A ‘born soldier and leader of men’

Stewart

On this day in 1915 the Gallipoli Campaign commenced – a campaign that is remembered today, ANZAC Day, in many localities throughout Australia and New Zealand. An opportune moment to also remember another Scot as part of the series of First World War posts on this Blog.

Hugh Stewart was born at Premnay in East Aberdeenshire in September 1884. Having done well at the village school, Stewart was awarded a scholarship to attend Fettes College in Edinburgh, where he also commenced with his university degree, though he finished it at Cambridge in 1907. After that Stewart went to Russia to work as a tutor of English. In 1909 he returned to the UK to work as a lecturer in Classics at the University of Liverpool, making his way to New Zealand three years later, when he was appointed professor of Classics at Canterbury College in Christchurch.

Having served in the British territorial force, Stewart enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on the outbreak of the First World War. As his biographers notes,

He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Canterbury Battalion, New Zealand Infantry Brigade. His strong Scottish accent and serious approach to his duties did not at first endear him to his men, but during the Gallipoli campaign he won their respect and admiration as a courageous officer who cared deeply about their welfare. … A ‘born soldier and leader of men’, Stewart was promoted to captain in August and to major in October 1915. His gallantry and exceptional leadership at Gallipoli were recognised by the award of the Military Cross, the French Croix de guerre and a mention in dispatches. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in February 1916 and the following month took command of the newly formed 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Infantry Regiment. Serving on the western front for the next two years, he proved to be a most capable battalion commander who believed in tight discipline and careful planning.

Stewart’s story, like that of so many other Scots who served in overseas regiments, does well to illustrate the degree to which the diaspora supported the British war effort. While that support did not always come through engagement in the military – there were many initiatives ranging from financial support to the knitting of socks for soldiers – it played a key role.

Stewart returned to New Zealand after the First World War, having been transferred to the reserve of officers, and continued to work at Canterbury College until 1926, when he took up a position at the University of Leeds. Until then Stewart had been dominion president of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, a role he had to resign from due to his departure. And this was one that emphasizes too how fluid diaspora connections could be given that many a migrant was really rather a temporary sojourner overseas than a permanent migrant. This is an important distinction many often forget.

See also The Scots and ANZAC from the Blog Archive.

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