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Lieutenant Colonel John Ebenezer Stewart M.C

Updated: Jul 7


Picture Culture North Lanarkshire

8th Battalion Border Regiment attached 4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, 7th Infantry Brigade, 25th Division Age 29, Killed 26 April 1918. Tyne Cot Memorial Panel 85 to 86. Son of William A. Stewart, and the late Isabella Shaw Stewart, 37 Kildovan Street., Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire. He graduated from the University of Glasgow with an MA in 1910 and took up a teaching post at Langloan School in Coatbridge. At the outbreak of the war he enlisted as a Private in the Highland Light Infantry and in November 1914 was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Battalion Border Regiment.


The Battalion arrived went to France at the end of September 1915 and was in the trenches at Ploegsteert, undergoing trench instruction training from the 48th Canadian Highlanders at the end of September, before going into the line on 1 October 1915. They were in the Ploegsteert sector until 26 January 1916 going into rest billets at Strazeele in February 1916. He caught the mood of his time in the trenches at Ploegsteert in his poem ‘Beginnings’ with an excerpt here:

 

Short days of wintry weather, long nights of rain and cold,

We fought the slithering parapets and stalked the foeman bold;

We dug and drained and builded a sector for a king –

And there were fewer of us when we marched out in the spring.

 

From Ploegsteert to La Creche

And back into Strazeele

It isn’t much I grant you

To spin into a tale.

But now we have a story, -

It’s bloody, but it’s good –

And most we’ve done we learned to do

In front of Ploegteert Wood.

 

The Battalion moved south in February 1916 and on 2 July 1916 were involved in the Battle of the Somme in the line south of Thiepval. In August they were in front of Beaumont Hamel and in October they took part in the attack on Regina Trench. At the end of November 1916 the Battalion was back at Ploegsteert in the Red Lodge and Romarin area. John was awarded the Military Cross in the New Year’s Honours 1917. John was now a Captain and the Battalion was in the second line for the Battle of Messines Ridge on 7 June and followed up the main advance to clear up pockets of enemy troops left behind. On the 14 June they were involved in an attack with the objective of Ferme de la Croix and he was wounded in this attack the War Diary recording:


War Diary

Recovering from his wound he rejoined the Battalion. On 18 April 1918 the Battalion was in hutments at Mont de Cats and John was now a Major with the War Diary recording that he had temporarily rejoined the Battalion:


War Diary

On the 21 April John took over command of what was left of the 4th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment it having suffered heavy casualties in the German attack through Ploegsteert Wood between the 9 to 15 April the Battalion now reduced to one hundred men. The War Diary recorded John taking over command:


War Diary

On the 23 April the German attack at Kemmel Hill was halted and on the 25 April they renewed their attack with a heavy intense barrage that included gas shells and pushed forward in front of Kemmel village. At 3am on 26 April the 10th Cheshires, 1st Wiltshires, and the 4th South Staffords counter-attacked. They reached Kemmel village however, they had to withdraw as their flanks were open. It was during this action that John was killed.


War Diary

His WW1 collection of poems ‘Grapes of Thorns’ was published by Erskine Macdonald, London in 1917.  His poems were included in five WW1 Anthologies. Although he had submitted poetry to magazines before the war, he was certainly one of those who responded to the experience in verse, and indeed he was glad of the MC he had won, if only to prove that ‘fellows who write verse are not softies.’ He confronts in straightforward manner fear – ‘I was afraid of Fear / Not of the foe’ – and the probability of death:

 

If I should fall upon the field

And lie among the slain,

Then mine will be the victory

And yours the pain;

For this in prospect comforts me

Against all saddening fears

That, dying so, I make myself

Worthy your tears.

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