Edward Stewart - Lest we forget
Private Edward William (Eddie) STEWART, Service No 1866 A" Company, 36th Battalion, 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st AIF enlisted from Kiama on 8 March 1916. He was 23 years of age.
Being the only son of a farmer Eddie was probably reluctant to sign up and leave his father to work the family dairy farm 'Strathleven', on his own. The family had not long owned the farm having operated a bakery business in Kiama for many years. They had only recently built the farmhouse and were in the process of setting the farm up so there was still much to be done. Also there can be little doubt that his mother and three sisters would not have wanted him to go.
However, there was increasing pressure from the government and from sections of the community for fit young men to volunteer to assist their "mates" fighting on the Western Front. Eddie certainly met the criteria. He was well known as a sportsman in the district and an excellent marksman, being a Kiama Rifle Club member who had competed successfully at a national level. So when Captain Campbell Carmichael launched a recruiting drive and called for volunteers from rifle clubs in NSW to form a Battalion Eddie would have felt obliged to answer the call. The Battalion raised by Captain Carmichael became the 36th and was known as "Carmichael's Riflemen" or "Carmichael’s One Thousand”'.
After training in camps at Cootamundra and Rutherford, Eddie embarked at Woolloomooloo, Sydney, with the 2nd Reinforcements 36th Battalion in the "Port Sydney" on 4 September 1916. Whether it was because of secrecy over the sailing date or because of Eddie's wishes, none of his family were there to see the ship sail. However Eddie's best friend, George King, accompanied Eddie’s Unit as it marched down to the ship and was there to wave him off.
The voyage to England was via Melbourne, Durban and Cape Town and the troops had a couple of days ashore at each port. His letters describing the Durban visit indicate that they had a fairly lively time and they found the locals very friendly. One evening Eddie was with a noisy lot of mates in a residential area of Durban and the residents came out to see what all the noise was about. Seeing the Australians, a couple of families invited them in for supper. At Cape Town they found the welcome rather cool which is not surprising given the predominantly Dutch and German background of the white inhabitants. Eddie and some friends took a train over Signal Hill to Camp Bay and were most impressed with the scenery. They finally arrived in Plymouth England on 29 October 1916.
In England, Eddie was billeted for training at camps on the Salisbury Plain, mainly at Lark Hill. During training, apart from his superior marksmanship, he showed particular skill at throwing Mills Bombs (grenades). This skill was put to good use when he reached the front. He remained in training until 20 December 1916 when he crossed to France. There he was located initially with other reinforcements at a training camp in the Etaples area and moved up to join the main body of his Battalion on 18 January 1917. The 36th Battalion was at that time in the front line trenches in the Nouvel Houplines area of Armentieres, in Belgium. The Battalion strength was 36 officers and 976 other ranks and was commanded by Lieut. Colonel J.W.A. Simpson.
During this period the battalion was under heavy bombardment from German artillery. On 21 January Lieut Colonel Simpson and Lieut McGrath were killed and 5 others wounded by heavy artillery and machine gun fire.
On 22 January following heavy bombardment by their artillery, the German infantry attacked. "A" Company of the 36th Battalion was heavily engaged and returned intense fire. The Germans reached the Battalion trenches but were repulsed after about 10 minutes of hand-to-hand fighting. 36th Battalion casualties were 15 dead and 36 wounded (including Pte E.W. Stewart). Eddie was wounded by shrapnel from a close artillery shell burst. He was hit by about 7 shell fragments, the worst wound being in the right buttock. He was to carry some of those fragments in his body for the rest of his life.
After having his wounds dressed by stretcher bearers, Eddie was taken through three different field casualty stations to a British Army hospital in the town of Bailleul. After more treatment there over two days he was transferred to the Canadian Army hospital in Boulogne, where he remained for another five days. From there he was transported by overnight steamer to Southampton and then to the war hospital at Foxhill, Bath, arriving on 30 January 1917.
Eddie was in bed for about six weeks and sitting up for another week before he was allowed to walk. On 24th April he was transferred to a convalescent hospital in Dartford, Kent via an Australian Army hospital in London. On 30th April he was given leave and travelled to Irvinestown, County Fermanagh in Northem Island via London, Holyhead, Kingston and Dublin, to stay with relatives. A friend named Wilkinson, from Victoria, who had been in the bed next to him in Foxhill hospital, accompanied Eddie. Eddie and Wilkie stayed with Eddie's auntie Anne Jane Irwin and her family on their farm at Makenny County Tyrone. Anne Jane was the younger sister of Eddie's father.
On 13 May Eddie travelled to Weymouth, England via Belfast, Liverpool, London, Westbury and Bath. After a medical check at Weymouth Barracks, he was billeted at Perham Downs camp from the middle of May until 15 June when he was sent back over to France. On arrival there he remained in a rest camp at Rouelles for 4 months as his wounds still weren't fully healed. He spent most of his time in the camp resting and gardening.
While Eddie had been recuperating in England, the 3rd Australian Division was engaged in the Battle of Messines where the objective was to capture and hold the Messines-Wytschaete ridge. The 9th and l0th Brigades led the assault on 6th and 7th June and the ridge was taken, but at very high cost. 36th Battalion casualties in this engagement were 66 killed, 318 wounded and 16 missing, mostly in the Ploegstreet Wood area.
On 5th October the Battalion was still in Belgium in the front line at Passchendaele in the area of Bremen Redoubt. It was subjected to heavy bombardment and Captain Carmichael of "A" Company, who had been instrumental in the recruitment and formation of the Battalion was hit and wounded.
Eddie rejoined the 36th Battalion in early October 1917. His service records indicate that he rejoined the Battalion on 11 October, however his letters suggest it may have been a couple of days earlier.
||Battalion resting at Winnezeele. The Battalion had been withdrawn from the front line on 6 October and bussed to a rest area at Winnezeele. Eddie probably rejoined the Battalion around this time.
| 10 October
|| Left camp at Winnezeele and moved in buses to a camp at Calvary Farm, east of Ypres.
| 11 October
|| Preparing for Battle of Ypres. ."This was the final, successful phase of a series of battles where the objective was to take the Passchendaele ridge. The six months of sacrificial and bloody warfare on this front was to place "Passchendaele” with "The Somme' as two of the bloodiest battles ever fought", From a history a/the Australian gtl1 Brigade by David Dial, Military Historian.
|| Battle of Ypres
| 11 October
|| Battalion marched from Calvary Farm camp to vicinity of Potsdam. Shelling was heavy and Battalion suffered 100 casualties. Ground was boggy with men getting stuck. Gas laid by enemy made progress difficult. 36th Battalion moving up met, remnants of the 43rd Battalion and 4th Division moving back, causing some confusion, particularly in 'A' Company.
| 12 October
|| At Zero Hour the 9th Brigade moved out quickly under their own barrage. One enemy pillbox held up the 35th and 36th Battalions for an hour and caused many casualties. When finally surrounded, the enemy surrendered resulting in the capture of 6 machine guns and 80 Germans plus a number killed. On lifting the barrage the 35th Battalion moved on but encountered heavy machine gun fire from Crest Farm and Passchendaele. The left company of the 35th Battalion was wiped out and the left company of the 36th Battalion filled the breach but also suffered heavy casualties. Casualties all along the line were so heavy that further advance was impossible. As a result, the line was consolidated and held at that position. The 36th Battalion continued to experience intense shelling and machine gun fire so they drew back, formed a new line and consolidated. 36th Battalion casualties in the Battle of Ypres was 105 killed and 346 wounded (including Pte E. W. Stewart).
Eddie suffered a deep shrapnel wound in the lower right thigh when a shell exploded amongst them as they advanced up the Passchendaele ridge. After being wounded he also suffered exposure to mustard gas, laid by the Germans, that blistered his face and neck and caused nausea and vomiting for several days.
After being evacuated from the front line, Eddie was operated on in a field hospital at Ypres to remove the piece of shrapnel, which he described as being about the size of a pigeon's egg. He was then taken by train to an Australian Army hospital at Rouen and after a week there by train to Le Havre, by ship to Southampton and finally another 9 hour train trip to Walley, near Blackburn in Lancashire.
Eddie was confined to bed for about 5 weeks as his wound was quite serious and he was finally allowed up on about 17th November. He was then moved to Hurdcott Convalescent Camp in Wiltshire at the end of November. Here he saw quite a lot of Pte Harry Galpin, Service No 2076, 35th Battalion. Originally from Somerset in England, Harry had immigrated to Australia as a young man and found employment on the Stewart farm. He enlisted in the AIF at about the same time as Eddie but ended up in the 35th Battalion. Harry had also been wounded in the Battle ofYpres, shot through the knee. Due to the seriousness of his wound he was repatriated back to Australia on 1st February 1918. He returned to the Stewart farm and although he later married and lived in Kiama, he worked on the farm for the remainder of his working life.
Eddie remained at Hurdcott camp until 24 January 1918 when he went on convalescent leave to Ireland, where he again stayed with the Irwin family. He returned to Hurdcott camp on 6 February to continue his convalescence. At the end of February he spent a weekend in Salisbury sightseeing and on 2nd March he moved to Warminster Training Camp about 18 miles from Hurdcott. He must have been fully recovered from his wound at this time, as he was involved in intense training and guard duties.
On 16th March he hired a bicycle and rode 22 miles to Bath and back for the weekend reportedly to see old friends. While at Warminster camp he represented his division in a rifle shooting competition where he came 4th in the individual and won the team's event. He received a 10 shilling prize (about $1.00). Private's pay at the time was 6 shillings a day ($0.60).
Eddie rejoined the 36th Battalion around 2 April 1918, while they were resting in a camp near the village of Cachey.
Villers Bretonneux – The saving of Amiens
"The German thrust towards Amiens was designed to split the English and French armies. Commencing on 27 March the Germans committed a huge force to the sector and the Australian 3rd Division was rushed south from Belgium and positioned in the path of the German thrust, On 4 April the German attacked with 15 Divisions on a 35km front. The Australian 9th Brigade covered Villers Bretonneux and the fate of the Brigade appeared sealed as the Germans surged closer to the outskirts of the town. Suddenly the 36th Infantry Battalion stormed out of a hollow where they had been waiting and with bayonet glinting in the declining sun, charged straight for the enemy. In a series of savage encounters with bullets bayonets and bombs they drove the enemy away from the town's outskirts and back to their trenches. Villers Bretonneux was saved" From a history of the Australian 9'11 Brigade by David Dial, Military Historian.
4 April - The 36th Battalion report on this action read
"36th Battalion moved to a position south of Villers Bretonneux to try to halt a German thrust to take the city of Amiens. Shortly after taking up their position, the British Division retreated in disarray through the 36th Battalion lines, leaving the Battalion to face 3 Brigades of attacking German infantry. 'A" and "B” Companies of the 36th Battalion, although heavily outnumbered, counterattacked and repulsed the German advance".
(Eddie explained in his letters that the German troops were terrified of the Australians ).
The 9th Brigade report on this action read
"At 3.50pm the 36th Battalion noticed troops on our right retiring in disorder through our lines, reporting that the enemy were advancing in thousands. Attempts to rally the retiring forces were unsuccessful. The situation appeared critical. At 5.15pm the Commanding Officer 36th lnfantry Battalion launched his whole Battalion (less one Company in reserve) into a counter attack driving the enemy back into his trenches".
One British Commander described the 36th Battalion counter attack at Villers Bretonneux as "perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war".
From a history a/the Australian 9th Brigade by David Dial, Military Historian.
||Battalion under heavy bombardment but continued to hold the line.
| 6 April
|| All except “A" Company relieved in line by 18th Battalion.
| 7 April
|| "A" Company relieved in Iine and Battalion returned to camp at Bois de
| 9 April
|| 36th Battalion and 34th Battalion relieved 19th Battalion and 20thBattalion in line.
| 10-12 April
|| Continuing engagements with enemy. 36th Battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Milne, was killed on 12 April by a direct hit on Battalion headquarters.
| 13 April
|| Battalion moved to Bois de Blangy and remained until 17 April.
| 17 April
|| Battalion moved to reinforce the 33rd Battalion at Villers Bretonneux. Battalion heavily bombed.
| 21 April
|| Battalion moved to Housoye via Villers Bretonneux, La Fouillory, Corbie and La Neuville. On arrival they were visited by Major General Sir John Monash, commander of the Australian 3rd Division.
| 21-28 April
|| Continuing artillery and machine gun exchanges with the enemy.
| 30 April
|| 36th Battalion was disbanded, to reinforce other Battalions. Private E.W. Stewart transferred into “A" Company of the 33 Battalion. Casualties had reduced the strength of all 3rd Division Battalions to about 300 of all ranks. This necessary merge of the depleted Battalions was not well accepted by the troops of the disbanded Battalions as they were very proud of their own Battalions and their Battalion colours.
| 1 May
|| 33rd tn in front line in Morlancourt sector.
| 5 May
|| 33rd Battalion attacked enemy line and captured trenches.
| 7 May
|| 34th Battalion with “A” Company, 33rd Battalion attacked enemy line and gained their objective . However, one Company of the 34th Battalion and two Platoons of "A" Company of the 33rd Battalion were cut off, surrounded and wiped out.
| 8-10 May
|| Remained in front line with 34th Battalion.
| 13 May
|| Battalion rnoved to Hospice via Longean, Carnon and Rivery.
| 14-20 May
|| Battalion training and in recreation at Rivery. Eddie represented his Brigade at Rugby League. His team was beaten in the final of the competition.
| 21 May
|| 33rd Battalion relieved 47th Battalion in front line at Villers Bretonneux.
| 21 May - 28 June
|| 33rd Battalion continually in front line. Subject to continual attacks over 40 days including artillery barrages, machine gun fire, grenades and strafing by aircraft. Also subjected to gas attacks. Continued to hold position throughout attacks.
| 28 June
|| Relieved by 19th Battalion under a heavy artillery barrage and moved to a camp at Camon. Battalion commander at this stage was Lieutenant Colonel Morshead.
| 28 June - 11 July
|| 33rd Battalion remained in camp at Carnon - resting and training.
The 33rd Battalion, exhausted and battered after 40 days in the line under continual attack, was resting behind the front lines when on 4 July 1918 the Australian Divisions under Lieutenant General John Monash defeated the Germans at Le Hamel, clearing the village in just 93 minute in a brilliant attack considered to be one of the turning points of the war. The Le Hamel victory broke the stalemate on the Western Front and so impressed the allied command that the French President Georges Clemenceau, on his way to visit the French Divisions, diverted to visit the Australians. In his address to them he said:
“When the Australian came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you. We knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning, you would astonish the whole continent. I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen: I have seen the Australians; I have looked in their faces. I know that these men will fight alongside of us again until the cause for which we are all fighting is safe for us and for our children”.
| 12 July
|| 33rd Battalion relieved 45th Battalion in front line in Bouzencourt area of Bussy, south of Somme River.
| 13-15 July
|| Exchanged artillery fire. Knocked out enemy HQ and machine gun.
| 16 July
|| Relieved by 35th Battalion and moved to Vaire Sur Corbie.
| 16-19 July
|| At Vaire Sur Corbie. Resting and working parties.
| 20 July
|| Relieved by 34th Battalion in front line in Sailly-Laurette area.
| 22-25 July
|| Under intermittent heavy bombardment.
| 25 July
|| Following a heavy barrage, Germans attacked but were easily beaten off.
| 26 July
|| 33rd Battalion party raided enemy machine gun position.
| 29 July
|| Still in front line. 3rd Division attacked and 33rd Battalion engaged active machine gun positions. Enemy artillery very active.
| 30 July
|| Relieved by 11th Fusiliers and moved back to La Neuville.
| 31 July - 5 August
|| 33rd Battalion resting in trenches at La Neuville. Preparing for coming offensive. Very wet weather.
| 6 August
|| Battalion marched out from Daours and camped at Aubigne, close to front line.
| 8 August
|| Battalion moved into assault position and following own barrage attacked through Accroche Wood which was heavily garrisoned with large numbers of machine gun positions. All enemy positions surrendered and many prisoners were taken.
| 9 August
|| Battalion consolidating position. Eddie was pulled out of the line for the day to represent his Company in meeting King George V who was visiting the front. Eddie was amused by the situation as the knees were out of his trousers and his tunic jacket badly tom from barbed wire encountered in the attack on the previous day.
| 11 August
|| Heavy enemy shelling. Relieved by 37th Battalion and 40th Battalion in front line and moved back to support trenches.
| 12 August
|| Relieved by 9th Duke of Wellington Regiment and moved to billets in village of Vaire Sur Corbie which had been devastated by enemy artillery. None of the houses were waterproof.
| 13-14 August
|| Battalion resting.
| 15 August
|| Battalion moved to Hamel and then Sailly Ie Sec.
| 16-17 August
|| Battalion resting.
| 18 August
|| Battalion relieved 50th Battalion in front line at Gressaire Wood. Intermittent shelling and gas.
| 19-21 August
|| In support trenches preparing for assault.
||Battle of Mont St Quentin
| 22 August
|| Following a heavy artillery barrage laid down by the AIF, the 33rd Battalion attacked through heavy machine gun fire in an area just north of Bray Sur Somme. All objectives were taken. Battalion showed no mercy to surrendering German machine crew who were killed as they surrendered. Battalion casualties were 17 killed, 100 wounded. German casualties 100 killed and 300 prisoners.
| 23 August
|| Enemy counter attacked and were repulsed. 33rd Battalion was relieved in front line by 38th Battalion and marched to Sailly Le Sec.
| 24 August
|| Battalion resting and men swimming in the Somme River. Heavy bombing by Germans although they were in retreat along the entire front.
| 25 August
|| Battalion moved forward.
| 26 August
|| Battalion resting dug in.
| 27 August
|| Buried dead and moved forward again.
| 28 August
|| Battalion rested dug in.
| 29 August
|| Battalion moved forward to Curlu (heavily shelled) and then to Hindley Wood.
| 30 August
|| Battalion moved forward again into old Somme trenches at Earthworks. "A" Company of 33rd Battalion with 34th Battalion attacked German positions in the location of Wood Road and Marrieres Wood. Held up by machine guns. 33rd Battalion attempted to assist but were driven back by intense machine gun fire.
| 31 August
|| Battalion launched attack again about midday - heaviest fighting to date against 4th Regiment, German Guards Grenadiers at a position 3 miles north of Clery Sur Somme. Operation successful this time and objectives taken. At one stage in this action when the Battalion was held up and pinned down by intense machine gun fire, Private George Cartwright stood up and charged the machine gun post. He bombed the post, killed 3 Germans with his rifle and captured 9 others, allowing the advance to continue. He was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross for this action. 33rd Battalion casualties were 24 dead and 104 wounded (including Pte E.W. Stewart). German casualties were 200 dead and 600 prisoners. The Australians went on to take Mont St Quentin.
During the midday attack against German positions, Eddie was hit by three machine gun bullets, one taking off the index finger of his left hand at the knuckle (he was carrying a bag of Mills bombs in that hand). Another bullet left a deep gouge wound across his right buttock and the third, an explosive bullet hit high up on his left thigh leaving a very large exit wound on the inside of his thigh. A friend, believed to be Sergeant Frank Abbot from Penrith who was killed in action the same day applied field dressings to his wounds and although bleeding heavily, Eddie dragged himself into some bushes out of the line of fire and armed himself in readiness for a possible German attack. He was eventually picked up by stretcher bearers, who had passed him by initially for someone who was more seriously wounded. They returned to collect Eddie when their first patient died on the stretcher and he was the last casualty evacuated from that sector at that time, due to the intensity of the machine gun fire.
After initial treatment at a field dressing station, Eddie was transported to an English hospital in Rouen where he was operated on. From Rouen he was taken the 80 miles to Le Havre by hospital train and then a 10 hour crossing to Southampton on the hospital steamer "Panama". Then followed a 4 hour trip by hospital train to Foxhill military hospital at Bath, arriving about 3 September.
Eddie was seriously ill for several days due to heavy blood loss, but felt well on the mend by 9 September although his condition remained serious. He was allowed to sit up out of bed briefly on 22 October but was still very weak. By 2 November he wrote that his wounds were still discharging and he was still unable to walk.
About 4 November, Eddie was moved to a VA hospital at Bowood, the country home and estate of Lord and Lady Lansdowne. A stately English mansion, Bowood is situated about 15 miles NE of Bath about 2 miles from the village of CaIne and 5 miles from Chippenham. Volunteer helpers included Lady Lansdowne, Lady Spicer and Lady Beresford. There were about 60 patients and Eddie was in a group of the first Australians to be sent there. He still wasn't allowed out of bed. He wrote that the estate had a deer park and many deer could be seen grazing nearby.
On 11 November 1918 - Armistice Day - Germany surrendered. It was very quiet at Eddie's hospital although he wrote of the great celebration in London. By 16 November he was still confined to bed. His leg wound was still open about 3 inches although his finger had nearly healed. On 1 December, 3 months after being wounded he was finally allowed out of bed and shortly after, Lady Lansdowne showed him through the house – he described it as magnificent. On 10 December he was moved to an Australian hospital at Harefield in Middlesex, about 15 miles from London. On the way there Eddie had a 2 hour walk around London and commented on all the flags and bunting.
On 12 December Eddie left hospital on leave and went to Ireland, staying again with the Irwin family. His leg wound was still open and discharging at this stage. He over-extended himself travelling around visiting relatives and became ill for a few days. He remained in Ireland for Christmas having Christmas dinner with the Irwin family and other relatives, 21 of them. He left Ireland on Boxing Day travelling via Dublin to Weymouth where he was billeted in Horseferry Road.
In Weymouth, Eddie was attached to No 2 Weymouth Command Depot. He spent his time resting and going to picture shows, concert and socials. On 17 January 1919 he was issued with his boat ticket home and spent his last night in Weymouth at the movies. On 18 January he was marched to Weymouth Station and travelled by train to Plymouth. Enroute the train stopped at Exeter Station where the Lady Mayoress assisted by other local ladies served tea and buns. Eddie said that all Australian soldiers passing through Exeter during the war were similarly treated.
On arrival at Plymouth Eddie boarded the "SS Margha" a coal burning twin-screw steamer. Eddie was fortunate to be assigned a bunk in a cabin for the trip. It was raining when the SS Margha sailed from Plymouth at 7.30am on 19 January 1919. The voyage home via Port Said, Port Suez Colombo Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart was relatively uneventful and Eddie was bored and anxious to get home. They were allowed ashore only for 7 hours in Colombo.
The SS Margha arrived in Sydney on Sunday 9 March 1919. Following medical checks and other discharge procedures late on Tuesday afternoon of 11 March, Eddie finally boarded a train for Kiama. He was not expecting the huge crowd that was waiting at Kiama railway station that evening or the local brass bands or the speech by the Mayor of Kiama, Walter Cornford. He was overcome by emotion and barely able to respond but was finally able to get to the car with his family and return home to the farm, and a big “welcome home” party with family and friends.
Eddie settled back into life on the farm, progressively taking over more of the management and the work from his ageing father. He played rugby league for Kiama for a couple of seasons but the effects of his war wounds caused him to move from active participation into administration and coaching. He also found time to go fishing regularly with his old friend, George King.
Eddie passed away on 7 May 1952, aged 59.
Kiama Library acknowledges the research of Garry Stewart, who compiled this history of his father’s wartime service.
“This brief account of my father's service with the 1st AIF on the Western Front during WWl was compiled from his letters home to his family, from the official diaries of the 36th and 33rd Battalions, the diary of the 3rd Division's 9th Brigade and from his service records. Other source have been acknowledged within the body of the document. While Eddie's experiences in the "Great War" may not have been unusual, nevertheless his story is unique to him and was there to be told in the official records and in his letters, faithfully preserved by his family. I thought it was important that the various sources were pulled together so that his contribution was not forgotten, either by his family or his nation.
During his final leave prior to departing Australia, Eddie's mother asked him to send the family a brief cablegram, if he was wounded, so that they would know that he didn't have a serious head wound. The family was to receive three such cablegrams from him each saying "wounded nothing serious" or words along those lines. In reality his wounds were quite serious on each occasion, but the family would have been reassured that he was capable of getting a message to them.
The rank of 'Corporal' assigned by the Kiama Independent newspaper in its report on Eddie's return home is believed to be an inadvertent error by the reporter at the time perhaps caught up in the excitement of the occasion. There is no indication in Eddie's service records of his being promoted and family members understood that he had refused an offer of promotion.”