Captain Bertrand STEWART
West Kent Yeomanry, attd Intelligence Corps
Date of birth: December 1872
Date of death: 18 September 1914
Killed in action aged 41
Buried Braisne Communal Cemetery A3
Bertrand was born in London, the only son of Charles Stewart, solicitor, of Achara, Appin, Argyllshire, and of 38 Eaton Place London, and his first wife, Eva Kingscote who died at the time of Bertrand’s birth.
Bertrand was educated at Eton (Durnford’s House) and came up to Christ Church 1890-1892. At the time, his father and his second wife lived at 38, Eaton Place, S.W. with seven servants. In 1897 he was admitted as a solicitor, and became a member of the firm of Markby, Stewart & Co., of Coleman Street, London.
On 1 August 1905, he married Amy Daphne daughter of Lt.-Colonel George Kendall Priaulx.
When the Boer War broke out Bertrand served with the West Kent as a Private, taking part in operations in the Cape Colony, Orange River Colony, and the Transvaal. He was awarded the Queen’s Medal with two clasps. In April 1906 he received a commission in the West Kent Yeomanry, and became a captain in 1913.
At the outbreak of the Great War Captain Stewart was appointed to the Intelligence Department on the Staff of Major-General Allenby, CB., commanding the Cavalry Division of the Expeditionary Force. He was serving in this position when he met his death.
In the book “From Mons to Ypres with General French” by Frederick Coleman (1917) there is a chapter “With the British at the Battle of the Marne” which describes the fighting near Braisne, and he describes how he moved down a slope and in front of him lay the town of Braisne and the crossing of the River Vesle:
“On the bank by the way lay the dead body of Bertrand Stewart of the Intelligence who had taken a rifle and gone down to lend a hand. Beyond him a wounded trooper sat propped against a milestone gasping with pain”.
A letter from Rheims, dated 16th September, written by someone with whom he had served, was sent home to Bertrand's family. It said:
“ I was with him at the time, and must tell you I am certain it was the death he would have chosen – painless and sudden and doing his duty… A patrol of ours was attacked entering the village of Braisne and the supporting party retired.
Captain Stewart at once jumped up, and putting himself at their head rallied them and took them to the assistance of those cut off. I was sent back for reinforcements and on my return had got back to within a few yards of his side when the end came. Those who, like myself, worked with him had become very fond of him, and his memory as an English officer will remain with us”.
He was buried in the village cemetery at Braisne, near to where he fell. A letter appeared in the Times of September 18th 1914 stating that his father, mother and wife are proud and happy that he died for his country's honour and for a “scrap of paper”.
The officers and men of the west Kent Yeomanry presented his widow with a bronze tablet commemorating his service.
He is commemorated in St. Adamnan's Episcopal Church, Duror & Kentallen.
On each wall of the chancel there is a wooden cross. That on the right is in memory of "Capt. Bertrand Stewart, West Kent Yeomanry. Brought from the graveyard in France."
The Church website states “Capt. Stewart of Achara was the first TA Officer to be killed in the First World War. It is possible that he was the rather shadowy character in Erskine Childers' "Riddle of the Sands."
Probate was granted to his wife of 11a Grosvenor Place, SW and Henry Kingscote Nisbet, civil servant, on 9 November 1914. He left, £13,237-12s-3d.
A registered charity The Bernard Stewart Trust exists (2011). Its Aims and Objectives being that “the income should be applied by the Army Council or other like authority for the time being, in every year, as a prize for the best article, paper or lecture on some military subject, the study or discussion of which will tend to increase the efficiency of the British Army as a fighting force.” One of the recipients was Enoch Powell.
From: Sharpshooters Yeomanry Association 2005 Newsletter
A Yeoman And The Great Game:
Captain Bertrand Stewart, West Kent Yeomanry
When Britain’s Secret Service was created, just before the Great War, its Head, Commander Mansfield Smith-Cumming, (usually known as ‘C’) was often forced to rely upon willing amateurs, such as serving officers on leave, to act as his agents. This activity was seen by its participants very much as part of ‘the Great Game’.
It was exciting, patriotic and at times dangerous although those caught by a west European adversary could usually expect decent and understanding treatment. While reading a recent biography of Smith-Cumming I found passing mention of a Kent Yeoman who was one of his first agents and who was caught in the act.
I decided to investigate. The yeoman was Lieutenant Bertrand Stewart, an old Etonian and solicitor, who was in C Squadron of the West Kent Yeomanry based on the Pantiles in Tunbridge Wells. Stewart had served with the West Kent as a Private in the Boer War and was commissioned in 1904.
In July 1911 Germany intervened in French-dominated Morocco by sending a gunboat, The Panther, to Agadir. This provoked a crisis and The Times reported that the German High Seas Fleet had left port. The British Government feared an attack and ordered Smith-Cumming to find it. Coincidentally, and probably in a fit of patriotism caused by the crisis, Stewart seems to have volunteered his services as a spy out of the blue to the government and his offer was passed onto Smith-Cumming. Captain Drake, assistant to Captain Vernon Kell, head of MI5, described Stewart as an intelligence enthusiast who had volunteered his services with the idea that he be sent as a double agent, willing to betray his country, in order to determine German objectives. Drake recorded that ‘poor old C found that willy-nilly he had Stewart thrust upon him with orders to “let him have a run”… no objection on C’s part had any effect and after being warned by C that he was running his head into a noose Stewart departed jubilantly for Holland.’ Once there he was to proceed to Germany to check the ports. The Director of Military Operations, Major General Wilson, shared Drake’s opinion and despairingly described the event in his diary as being ‘like a Pantomime’.
Stewart’s mission was a farce. He was arrested in a public lavatory in Bremen on 2 August – a week after leaving London – trying to dispose of a codebook planted on him by a real double agent who had changed sides alleging poor pay. The German Fleet, meanwhile, had been located before Stewart had even left London. He was tried in Leipzig in February 1912 and sent to serve his sentence in Glatz, a fortress prison, used mainly to house Germans who had been convicted of duelling. To everybody’s surprise he, and two other British officers imprisoned for espionage, were suddenly released by the Kaiser in May 1913 when his daughter, Victoria Louise, married Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. Stewart returned to London by train, being met at the station by his family and brother officers, who gave him a tumultuous reception and whisked him away in a car.
Stewart subsequently sued the government for £12,500 (around £250,000 in 2011) claiming that he had been exposed to needless risk and that Cumming had sent him knowing that he would be arrested. He also claimed harsh treatment at German hands and Reuters had indeed reported that on his return Stewart “showed traces of the effect of his confinement on his health”. That said, the damage cannot have been too severe as the local newspaper records that Stewart attended a week long regimental field camp at Arundel the following week.
Despite his patriotism and enthusiasm Stewart comes across as an unwanted amateur and possibly a fantasist: what today would be described as an intelligence nuisance. He was friend of William Le Queux, a well-known author of lurid novellas on the espionage threat to Britain and shared his views. After his release he wrote to Mansfield Cumming demanding that he write to the King, Secretary for War and First Sea Lord commending Stewart’s performance, and berated him for not sending invisible ink to the prison so that Stewart could communicate his findings.
Despite this affair Stewart seems to have kept contact with the intelligence services. He was killed on 12 September 1914 on the first day of the Battle of the Aisne. I cannot discover why Stewart was in France when his regiment was in Kent, but he is buried in Braine CWGC cemetery which was the site of the 1st Cavalry Brigade’s casualty clearing station. This suggests that he was attached to the Brigade and that he may have been killed as it fought a bitter action beginning with a dismounted night assault in torrential rain up steep banks. The West Kent’s regimental history records his employment as “Intelligence Corps, B.E.F”. He was the first Territorial officer to be killed in the Great War.
Acknowledgements: The initial source and spur for this piece is Alan Judd’s The Quest For C (London 1999) but many other works on the birth of Britain’s secret services mention the affair and its impact. Huw Jones
By Patricia Evans
Bertrand Stewart, was one of the “Stewarts of Appin”, the only son of Charles and Eva Stewart of Achara, Appin, Argyllshire and of 38 Eaton Place, London. The family also owned Castle Stalcaire, a ruin that had once been the hunting seat of James IV of Scotland until he was killed at Flodden Field. Bertrand had been born in London in December 1872 and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford until 1892. Five years later he was admitted as a solicitor, becoming a member of the firm of Markby Stewart and Co. Coleman Street. He had a substantial private income and was a member of seven London Clubs including the Athenaeum and the Carlton, and his recreations were given as hunting, shooting and deer-stalking. On 1st August 1905 he married Daphne, the daughter of Colonel Osmond Priaulx of The Mount, Guernsey and they set up home at Queen's Gate Gardens , London.
During the Boer War, Bertrand had served in the ranks of the Imperial Yeomanry, seeing action at Cape Colony, Orange River and the Transvaal and this seems to have given him a taste for adventure. In 1906 he was commissioned in the West Kent Yeomanry, but he was interested in a more active role than seemed to be offered by the Yeomanry. He said that he wanted to do “something spectacular in the way of discovering German preparations for war”. He was certainly to have his chance.
While travelling in Germany in 1911 he was arrested at Bremen and charged with espionage. It was claimed that he had been attempting to find the secrets of German military and naval defences in the North Sea and dockyards and was picked up after documents had been passed to him in a Bremen restaurant. He was still reading them in the rest room when he was arrested. He was pilloried as “the Gentleman Spy”. The German newspapers described him as belonging to a set of people in England who “although having a regular profession only require to devote part of their time to it and lead a versatile life in hunting and other sporting pleasures”. His trial began before the Supreme Court of the Empire at Leipzig on 31st January 1912 and was held in camera. After four days he was found guilty and sentenced to detention in a fortress for 3 years and 6 months but this was soon reduced by 4 months because he had already been in prison for a considerable time. It was reported in the British press that the evidence against him relied upon the testimony of a single prosecution witness “of a class whose evidence is always viewed with suspicion in English courts”. In other words, an informer, who, it was said, was a penniless ex-criminal who was in the pay of the prosecution. Stewart told his judges that “if their distinguished nation was ever at war with Britain, he hoped he would be in the field against them in defence of his country.” In fact, Stewart was held at the fortress of Glatz until May 1913 when his release was ordered as an act of clemency on the occasion of King George V's visit to Berlin. He was in good company because Captain Bernard Frederick Trench of the Marine Light Infantry and Lt. Vivian Brandon, R.N. who had been sentenced to 4 years each in 1910 were also released.
Captain Stewart prepared a memorandum denying any involvement, but it seems pretty certain that they had all been among the agents who had been sent into Germany by Cummings. He seems to have soon settled back to his former life and in August 1913 was promoted Captain in the West Kent Yeomanry. He wrote the “Active Service Pocket Book” which was printed in several editions, was editor of the “Cavalry Journal” and wrote a well regarded article in the “National Review” for June 1914 entitled “ Germany and Ourselves”. When war broke out shortly afterwards he was immediately appointed to the Intelligence Department on the Staff of Major General Allenby and left for France with the Cavalry Division. Sadly, his service was to be very short because he was killed near Braisne on 12th September 1914 while 1st Cavalry Brigade was fighting a delaying action.