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Cherry Avenue, Swanley resident John Stewart shares dad’s trench trauma and war memories

Herbert Stewart had been in the army two years when the First World War broke out and was one of the first troops shipped out to France in August 1914.

He served for the duration of the conflict, spending four years overseas for King and country.

Mr Stewart fought in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry but was forced to move to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry after the majority of his unit was wiped out in the first few months of combat in Mons, Belgium.

For his service in Mons, he was awarded a 1914 Star, now looked after by his son John Stewart, 79, of Cherry Avenue, Swanley,

John Stewart with his dad's WW1 medals
John Stewart with his dad's WW1 medals

Although he spent a lot of time in the ‘thick of it’ with his comrades in the trenches, he was also selected to help the war effort in a different way.

As soon as Mr Stewart’s superiors got wind of his trade as a carpenter, they whisked him off for another job.

John Stewart said: “He was a qualified carpenter, which, I heard from my sister, meant he was taken out of the trenches during that period.

“He was fighting in France and was put back behind the lines to build a stage so they could bring entertainers out.

“That’s what he was doing for quite some time, building stages for the troops to have when they weren’t fighting.”

Mr Stewart also had a talent for music and played the piccolo, but he acquired both his skill for carpentry and music due to unfortunate circumstances.

John Stewart's dad, Herbert Stewart
John Stewart's dad, Herbert Stewart

His son explained: “My grandfather worked for Lord Hart-Dyke, who owned all the property around this area, and he was working on a building when he fell and died. My father was just a child.

“Lord Hart-Dyke was running the boys’ school in Farningham so he took my father in and put him through the school and taught him a trade.

“He knew how to cook and how to clean. He was more or less prepared for the army because he had already been in this school and they had to clean their shoes and polish them and press their clothes. He was also very educated.”

John Stewart inherited his father’s talent for music and plays the tenor horn. He has played in the Dartford Concert Band and the East Peckham Silver Band.

John Stewart's dad's WW1 medals
John Stewart's dad's WW1 medals

He also followed his father into the forces, doing his National Service before serving in the Royal Air Force.

John Stewart said his dad told him about the trauma of trench life, adding: “He said it was very rough and there was not a lot to eat. You were always up to your knees in mud and there were fleas and lice.

“The conditions were just terrible.”

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