First World War hero minister remembered

A special ceremony is being held to mark the 100th anniversary of the death of an heroic Church minister killed in action during the First World War.

People are gathering at Isle of Whithorn Church in Dumfries and Galloway on Sunday evening to remember Rev Andrew Stewart MC, who died in the Battle of Menin Road Ridge in Belgium on September 20, 1917.

Andrew Stewart
Rev Andrew Stewart was killed in action during the Battle of Menin Road in Belgium on September 20, 1917.

The 30-year-old defied the wishes of his Kirk Session who wanted him to stay and comfort parishioners affected by the Great War.

As an ordained minister, Mr Stewart was in a “reserved occupation” and could have been excused war service but instead he answered the call of King and Empire.

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, eschewing the opportunity to become a Padre which would have kept him out of harm’s way to a certain extent.

Harp

Mr Stewart, the son of a joiner who was born in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for “conspicuous gallantry in leading his men”.

He was one of 20,255 British soldiers to be killed during the Battle of Menin Road Ridge near Ypres and is buried in Larchwood Cemetery, Zillebeke.

Descendants of Mr Stewart, a University of Glasgow graduate, will be attending the church service at 7pm and his great niece, Wendy Stewart, will be playing the harp.

The Minutes of the Kirk Session, which records their minister’s decision to go to war, and a notice from the War Office announcing his death, will be read out along with readings and poems.

The Isle of Whithorn Church has a Memorial Tablet in homage to Mr Stewart and the Baptismal Font is dedicated to him.

Isle Church
Isle of Whithorn Church in Dumfries and Galloway. Credit to David Farrer.

The minister was ordained to what was originally the Isle of Whithorn United Free Church on January 8, 1914 shortly before the outbreak of the war.

Rev Alex Currie, the current minister of Isle of Whithorn Church of Scotland, said: “At this time of national commemoration of the many who died in the Third Battle of Ypres, this story of one individual local man is worth remembering.

“Andrew Stewart went to war as an ordinary serving soldier and was killed in action going over the top.

“He went to the Kirk Session and said he wanted to go to war because he felt it was his duty as he was a single man with no commitments.

“But the Kirk Session initially said no and he was told ‘there is a job for you to be done here to comfort people affected by war’.

“I have always been attracted by the fact that he went to war as an ordinary serving soldier when he could have had the comforts that the rank of Padre could have afforded him.

“This is a story about a life of a man who was clearly a man for God’s people and never set himself above them.”

The Church has a heritage centre, open to the public during the week, and story boards about Mr Stewart are on display.

While entry to the service is free, people are encouraged to donate money to Poppy Scotland if they wish.