Robert Alexander Wishart was born at 7 am on the morning of 4 March 1879 at 16 Springfield Street in South Leith. He was the eldest son of Walter Wishart, a carter from Cockenzie, and his wife, Marion Dickson.
Shortly after leaving school Robert gained employment as a waiter at the Edinburgh Malt Vinegar Company, which was situated at Junction Bridge. On 3 April 1899, while living at 364 Leith Walk, Robert visited the Lawnmarket recruiting office in Edinburgh and joined the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots. At the time he was recorded as being 5 feet 3 ¾ inches in height with a fresh complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. Other distinctive marks included nine ‘defective’ teeth, a scar on each shin and various other moles and brown skin patches.
7729 Pte. R Wishart served a total of 47 days with the Royals Scots before being transferred on 20 May to the 1st Highland Light Infantry. He was assigned a new service number (6924) and saw overseas service during the Second Boer War when he won clasps for the Cape Colony and Orange Free State between 1901 and 1902.
At some point between 1909 and 1910, Robert was transferred to the 2nd Cameron Highlanders, given a new number (8629) and posted overseas to India where, by 1911, he was based at the Baird Barracks in Bangalore. On 1 October 1912, Robert was transferred back to the 1st Highland Light Infantry and allotted the number 12056. Much of Robert’s story over the next two years echoes that of 10046 Pte. James Wishart and they would both have sailed from Bombay for the front on 20 August 1914. In late December, and unlike James, Robert survived the action at Festubert, and in February 1915 he was promoted to Lance Corporal and transferred to ‘D’ Company.
At the beginning of March, the battalion engaged in training at L’Ecleme and by the 11th had marched to a position east of Neuve Chapelle, taking over the line held by the 4th Seaforths. At dawn the following day the British made their first large-scale organised attack of the war, with Robert’s unit receiving orders to advance at 11 am. The Highlanders formed the left flank of the Sirhind Brigade (with the Jullundur Brigade on the right) with ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies in the front line followed by ‘C’ and ‘D’ in the second.
Five minutes before they were due to advance, and with the men assembled in their formations, the brigade received orders to stand to until early afternoon when they finally made their assault. Large numbers of casualties were sustained from the outset, with the battalion having to pass through oblique fire from about 550 yards on the left front. Despite this, the battalion eventually established themselves in the German front trenches later that afternoon, and by nightfall were ordered to consolidate their positions. The British had taken Neuve Chapelle but failed to advance further through enemy lines.
During the following days, Robert was exposed to almost constant heavy shellfire while holding the new position and was eventually relieved after dark with his unit on the 18th by the 1st Manchesters.
Three days later, while billeted west of Richebourg St. Vaast, the Germans sent three high explosive shells into a building occupied by ‘D’ Company, causing the deaths of 17 men and wounding 13 others. Robert was among those killed and subsequently buried in Vieille-Chapelle New Military Cemetery (Grave V. A. 18.) Lacouture. He is listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as ‘Robert Wishart’.