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  • Alan Crombie

The “Boy in the Train” – An Update.

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

When the research has been completed, the narrative written, the end result added to the website and the computer lid closed – that probably should have been an end to this particular story. However, there was a feeling of failure, in that, the story was not quite complete. How could it be when no photograph of Mary Campbell Smith had been unearthed, despite the team’s best efforts?

Although quite correctly, focus turned to our next object, other avenues were simultaneously explored, in an attempt to bring the “Boy in the Train” to a


It is often said that you can “make your own luck” and perhaps this was never truer. The team were aware that Christopher P.C. Smith – the younger son of Mary had died in St. Andrews in 1984. A chance ‘google’ of the address, disclosed that the present occupiers had been in the property since 1985. This suggested that the property had been bought directly from the Executors of Christopher. Might it be possible – could it be possible, that just perhaps, something might have been left in an attic, cupboard or drawer which might assist the search? A further check on ‘google’ disclosed the name of the occupant. Being too good an opportunity to miss, contact was made, initially by telephone, and then, in the form of a visit to the house. The initial outcome was both unexpected and astonishing. The current occupant, Sylvia Donaldson (nee Duncan), was born in Kirkcaldy and had lived in Salisbury Street prior to her marriage. It transpired that the “Boy in the Train” was one of her favourite pieces of poetry and, she can recite it from first to last. Sylvia had no idea of the connection of the poet to her home.

It would be difficult to determine which party was more excited by the encounter, and, its potential to provide a lead. Sylvia and her late Husband had indeed purchased the property from Christopher’s executors, but, not before an interview and inspection were carried out to ensure that they were suitable buyers! The interview would appear to have been carried out by Mr and Mrs Ronald Groves (Christopher’s sister and brother-in-law).

By great good fortune Sylvia had retained a note of the address and telephone number of the couple and, even after all these years still had them. It was appreciated and expected that they would both be dead, but, could there be a family member still living in the house? A call was made by Sylvia and to our joy, John Groves; the elder son still lived in the house. It would be difficult for anyone to be more welcoming or helpful than John. He has provided information, background material and family photographs. In particular the one of Mary Campbell Smith which is shown here with his kind permission. He has also been able to evidence, that Mary Campbell Smith, had indeed written more than the two poems which we had uncovered.

In essence, Mary Sybil Edgar (Mary’s Mother) was still in Edinburgh when our original narrative concluded. What we now know is that sometime after 1916, she moved to St. Andrews where she died in 1928. Her three youngest children also moved to St.Andrews – Magdalen G. Edgar, Audrey C. Edgar and Sybil F. Edgar. Why they moved there is still mystery, supposition and guesswork. At the moment the possibility of teaching is the best guess. Research and enquiries are still ongoing to try and secure the answer. What is certain is that they all died in St. Andrews. Mary was interred in Mauchline, beside her husband who had died 38 years previously. The three spinster daughters are all buried against the West Wall of St. Andrew’s cemetery, with Magdalen dying in 1943, Audrey in 1953 and finally Sybil in 1957. At this point Christopher inherited the property, dying there in 1984.

John was able to disclose that the Smith’s daughter Mary, was enrolled at St Leonard’s School in St. Andrews in 1911 as a boarder and, that St. Andrews had been a favourite summer holiday destination of the Smiths.

Has the story reached its conclusion with the discovery of the photograph? It possibly should have, but some points still want, if not need clarification. What made an elderly lady uproot herself from Edinburgh and move to St. Andrews? What made the three spinster sisters also make that same journey and, does it matter? In all honestly the answer should be no, but the team’s answer is yes!

Having embarked on significant and long research – seen the family photographs – visited the house and seen the graves – you almost come to know the individuals and that makes finding answers more important than they might normally be.

The chase, the research and the story will eventually end but, not just yet!

The team would like to acknowledge our appreciation and gratitude to Sylvia Donaldson and John Groves for their enthusiasm and assistance. The hospitality including much coffee and cake provided by Sylvia over two visits was enjoyed in no small way.

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1 Comment

Neil Sutherland
Neil Sutherland
Sep 19, 2020

This provides an interesting back drop to the story. It's amazing what digging around yields!

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