capt. R. Wilson Cassells’ and then an engraving is added in slightly different script reads:


This second engraving was obviously added after his death but the first part suggests that the shell came from bombardments early in 1916 as the troops were preparing for the offensive in the line.

‘SENT FROM THE SOMME’ is also a strange introduction to the text and it seems an unusual item to have been posted back to his relatives in Scotland and notice that it does not say ‘brought home’, perhaps while on leave.

Anyway, he died in the slaughter of the Somme and somewhere, hopefully with the family, lies the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and possibly the Death Penny with his name inscribed.

Robert Wilson Cassells is remembered here, perhaps for the first time in many years. Please spare a thought for one of many who paid the ultimate sacrifice and whose name is all but forgotten in the mists of time and the thunder of the guns on the first day as they went over the top.

Any further information on this brave man would be appreciated and I thank the research carried out by Morag Fyfe, a Historical and Genealogical Researcher for the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis for her work in supplying this information online.

Visit The Abingdon Collection to see this historically important item.




  1. Dear Philip what a touching story. It is great that you acquired this piece of and that you could research thie life of captain Robert Wilson Cassels. He should be remembered like all these brave men. Thank you

    • Thanks France, I am trying to do a little more research but it is a touching piece. These men should not be forgotten.
      I will be talking about him at the meeting in February.

  2. I am researching officers that fell on the 1st July, his photo is one I am yet to find. Still looking.

    • Hello, the only information I have on Captain Cassels comes from the details listed by the ‘Friends of the Glasgow Necropolis’.
      The Shell case ended up in an auction in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. Notice the Engraving style is different in the second part.
      Do you have him listed? I have seen his name listed as Cassels and Cassells.
      Thanks for the interest.

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