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  • Christina Drummond

Second Lieutenant Ronald James Stewart, 3rd Battalion (attached to 1st Battalion), Seaforth Highland

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1916, Second Lieutenant Ronald James Stewart, 3rd Battalion (attached to 1st Battalion), Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-Shire Buffs, The Duke of Albany's), died from wounds received a fortnight earlier during the fighting at Amara in Mesopotamia.

The son of a wealthy business-owner (who was known to quietly make generous donations to a military hospital), he attended Hazelwood School, where he was head boy, Wellington College, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps, and Trinity College, Cambridge. At the outbreak of the Great War he attended Sandhurst and received his commission in February of 1915, joined his regiment in May, and went with them to Mesopotamia in November on being appointed as the officer commanding B Company.

On the day of his death his company supported an attack on the enemy led by the 92nd Punjabis and the 125th Rifles, and were soon ordered to join in the front wave. From the battalion’s war diary: “...they advanced to the attack with great dash and vigour being so well handled by 2nd Lt Stewart and his platoon Sergeants that although coming under a very heavy fire, their casualties were very slight. Unfortunately 2nd Lt Stewart was badly wounded in leading his Company." They achieved their objective, although the enemy withdrew and escaped, and the “very slight” casualties amounted to seven men killed and twenty missing.

Second Lieutenant Stewart was taken to hospital in Amara, where before succumbing to his wounds he was told that he was being recommended for the Military Cross. Lieutenant-Colonel W.M. Thomson wrote: “Ronald Stewart is a great loss. I am very sad about him – he had a miraculous escape on 7th January: his platoon was decimated, but he and a handful got within a few yards of the Turkish trenches, so close in fact as to be under cover and thus escaped. On the 13th he led his company splendidly until he was hit; he was splendid throughout.” The recommendation for the Military Cross was received by the General Officer Commanding on the 9th of February and was approved and announced legally in Corps Orders of the 21st of February. However, the award was never made – in a letter from Buckingham Palace to the officer making the request it was explained: “The case was very thoroughly gone into…the General Officer Commanding, subsequently discovered that he was not empowered to grant posthumous rewards and he cancelled the award on the 29th February 1916. It cannot be denied that it is a hard case, but I'm afraid it is not possible to re-open it in the circumstances." Second Lieutenant Stewart was, however, mentioned in Lieutenant General Sir Percy Lake’s despatches "for gallant and distinguished service in the field". He is buried in the Amara War Cemetery in Iraq.

Ronald, from Skelmorlie, Ayrshire, was 24 years old.

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