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The exceptional and well documented Great War Battle of the Cambrai 20th November 1917 Military Medal group awarded to Pioneer G. Stewart, Royal Engineers, a linesman with the 16th Divisional Signal Company in the 16th Irish Division, who saw service out on the Western Front from December 1917, was originally unsuccessfully recommended for the Military Medal for his bravery in action at Messine’s Ridge on 17th June 1917, and was then decorated for his bravery in repairing signal lines and maintaining communication during the massed German count

Price: £1,375.00


Product ID: CMA/28544
Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine
Availability: IN STOCK
Description:

The exceptional and well documented Great War Battle of the Cambrai 20th November 1917 Military Medal group awarded to Pioneer G. Stewart, Royal Engineers, a linesman with the 16th Divisional Signal Company in the 16th Irish Division, who saw service out on the Western Front from December 1917, was originally unsuccessfully recommended for the Military Medal for his bravery in action at Messine’s Ridge on 17th June 1917, and was then decorated for his bravery in repairing signal lines and maintaining communication during the massed German counter-attack at Cambrai on 20th November 1917, when in action near to the village of Fontaine-Les-Croiselles. With one other man, he went forward and maintained the lines and repairing breaks from heavy enemy shell fire from morning till dusk. His diary, now housed in the Imperial War Museum, is reprinted with the research, and gives a superb account of his wartime service, and specifically mention of the action in which he was decorated. He wrote: ‘Men were being blown to pieces and as we worked our way along the trenches it was necessary to stride over dismembered arms and legs and pieces of bleeding flesh, whilst at the junction of two trenches we saw the lower half of a man’s body lying across one of our cables and it was a sickening task for us to remove it, but in spite of these horrors we stuck to our work, as if inspired by the knowledge that everything depended on the communications being maintained. During his service he was wounded twice, once having been gassed, and the other time having been hit by shrapnel. Stewart also took part in the German March Offensive on 21st March 1918, and in 1975 he supplied information to the author Martin Middlebrook for his then upcoming book ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’ on page 300, which earned him a “special” thank you in the credits. A superb group.

Group of 3: Military Medal, GVR bust; (165884 PR. G. STEWART. 16/D.S.COY. R.E.); British War Medal and Victory Medal; (165884 SPR. G. STEWART. R.E.).

Condition: Nearly Extremely Fine.

Together with the following:

A rare Irish Brigade 16th Irish Division Gallantry Card, awarded to ‘165864 Pnr. G. Stewart. 16th Div Signal Coy R.E.’, dated for 20th November 1917, and signed by the G.O.C. Major General W.B. Hickie.

13 reproduced photographs, all relating to the recipient, mostly annotated on the reverse, presumably copied from the originals housed with a family source.

Newspaper cutting from the Lancashire Evening Post of 4th May 1976, in which Stewart’s war service and current status was mentioned. The previous year, the author Martin Middlebrook had advertised in national and local newspapers for veteran’s of the March Offensive in 1918 to give information to him for his new book ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’. Stewart was one of those who replied and his contribution is detailed on page 300 of the book, which earned him a “special” thank you in the credits.

Also a 74 page typed diary of the recipients Great War experiences, taken from the recipients original diary now housed in the Imperial War Museum in London, the original runs to 250 pages.

George Stewart was born in Preston, Lancashire in 1897, and with the outbreak of the Great War, enlisted underage, joining as a Pioneer later Sapper (No.165864) the Royal Engineers. Posted out to the Western Front in December 1916, he saw service with the 16th Divisional Signal Company in the 16th Irish Division.

Stewart saw service as a linesman, and was unsuccessfully recommended for the award of the Military Medal for his bravery during the Battle of Messines and the action on Messines Ridge on 17th June 1917, but was then successfully recommended for an award of the Military Medal for his bravery during the Battle of Cambrai on 20th November 1917, when taking part in the defence of the Hindenburg Tunnel.

His entry for the 20th November 1917 gives further details: ‘On the morning of November 20th the attack on the German positions commenced, the object being to capture the powerfully fortified trench system known as the “Hindenburg Line”. This attack was launched on a twelve mile front and was notable for the large number of tanks which were used to break through at the strongest points.

The 16th Division had as their objective, the capture of the village of Fontaine-Les-Croiselles and at 6.20 am, our infantry swept forward and after heavy fighting they succeeded in capturing the village and immediately took steps to consolidate the positions they had won. Strangely enough we linesmen had not fared badly so far, as owing to the surprise nature of the attack the German artillery had not had much chance to assist and in consequence our telephone lines had not given us much trouble.

This luck was evidently too good to last, as shortly afterwards the enemy launched a counter attack covered by terrific artillery bombardment on our trenches, and soon our lines were blown to bits with a result that at a critical phase of the battle, these was no means of communication between Headquarters and our Battalions.

Dunn and I were ordered to go out and repair the lines at all costs, and to prepare us for what was bound to be an ordeal, we were given a stiff tot of rum by the Signal Officer. Now to anyone who is accustomed to drinking spirits, a glass of rum would be a luxury, but as I had very little experience of it’s effects, it went straight to my head and although I had control of myself it had put a false courage into me and I had little fear of anything. This was perhaps a good thing under the circumstances for we were continually under heavy shell fire, but we carried on through it and repaired breaks as we went along.

On reaching our communication trench we discovered it was blown in many places, which added greatly to our difficulties as often the cables would be buried and this meant digging and scraping the earth away with our hands, in a desperate effort to locate the broken cables and make repairs. Eventually we succeeded in restoring communication, although we realised that the lines could not remain intact for long under this terrible shelling.

The Germans were attacking furiously to regain their last position, and their guns were dropping shells into our trenches with remarkable accuracy, the result being a shambles. Men were being blown to pieces and as we worked our way along the trenches it was necessary to stride over dismembered arms and legs and pieces of bleeding flesh, whilst at the junction of two trenches we saw the lower half of a man’s body lying across one of our cables and it was a sickening task for us to remove it, but in spite of these horrors we stuck to our work, as if inspired by the knowledge that everything depended on the communications being maintained.

At times, in order to reach another trench quickly, we would mount the parapet and double across the open, running the gauntlet of the terrible machine-gun fire as we floundered through shell holes filled with stagnant water, the bullets whistled past us, but today we bore charmed lives and our luck was in. The rain had now been falling very heavily for some time, turning the soft ground into a swamp, which not only made it treacherous to get a foot hold, but an occasional trip over some barbed wire usually sent us sprawling headlong into liquid mud with unpleasant results. After several hours of this mud-larking, we became plastered from head to foot and in the fast approaching dusk it must have been difficult for anyone to distinguish which side we were fighting for, but Dunn had a noted vocabulary of obscene words which he used on such occasions as these, and anyone hearing him give went to his feelings would have no doubt as to his nationality.

At last the battle which had raged fiercely all afternoon broke down at dusk, the Germans had been repulsed and as I glanced around at the dead bodies lying everywhere, I shuddered to think that perhaps a few inches either way as these bullets whizzed past and I might also have been lying there with the others. The shelling had also abated and now finally we had got all our lines in working order we received a message to return to Brigade Headquarters at Croiselles. We therefore wasted no time in making our way back for after this ordeal we were anxious to get out of it whilst it was fairly quiet, on arrival at the signal office, Lieutenant Freeman congratulated us on our successful efforts, and also conveyed a message to us from the Brigadier-General, from which we could gather that he intended to recommend us for some Decoration’.

Stewart’s award of the Military Medal for bravery in the field was published in the London Gazette for 13th March 1918, and a image of him had been published in the ‘Preston Guardian’ newspaper in January 1918. Stewart subsequently saw service during the German March Offensive, and in 1975 he supplied information to the author Martin Middlebrook for his then upcoming book ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’ on page 300, which earned him a “special” thank you in the credits. During his service he was wounded twice, once having been gassed, and the other time having been hit by shrapnel. He was still living in Preston, Lancashire when he featured in a newspaper article published in the Lancashire Evening Post of 4th May 1976.