Galloway’s Great War - three brothers decorated

Major General Sir John Stewart, KCB, DSO, served with the Royal Garhwal Rifles 1872 - 1955
Major General Sir John Stewart, KCB, DSO, served with the Royal Garhwal Rifles 1872 - 1955

One of the most stirring stories to come of the Great War is that of the four aristocratic Stewart brothers, of Cairnsmore Estates, who all served King and Country with distinction, with three of them awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order).

With the help of Nigel Champion of Cairnsmore, a descendent of the brave brothers, we look at the men behind the medals.

Captain Herbert William Vansittart Stewart - 1886-1973.

The twenty-year-old Herbert was gazetted in August 1906 into the Royal Scots Fusiliers and by October 1914 he was a Captain. He served on the western front with the 7th Division British Expeditionary Force and was taken prisoner on 31st October 1914.

Herbert was awarded the DSO and mentioned-in-dispatches on 1st December 1914 and 17th February 1915.

Regarding Herbert, Nigel said: “He was a very good shot and he killed 11 men when he took out a German machine gun team. That haunted him until the day of his death. In 1917, when he was a prisoner during the war and in a POW camp in Germany he planned his escape. A group of POWs took a substance that turned their skin yellow. Thinking they were dealing with a jaundice outbreak, the camp Kommondant ordered that he was taken to neutral Switzerland to be interred there, an altogether more pleasant arrangement. He didn’t go back to the front but joined the Seaforth Highlanders.

During the battle for Antwerp in 1914, his division got left behind. He was taken prisoner but, as he was wounded, he was evacuated before the unit was surrounded by the Germans.

Brigadier General John Henry Keith Stewart - 1872- 1955

Sir John was the oldest brother and won his DSO in 1915 when serving with the Indian Army. Early in the war his unit was sent to replace the regiments in the western front as there were so many casualties. He was serving in the same regiment as the Earl if Galloway‘s youngest son Keith and was asked by the Earl to find out what had happened to him after he as killed during the Battle of Festubert in May 1915.

John served with the 39th Garhwal Rifles, Indian Army, from 1894 to 1920. He served in France from October 1914 to December 1915 and in the Indian Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia from January 1916 to 1921. As well as the DSO, he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and was mentioned-in-dispatches on 22nd June 1915; 18th October 1916 and 15th August 1917.

He ended up as the Governor of Aden.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Alexander Vansittart Stewart 1875 -

Partick joined the 3rd KOSB in July 1894 and joined the 1st KOSB in 1896, having served in the South African War and on the north west frontier of India. When war broke out in 1914, he was commanding a company of gentlemen cadets at Sandhurst. He arrived on the western front in December 1914 and served there as a Brigade Major up to the end of 1917. He was awarded the DSO and the Belgian Croix de Guerre and was mentioned-in-dispatches on 22nd June 1915; 1st January 1916, 4th January 1917; 15th April 1917 and 11th December 1917.

His son, Patrick Kenneth Montgomery Stewart, died of his wounds at Dunkirk in June 1940 during World War Two, aged 27,

Nigel Champion remembers these three Stewart men as “very severe and austere” but not so the fourth brother, James, who was the life and soul of the party, full of good humour and quite the ladies man.

Major James Montgomery Vansittart Stewart, 1877 -

James joined the KOSB in 1898 and transferred into the Indian Army in 1907, becoming a Major in 1915. During the great war, he served in Egypt, Gallipoli and Mesopotamia with the 10th Gurkha Rifles and was mentioned-in-dispatches on 21st June 1916.

The Stewart brother were the sons of Lieutenant-General Stewart, Carruchan, Dumfries and the newphews of Mrs Stewart of Bargaly.

Galloway Gazette, June 19th, 1915


Private William Whiteford, son of Mrs Whiteford, Bishopton, Whithorn, was wounded last month at the front. His right arm was so badly shattered that it was thought at first it would have to come off, but that has been obviated. Private Whiteford served his time in the shop of Mr Brown, draper, Whithorn. Thereafter he went out to Western Australia, where he roughed it for several years. He came home with the intention of trying the United States, where he has friends, but instead offered himself for his King and Country. He is at present in Craigleith Hospital and all his friends who honour him for his self-sacrificing bravery hope for his early recovery.


All women who are anxious to assist in war service at this time should not delay registering their names at the Government Labour Exchange. Women are wanted for all kinds of work, i.e. farm work, dairy work, leather stitching, brush making, light machining, gardening, poultry farming and in professional and clerical work. Those who have no experience in such work can be specially trained and who ever helps to release or equip a man for fighting is doing national war service. Forms may be had from any local agency of the Unemployment Fund or any Labour Exchange.


Official news has been received by Mr and Mrs McBurnie, High Street, Kirkcudbright of the death of their son, Private Robert McBurnie, 1st KOSB, who was wounded at the Dardanelles on Sunday, 30th May, while proceeding to visit the trench in which his brother Sam was lying. The brothers had not seen each other for nearly six years, and Robert was within a few yards of his brother when he was struck down. He was at once removed to a hospital ship where he succumbed to his wounds. He was one of six sons of Mr and Mrs McBurnie who have served or are serving King and Country, four of them in the regular army, one on the sea, and one as a Territorial. Robert went through the South African War in which he was twice wounded. He was promoted to Sergeant and received the Queen Victoria and King Edward medals with three clasps. After the outbreak of war he enrolled in the national reserve and joined his old battalion in Egypt when he was called up. He was 37 years of age and leaves a widow and five children.


Mr A Finningham, Newton Stewart has received the following letter from Private W Thomson from Newton Stewart, serving with the London Scottish:

“I have been out here six weeks now and am quite used to the life. I find it very interesting also healthy. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that it is almost impossible to be anything but well here, as long as bullets and shells can be dodged. We came down from the trenches last night, after being a month on duty continuously. During this time we held positions in three different parts of the line. At some places there were quite a short distance between the enemy’s line and ours, and it was possible to hear the Germans talking and singing at nights. We usually do four days in the trenches and the same time in reserve alternately. When in the latter position we are, as a rule, billeted in a village a mile of so behind, and sleep in cellars, being practically the only places left in tact by shell fire. These villages present pitiful sights being nothing better than heaps of ruins. It is never possible to find a single house that has not been hit, and churches seem to get more than their share of shelling. I saw one the other day that had evidently been a fine building, but the Germans threw 70 shells at it in one day.. The result is the church, churchyard and tombstones area all mixed up together. I was very sorry to see that Keith Stewart had been killed. That was a terrible Sunday. His regiment was just on our left. We were in reserve and got as far forward as the first reserve line. We were under very heavy shell fire from 5.45am till about the same time in the afternoon almost without cessation and we could see most of what was going on. It was fine to see the first battalion of a certain Highland regiment go over the front parapet to the attack, with their bayonets glittering in the sun. No-one could watch this without wanting to go forward and help....

“At present we are billeted in a fair-sized town, five or six miles behind the firing line. Here everything goes on as usual, although the place is shelled occasionally. It is quite a treat to be in the midst of civilisation again. When at rest we do route marches and drill, but, of course, have a good deal of time to ourselves. What is perhaps most welcome is the fact that we can sleep with our boots off. This is indeed relief. We have not encountered the new German weapon yet, but have always our respirators ready to apply at a moment’s notice.”