2/Lieutenant (Captain) William Lee STEWART – (‘D’ Company)
Wounded and Captured: 24 August 1914 Repatriated: 18 November 1918
Personal: William was born on 25th March 1893 in Mysore, Karnataka, India. He was the son of James Lee (Coffee Planter) and Mary Constance (née Williams) Stewart (Married on 15th January 1889 at St Paul’s Church, Croxton, Staffordshire). William had (at least) two older sisters, Mary Lucy and Constance Violet.
The 1911 Census (RG 14/8850) shows William living at 1 Shakespeare Road, Bedford, with his father, two sisters and three servants. 18 year old William is described as a “Student“.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) records show that when he was taken prisoner William’s mother’s address was Manor House, Aylesbury. Bucks.
On 28th December 1920 William married Phyllis Lisa Isabella Bunny Clark at All Saints’ Church, Notting Hill, Kensington and Chelsea, London. About the same time (c. 1921) his Medal Index Card gives William’s home address as ‘Hillsborough Barracks, Sheffield‘ (left). The 2nd Battalion were posted there in 1920.
Phyllis died at their home, Thollol House, Flookers Brook, Cheshire, on 8th July 1943, aged 53. Their two children attended her funeral, Diana R. Lee Stewart (born 10th November 1922) and Gerald N. Lee Stewart (b. 1926 Dinpore, India). Probate Records show she left £5,056 to her husband, William (equivalent to about £300,000 today – 2023). In the same Record William is described as: “Major, HM Army“.
William re-married Joanna Grieve Porteous in the June quarter 1947, in Chelsea, London. He died at Tolol (Thollol?), Woodcote, Reading, on 20th July 1967. His estate, valued at just under £50,000 (about £1,150,000 today) was left to his wife, Joanna Grieve Stewart. (“Thollol” was the name his father’s Coffee Estate, in Mysore, where he was born – see Footnote below.)
Military History: On 5th March 1913 William was Gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant (on probation) in the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, “.. late Cadet, Bradfield College Contingent, Officer Training Corps“. (London Gazette, 4th March 1913, p. 1637) [Cap Badge – right]
He was mobilised from the Special Reserve and posted to the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, as a 2nd Lieutenant, on 14th August 1914, the date the Battalion left for France. Despite being a prisoner-of-war at the time he was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant on 12th September 1914, made Full on 1st December 1914.
Shortly before he was repatriated from his interment William was promoted to Temporary Captain on 15th August 1918, which lasted until 18th October 1919. He was promoted to Captain on 8th February 1921.
William’s Medal Index Card shows that at the outbreak of War and entered France on 16th August 1914. On the morning of 23rd August 1914, the British Expeditionary Force met and engaged the enemy at Mons and the following day was undertaking a fighting retreat against a force of four German regiments.
The 15th Brigade, consisting of 1st Norfolk, 1st Bedford, 1st Cheshire, and 1st Dorset, were ordered to prepare a position in rear and in reserve around Dour. But on the morning of the 24th the order came to send them into action to hold up the enemy advance whilst the remainder of 5th Division withdrew. Both Battalions, 1/Norfolk and 1/Cheshire, marched from Dour to Audregnies and at about 11.00 a.m.
From the Regimental Roll it is apparent he was a Junior Officer, under Captain Ernest Rae-Jones. Captain Jones was the Officer Commanding “D” Company, 1st Battalion, in position to the right of “C” Company during the Battle at Audregnies on the 24th August 1914.
Captain Jones had sent Captain W. S. Rich with two Platoons on the right half of “D” Company to support 1st Norfolks near the Colliery.
The Battalion’s Companies’ positions were as shown on the Map (above). There is no record of whether William’s Platoon went with Captain Rich or stayed with Captain Jones.
The War Diary states that at about 2.30 p.m. Colonel Ballard, o/c 1/Norfolks, gave orders for all troops to retire in an Easterly direction – these orders never reached the two front platoons of ‘D’ Company.
The Diary reads (in part): “2.30 p.m. I am informed Col Ballard gave orders for all troops to retire in an Easterly direction – these orders never reached the 2 front platoons of ‘D’ Coy under command of Capt W S Rich, who held on to the position he had reached in front of the line till 4 p.m. by which hour all troops had retired.”
‘Shortly before ‘C’ Company started to move, Rich, with his two platoons near the colliery, had been forced to retire. Pressed in front and outflanked, he withdrew his men yard by yard, disputing every inch of ground. This grim struggle left an indelible mark on the minds of those of ‘C’ Coy who witnessed it.‘
As stated above, it is not known in which section William was serving, only that during the action he was reported to be “seriously wounded” and subsequently taken in captivity as a prisoner-of-war.
So bad were William’s wounds that when the C.O. Lt. Col. Dudley Boger wrote to Lt. W.G.R. Elliot from his p-o-w camp, he concluded with: “So sorry Jolliffe and Jackson were hit badly and for all our casualties, but I think they will say we did our best with both flanks turned. Yours ever, D. C. Boger. There are about 60 here, ours and Norfolks, mostly wounded. I heard Rich and Stewart were killed. ”
William’s prisoner of war journey over the next 4 years followed a similar pattern to other Officers, being moved from camp to camp at regular intervals.
Being severely wounded he probably spent some time in the Hospital at Audregnies (left), then probably at Mons for onward to Germany.
From from Red Cross POW records we find that on 21st April 1915 he was at Crefeld (postcard right) and again on 16th December 1916. After a time at Strohen, he was back to Crefeld on 8th July 1917. William was transferred again from Strohen to Heidelberg on 16th November 1917, before arriving for interment in Holland. On 18th November 1918 he arrived in Hull on the S.S. Arbroath.
On 16th June 1920 William’s 1st Battalion was posted to Dublin, Ireland, to combat Sinn Fein activities. It returned to Colchester in January 1922 and within a few months had been posted to India, where William’s second child was born 4 years later.
On 14th July 1932 William was promoted to Major and is shown on the Reserve of Officers in 1939, and on his first wife’s Probate Records (see above) when he was named as a Major. The Army List for October 1945 indicates he was “Empld.”, but not in what capacity.
William’s father, Captain James Lee Stewart, served as a Honorary Captain Territorial Force, Rifle Brigade, and retired on 23rd December 1917.
During the Boer War, L/Sgt. James Lee Stewart (Coffee Planter, Thollol Coffee Estate, Beber, Mysore) served with Lumsden’s Horse.
William’s future wife, V.A.D. Phyllis Lisa Isabella Clark, served with the British Red Cross, Voluntary Aid Detachment, from 6th July 1917 to 5th August 1918.