43191 Percy MacGreggor Stewart
Served with the Huntingdon Cyclists & 36th Ulster Div 36th Battalion MGC
Percy in October 1914
Percy was born on the 4th October 1898 and died on the 14th May 1994. He was also the cousin of three of our other WW1 Heroes Albert, Charles and Thomas Pridmore.
WW1 - Summary of Service
Percy volunteered for service in the Huntingdon Cyclist's Battalion on 28th October 1914, and after fitting out with a new bike and kit, he was sent up to Whitby to guard the coast from invasion in December, probably missing the bombardment by the German Navy.
During this period he was trained as a signaler and on machine guns.
The H.C.B guarded the coast from Whitby along the Scarborough cliffs , Robin Hood Bay to Scarborough. They were barracked at Whitby, Hayburn -Wyke, Cloughton & Burnison.
Signaler in the MGC, 36 Ulster Division
Mid 1915 he transferred to Machine Gun Corps and sent to the 36th Ulster Division who were training at Seaford on the south coast. They embarked for France marching via Southampton & crossed the channel on the S.S. Onward on his 17th birthday, 4th Oct.
The div. spent the first week in the Ameins area, training and then put into the line at Toutvent trench in front of Mailly Mallet. They were drawn out of the line on the 28th and sent to the Abbeville area to train for the winter.
On the 2nd of Feb. they marched to the front line and were in trenches from the river Ancre to Mailly Mallet on the Somme. On March 2nd they were from River Ancre to Thiepval Wood and were out on rest on 17th at Hedaville and then moved over to Hamel.
The bombardment began for the Battle of the Somme on the 24th and the battle opened up on the 1st July. The 36th div did well on the outset and reached their objectives but after several days the divisions beside them failed to make ground and were forced to withdraw to the start line with a massive casualty list of 5,500. They were drawn out of the line on the 3rd and entrained for Flanders, arriving at St Omer for rest and to rebuild the division.
The next move was in the Nueve - Englise trenches on the 24th July, and on 1st Sept into River Douve to Kemmel - Wychete rd trenches.
It was in these trenches that the renowned painter-writer, Bruce Bairnsfather spent the early years of the war and wrote about them in" Bullets and Billets".
On the 1st of October they moved into the Spanbrockmolen trenches and were in these for the next six months preparing for the coming Battle of Massines. This opened up on 7th June and was one of the most successful battles of the war with only 1,000 casualties. They retired to nearby Kemmel Hill and on the 20th were put into the Rosewood - Blauwe Portbeek trenches south east of Ypres on the 23rd. During this spell in the line the Famous German flying ace, Baron Von Ricthofen, shot a plane down in Ypres and continued on to shoot down the 36th div. barrage balloons and strafed the troops in the trenches.
The 36th div was relieved on the 29th of June and marched to St Omer for rest and to prepare for the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele).
The bombardment began on the 16th July and they moved forward to Poperinge on the 28th. On the 3rd they were in reserve and in the line on the 8th and preparing for an attack on the 16th near Frezenburge. Their objective was Gallipoli & Somme Farms. The attack failed badly due to the very wet weather over the past weeks. They were relieved on the 18th with 3,500 casualties.
The divisions history states that a lot of men became casualties due to "trench feet" and it is probable that this is when Percy was taken ill.
Percy had contracted a blood poisoning to the legs due to the wet conditions. Black raison like lumps appeared all over his legs and it was feared he may lose his legs as a way of saving his life. He remembers laying on a stretcher on the wharf with hundreds of other soldiers all from the battle for Passchendale and was put on a Candian hospital ship. The nurses managed to get his circulation going again thereby saving his legs and returning him to his Division after he recovered.
The 36th div detrained for Bapume in the south and marched past La-sars to Havencourt wood. On the 29th they went into the line from Beucamp to Demicourt rd. The Battle of Cambrie began on the 20th of Nov. when they moved off either side of Canal Du-Nord for Moerves. The Battle raged on for some days but Moerves could not be held. They were relieved during a driving snow storm on the 25th and entrained to the east of Arras for a rest but within a few hours heard of a German break through. The division had to force march 30 to 40 miles to Welch ridge, near Beucamp to stabilize the line. By the 7th and were relieved again and on the 14th and marched off to Lucheux, s.e. of Arras for a rest.
On the 2nd January 1918 the 36th div moved to the east of Amiens at Mureil and then marched to St Quentin and began to work on defenses on their large front in readiness for the expected attack that opened up on the 18th of March. The 36th div was slowly pushed back 50 miles by three German divisions to Mureil over the next 12 days in a bitter retreat that saw 7,252 casualties (mostly pow's)
They entrained for rest at Gamaches on the Normandy coast, but this did not last long as the second phase of the German attack began and they were required in Flanders. They detrained on the 6th at Proven and leaving the 108th brigade to help hold the line at Kemmel, they moved into the trenches at Poelcappel. They were forced to retreat to Widje on the 14th being rejoined later by the 108th. At the beginning of June they were pulled out for 3 weeks rest.
The next spell in the line was at Balleul until the great German withdrawal of 30 of August to River Douve - Wulvergem rd. The final push began on the 28th and after a few more battles they pushed onto the river Lys at Cortrai and were relieved on the 3rd Nov . The Armistice was signed on the 11th and the 36th div moved off to Mouscron on the French- Belgium border .
All 1914 men were sent home for Christmas and he was de mobbed on 13th January 1919.
During the war the 36th Division had 32,000 casualties, replacing itself twice from Oct. 1915 to Nov. 11 1918 .
Percy volunteered and served with the 4th Battalion North Auckland reservists on the 21st January 1942. His regimental number was 1/20/678 and he was promoted to L/Corporal on the 4th March 1942. He was discharged on the 27th July 1942
Submitted by: Vaughan Cullen