William Morrison Stewart
William Morrison Stewart
William was born on 23 December 1886 in the townland of Ballyness in the parish of Dungiven in the County of Londonderry to a farmer, George Stewart and his wife Margaret Morrison. He was the eldest of ten children, five boys and five girls. William was baptised in Scriggan Presbyterian Church in January 1887. This church stood about half a mile south of Bovevagh Presbyterian Church but the congregation was dissolved in 1905 and the building was demolished. The Stewarts elected to become members of Dungiven Presbyterian Church.
William attended Drumneechy National School in 1891 until 1900 when he became a weekly boarder at Jacksons Academy, a well reputed school on the outskirts of Macosquin. Both buildings still exist but are now private houses. It is not known when he left Jacksons Academy but he started training to become a draper, initially in Limavady and then with Marshall and Snelgrove (now Debenhams), a large department in Oxford Street in London. In the 1911 census he is shown as living in a building owned by Marshall and Snellgrove in Vere Street, just off Oxford Street, with a considerable number of men who were all Marshall and Snellgrove employees.
In 1912 the company asked him to go to Australia as a wool buyer and on 13 September 1912 he left London on the SS Otway bound for Sydney. Nothing is known of his life in Australia until he joined the Australian Army on 7 March 1915. He enlisted in Liverpool, a town on the western fringes of Sydney. His medical examination states that he was 28 Years and 3 months old, 5 feet 9 inches in height, weighing 164 lbs. He had a 35 inch chest, fair hair and blue eyes and there was a scar on his neck.
After training in Australia he sailed with the 19th Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division on 25 Jun 1915 for Egypt for further training. On 21st August 1915 he arrived at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli and the next day went into the line at Hill 60 which the Australians and New Zealanders were trying to take from the Turkish forces. They failed to take this position and on 18 September 1915 fell back to Pope’s Hill, named after one of the Australian commanders, and remained there in a form of murderous stalemate until the British forces started to withdraw from Gallipoli on 19 December 1915. On 7 November 1915 he had been promoted to lance-corporal.
When they sailed from Gallipoli they stopped at the island of Murdos in the north Agean Sea and then went to Alexandria in Egypt where they arrived on 7 January 1916. The battalion was reformed there and on 24 January 1916 William was promoted Sergeant and sent to a school of instruction in the Canal Zone for three weeks. The battalion sailed for France on 18 March 1916, arriving in Marseilles on 25 March 1916. After further training in trench warfare in Northern France his unit was employed on the attack on the Somme on 1 July 1916 and for the next four months he took part in the Somme offensive including the Australian assault at Pozieres.
William was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 19 August 1916 and sent to Grenade School for a week in October where he learned how to lead night attacks on German trenches across no-man’s land. On the morning of 14 November 1916 he and his unit were in a trench, in knee deep mud, outside the village of Flers, east of Albert, waiting to attack a German position known as the Maze because of the complicated system of German trenches. At about 7am as they were about to “go over the top” a shell exploded overhead and William was hit in the head by a piece of shrapnel and died instantly. According to the man standing next to him, Private Sayle, the unit was ordered to move further along the trench and William’s body was left where he fell.
On 22 November 1916 William’s parents received the dreaded telegram informing them of their son’s death. After probate was granted to William’s executor, Rowland H. Shorter a Sydney solicitor, a parcel arrived on 19 April 1917 at Ballyness. It contained William’s effects and consisted of a leather vest, a shirt, pyjama bottoms, 6 pairs of socks, some military books, a note book and a map.
In 1919 two memorial windows were unveiled in Dungiven Presbyterian Church, one by the Reverend Davison, who had been minister there for over 60 years and the other by William’s sister, Alice Stewart, who was a WRNS officer and acting on behalf of her mother who had contracted Spanish Flu. William’s body was never identified but he is commemorated on the Australian Memorial at Villiers Brettoneux, on the Limavady War Memorial, in Dungiven Presbyterian Church and on his parent’s grave in Dungiven Parish Church and somewhere there is a grave with the inscription “ A Soldier of the Great War, known unto God”.
P J Tipton commented
A group of volunteers has been tasked by IWM to examine the backlog of suggestions for #LifeStories. and create seeding data if necessary. About four months ago the National Archives of Australia added William Morrison Stewart's service papers as seeding data on #Lives. These documents exactly match the full biography of his life which you recount above in so much detail. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/7336621
Rather than me adding all the vital data and just using your research to guide me I thought you would certainly want to do it yourself. So I really hope you see this. You can contact me on LivesMail via my own public profile on #Lives https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/profile/6648. When you start adding further evidence I shall see that you are doing so, but If after a month or so you haven't seen my note rest assured that I shall complete his #LifeStory. I can remember reading through your suggestion when you first posted it over a year ago.
Peter Tipton; IWM Volunteer
Linda Hutton commented
Now that's what I call a proper story. This site should be filling up with stuff like this ...