Pte John Stewart, 7th Gordon Highlanders

Private John Stewart, 7th Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders

John Stewart, the second child of Peter and Isabella Stewart, was born on 24th October 1894 at Windseye, Kearn (Auchindoir) whilst his father was farming there. He had two brothers and a sister.

In 1895 Peter Stewart moved to Kennethmont becoming tenant in the larger farm of Haremyre on the Craighall Estate. John became a member of the Established Church in 1913.

John enlisted in the 7th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders at Aberdeen, the letter ' s ' prefixing his serial number indicating a wartime enlistment in Scotland. It is not known if he volunteered early in the war or enlisted after May 1916 when universal conscription come into effect with a Military Service Act applying to all men regardless of marital status between 18 and 41 years. Working at home on the farm may have been classed as a ' reserved occupation ' prior to this date. His elder brother Peter also saw service with The Gordon Highlanders during the Great War. Although hospitalised for a time, due to the effects of gassing, he survived the conflict and went on to farm at Haremyre.


Map of  The Spring Offensive area of operations
Click on image to view large map.(48k)


The German High Command had carefully planned to launch a massive offensive, codenamed Operation Michael, from the Hindenburg defences in 1918. The Germans withdrew to these defensive positions in March / April 1917.

When it became apparent late in 1917 that America would join the Allies, sending soldiers in great numbers, they decided to move at the beginning of the year when the worst of the winter weather had passed.

The Hindenburg Line, or Siegfried Stellung as they called it, was a vast system of defences in Northern France constructed by the Germans during the winter of 1916-17. It ran from a position east of Arras all the way to beyond St Quentin on the British sector, and consisted of deep and wide trenches, thick belts of barbed wire, concrete machine-gun positions, concrete bunkers, tunnels and command posts. It was considered virtually impregnable by the Germans.

The British offensives during the summer of 1918 were to prove otherwise.

John Stewart was killed in action during the The Battle of Saint Quentin ( 21st - 26th March ) at the beginning of The German Spring Offensive ( 21st March - 5th April 1918 ) when the Germans broke through the British front and overwhelmed the defenders. Following a short, intense bombardment, three German armies (70 divisions), 1700 artillery batteries, and 1000 aeroplanes struck along a 45-mile front near Arras. Within 48 hours, the Germans had penetrated 10 miles, the greatest single day’s advance on the Western Front since 1914. In just three weeks the German army overran over 1500 square miles of territory, including the former Somme battlefields, a gain unequalled since 1914, before they were finally halted on 5th April having pushed the front line back 40 miles.
They failed, however, to reach their ultimate objective, Amiens, with its vital rail links to the Channel Ports, Paris and beyond. This ultimately meant that Germany could not win the war.


The Hindenburg Line

A section of the Hindenburg Line to the north of Morchies

From the Battalion War Diary it is known that at the opening of this action 7GH in the 51st Highland Division were in Brigade Reserve at London Camp, Beugny to the south east of Arras. At 5.10am on 21st March the enemy began to shell Beugny heavily and it was observed that the whole of the forward area was being very heavily bombarded. The men were ordered to "Stand To" as, due to the large amount of enemy movement the previous day in and behind the enemies lines, a hostile attack appeared imminent. At about 6am orders were received to be ready to move forward at a moments notice.


Morchies - Baeaumetz map

Area of front line held by the 7th Gordons on 21st - 22nd March 1918

At 7.54am the battalion started to move, with few casualties, to the front line trench a mile further forward astride the Bapaume - Cambrai road between Morchies and Beaumetz. Enemy activity was observed all day and scouts seen close to the wire. It became quieter in the early evening and all companies were issued with rations. At 9.30pm a pocket of the enemy was discovered and driven out. It was relatively quiet during the night.

The morning of John's death began with the ground covered in a thick mist, under cover of which, the enemy tried to cut the wire. When the fog lifted around 10.30am large numbers of the enemy were shot and further concentration was prevented by Machine Gun and Rifle Grenade fire.

By 4pm the Germans had made four attempts to advance but on each occasion had been driven back with heavy losses. At 6pm another strong attack , assisted by 30 aeroplanes, broke through the line north of Morchies.

At midnight the battalion were ordered to withdraw to Middlesex Camp ( 3 miles to the rear ) at Fremicourt.
During the morning of 23rd March the remnants of the battalion collected there - 8 Officers and 100 Other Ranks.

John has no known grave. His is one of the 35,000 names recorded on The Arras Memorial to the Missing.

Three more men from Kennethmont fell in the same area and also have no known grave.

James Leith, Piperwell fell during the initial assault on 21 March. His name is recorded alongside his Machine Gun Corps comrades on The Memorial to the Missing at Pozieres
Also recorded at Arras are John's neighbours Alexander Pirie from Braefolds and Robert Anderson from Mains of Craighall. Alex fell on 25th March, while serving with the 6th Gordons. Robert with the 1st Gordons fell on 17th June 1917.



Pte John Stewart 7GH


John Stewart wearing a standard Service Dress jacket rather than the usual one worn by highland regiments who were permitted to tailor them to accommodate the sporran.



7th Gordon Highlanders

John Stewart, on the right, wearing a tailored SD jacket.

Both men are wearing the drab kilt apron. These served the dual purpose of camouflaging the kilt as well as helping keep the tartan clean.


&th Gordons in rest camp

John Stewart (4th from right) and comrades shoulder their Lee Enfield rifles.

This photo was probably taken outside an accommodation hut in a rest camp several miles behind the front line. The men would march from these hutted and tented camps or billets in the towns, "up the line" to the support trenches near the front ready to relieve those in the trenches. To minimise the risk from enemy snipers and artillery fire the final move forward into the front trench trench was usually carried out under cover of darkness.


7th Gordons in Belgium, WW1

7th Gordons group taken somewhere in Belgium, John is 2nd from left, back row

John Stewart was awarded these medals for serving his King and Country in The Great War.

British War and Victory Medals
Move mouse over medals to view reverse

The British War Medal (left and Victory Medal (right) were awarded to all personnel.


The British War Medal 1914-1918
The medal takes the form of a solid silver medal with an image of a mounted figure of St George trampling the shield of the central powers with the dates 1914 and 1918 thereon. At the base is a skull and crossbones, symbolic of death, whilst above is the rising sun of victory. The reverse has the coinage head of George V.

Victory Medal 1914 - 1919
It was decided amongst the Allies that a common theme would be adopted and that each country would produce a medal to commemorate the Victory. This medal took various forms according to the country but a common item was the rainbow coloured ribbon. The British medal shows the winged victory on the front holding a palm branch in her right hand with the left outstretched. The reverse has the words "The Great War for Civilisation" surrounded by a laurel wreath.

The pair were affectionately known as "Mutt and Jeff".

The Victory Medal The British War Medal The Victory Medal The British War Medal The Victory Medal The British War Medal


Memorial card


It was the practice of the time to commemorate a death on a Memorial or Death Card. The card on the left is tri-fold and double sided ( both sides shown). It bears a picture of John and details of his death and a verse.
They would have been given to family members and friends.

The exact date of his death, clearly, was not known to the family at the time as the card merely states he was killed in action between 21st and 26th March 1918, the period of the Battle of Saint Quentin.

Click on the card it to view a full size image.


Stewart headstone at Gartly Kirkyard

Stewart family headstone at Gartly

Loving Memory of
Pte John Stewart
who fell in action in France
22nd March 1918 aged 24 years
also of his father
Peter Stewart
late farmer, Haremyre
who died at Backburn, Gartly
3rd Oct 1926 aged 77 years
and of his mother
Isabella Milton
who died there
23rd Dec 1929 aged 72 years

Daun family headstone

Stewart headstone at Gartly Kirkyard Stewart family headstone

The Stewart Family headstone in Gartly Kirkyard

Photographed March 2002

Photographs of John are reproduced here by kind permission
of his neice Margaret Smith, Huntly