South Scotland

The Isle of Whithorn minister who died at Passchendaele

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Media captionMinister who went to war and never came back

Rev Andrew Stewart did not have to go to war.

As an ordained minister in the Isle of Whithorn he was in a "reserved occupation" and could have been excused service.

The Carluke-native could also have taken up a post as an army padre.

However, session records from his Dumfries and Galloway village kirk tell the story of how he pleaded to be allowed to go and fight for his country in World War One.

"The session were unanimously of the opinion that, for the present at least, Mr Stewart would be doing an important service for the nation by continuing in the discharge of his ministry as by joining the colours," they recorded on 3 October 1915.

Image copyright iSle of Whithorn Church
Image caption The young minister was killed in action in France and posthumously honoured

The determined young man came back to them just three months later and, this time, would not take no for an answer.

"Considering the state of the country he had come to the conclusion that it was his duty to offer himself for enlistment in Her Majesty's forces," the records relate.

Current Isle of Whithorn minister, Rev Alex Currie, said it was a commitment he did not have to make.

"Although he was a man of the cloth, I think he was also very much a man of the people," he said.

"To go as a padre, with the greatest of respect, would have been a position of some comfort.

"But to sign up as an ordinary serving soldier you instantly robbed yourself - as it were - of those comforts.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Andrew Stewart led his men over the top but was killed in the Battle of Menin Road

"He would certainly have known the risks and he would have been prepared to take them.

"I think he was very much aware of the fact that he was a single man and that other single men like himself were prepared to make that ultimate sacrifice."

He obtained a commission as a second lieutenant in the 10th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and was posted to France in July 1917.

That story would come to a tragic end at the Battle of Menin Road on 20 September.

"I believe that he led his own men over the top and was killed in action as he did so," said Rev Currie.

"He received, posthumously, a military cross - he was only 30 when he died - so his ministry was ahead of him but that was never to be."

The loss was also recorded in the Isle of Whithorn kirk records.

'Grateful memory'

"The kirk session hereby record the deep regret with which they received this announcement and wish to express their sense of the loss sustained by the church and especially this congregation in the sudden close of a ministry begun so happily and so full of promise for the future." they stated.

"During the few years he spent among us his likeable personality made him the friend of all and won for him, in a very special way, the confidence and affection of the young.

"His pulpit ministrations were of a high order and were much appreciated by the congregation.

"Though he has died so young his name will long live in the grateful memory of those whom he helped by his preaching and his character."

The young minister is being remembered at Isle of Whithorn Church on Sunday with a special commemorative concert.

Harpist Wendy Stewart - Andrew Stewart's great niece - will lead the proceedings to remember a man who argued so hard for the right to fight for his country.