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STEWART, James Selwyn DCM (1890-1945)

STEWART, James Selwyn DCM (1890-1945)

James Selwyn Stewart was born at Louth Station, Macarthur on 23 May 1890, the son of James Louth and Agnes Mann nee Jenkins.

He was educated at Greenvale School, Wickliffe and enrolled at Geelong College as a boarderin 1906, leaving in 1907. His address when he entered College was Berachap, Branxholme.

He commenced his pastoral career at Mingabool Station, Naracoorte, South Australia, from where he enlisted (No. 269), during World War I in the AIF in the original 14 Batallion on 15 Sepember 1914.

He embarked for Egypt on HMAT A 38 Ulysses on 22 December 1914 with the 4th Brigade, and landed on Gallipoli on the first day of The Landing, in the same platoon as Albert Jacka1. He was invalided from there to Egypt on 4 August 1915, but returned to the Peninsula until the Evacuation. After a period of service in Egypt he embarked with his battalion for France, where he was promoted to Sergeant. He was severely wounded at Mouquet Farm while holding an advanced position with fifteen men in August 1916, which they occupied for two nights. For this action he was recommended for the Victoria Cross, but was instead awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), gazetted on 14 November 1916.

The war historian C E W Bean wrote of this in the 'Official History'
'When on the night of August 26th the 14 Battalion relived the 21st, it was rumoured that som advanced post was still far out in front of the Quarry, though no one knew quite where. About 2 am, therefore, Captain Hansen of the 14th sent Sergeant Stewart with fifteen men to advance in skirmishing order in search of it. Passing the tree-stumps of Courcelette road in pitch dark, they came upon it - then reduced to about ten men of the 21st under Sergeant McAlpine2 . This was the post of the 21st at Point 77. Stewart and his men relieved the garrison, and a trench to the post was at once begun from the Quarry end.'

The citation for Stewart' DCM read:
'For constructing an isolated strong point at Point 77 (at Mouquet Farm) on night of 26th-27th August, and later successfully repelling two enemy counter attack on his post on the night of 27th-28th August. On night 28th-29th August enemy patrols also endeavoured to capture his strong point, and only by his personal courage and coolness was he able to hold his ground against greatly superior odds on each occasion. He is one of the original Battalion formed in Australia in 1914. He was severely wounded in the last enemy attack on his post on morning of 29th inst, just prior to the post being relieved by the 16th Battalion.'

He was invalided to England having been severely wounded in both legs, as a result of which his left leg was amputated.

He married Kate Agnes Tucker, the daughter of Professor Thomas George Tucker, CMG, Litt D (Cambridge), of the University of Melbourne, on 30 June 1917 at St Columba's Presbyterian Church, Cambridge, England.

Selwyn Stewart sailed with his wife from Plymouth on tho SS Ionic on 25 July 1917, and returned to Melbourne via Sierra Leone, Cape town, Durban and Hobart, thence by train to Burnie and by boat to Melbourne, arriving there on 27 September 1917. He died on 19 January 1945.

Pegasus included a brief obituary of him in December 1945:
'J Selwyn Stewart attended the College in 1906-7 and was a Life Member of the OGCA. He was a grazier at Portland, where he died on January 19 after a long illness. As a sergeant in the first AIF he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal when in charge of a strong point at Mouquet Farm; in this action he was severely wounded and as a result lost his left leg. He leaves a widow (formerly Miss Kitty Tucker, elder daughter of Professor T G Tucker, CMG) and one daughter.'

The Portland Guardian newspaper carried a more personal testimony to him:
'After a distressing and protracted illness, borne with that same heroic fortitude, characteristic of the man, which he displayed over 25 years ago when, in the service of his country, he sustained wounds which necessitated the amputation of a leg, Selwyn Stewart passed away at his home, Percy street, on Friday last, leaving behind a host of admiring friends to mourn the loss of a gallant gentleman.

Selwyn, who was aged 54 years, held a distinguished record in World War No. 1. Enlisting at the very outset, he was attached to the notorious 14th Battalion commanded by the intrepid Capt. Jacka V.C., and was soon promoted to the rank of sergeant. Under fire, he was considered one of the coolest to don a King's uniform in the dark days of 1914-18, and many acts of heroism were his, one of which resulted in the bestowal on this gallant Anzac of the D.C.M. (Distinguished Conduct ,Medal), an award considered second only to the coveted Victoria Cross. Selwyn served under Brigadier-General Brand, a soldier whose experience, unfortunately, owing to political circumstances, has not on this occasion been taken full advantage of.

It is many years since Selwyn, with his wife and young daughter June, took up his residence in Portland, where he soon became a great favourite with all who came in contact with him. He took a keen interest in many branches of civic life and for a term held the presidency of the Returned Soldiers Club. He was a most proficient and keen golfer, being classed above the ordinary amateur status, and it was his pleasure to impart to others the knowledge he had gained over a lengthy period of years. He delighted m coaching the younger players, and to-day many able exponents of the game owe their competency to the tuition they had earlier received at the hands of Selwyn.

A man of the highest integrity, he was universally esteemed and was one with the courage of his convictions, though at all times respecting the opinions of his fellows, in whose welfare he was always concerned. If a person was "down", Selwyn was the first to the rescue, and many a christian charitable act, of which, however, he was never heard to boast, stands to his credit.

Deceased's father and mother, the late Mr. James and Mrs. Stewart, were frequent visitors to Portland, where they were well known; the former predeceased Selwyn some little time ago and possessed the same sterling characteristics which were handed down to his son. Two brothers, Leslie and Gordon, and a sister (Mrs. F. Cope) survive, and to them and the deceased's sorrowing widow (whose ministrations were a striking example of the faithfulness of a loving wife) and daughter the deepest sympathy is extended.

The funeral on Saturday morning was of a private nature, returned soldiers, however, having the privilege of following the remains of their late esteemed comrade to the last resting place in the South cemetery. The casket, which was covered with the Union Jack, was carried by four original Diggers of the last war, and other veterans acted as pall-bearers. At the graveside an impressive soldiers' service was conducted by the vice-president of the local branch (Mr.R. H. Egan), at the conclusion of which the returned men filed past the open grave, at the same time dropping in a poppy - the Diggers' immortal emblem of remembrance. Vale, Selwyn! The services at the house and graveside were conducted by Rev. Canon Coupe, the deceased being a devout member of the Anglican church, and the mortuary arrangements were in the hands of Mr T. C. Jarrett. A wealth of beautiful flowers testified to the esteem in which the late gentleman was held.'

1 Albert Jacka VC MC & Bar (1893-1932) was the first Australian to be awarded the highest decoration for gallantry, the Victoria Cross, in World War I. He won this award through his actions at Courtney's Post, Gallipoli on the night of 19-20 May 1915.

2 Sgt J E McAIpine, of Merino, was later promted Lieutenant, and subsequently died of wounds suffered near Morlancourt on 10 June 1918. He was buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, France - Grave XXVIII.N.9.

Sources: Pegasus December 1945 p62; Portland Guardian 22 January 1945 p2; ‘Geelong Collegians at the Great War’ compiled by James Affleck. p 318 (citing Alexander Henderson, 'Henderson's Australian Families' (1941) C E W Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918: Vol. III: The AIF in France 1916; National Archives; Stewart Family Papers).
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