Lance Corporal Balfour Hamilton (Hammie) Stewart



Balfour Hamilton Stewart was born on 27 November 1870 at 25 Dayton Place, Belfast, one of at least six children of iron founder James Stewart and his wife Sarah (nee Moore). He later moved to England where he was employed as a police constable. On 13 July 1896 he married Annie Eagar at St Matthew's Church, Blackburn, Lancashire. The couple had eight children over the next fourteen years.

Stewart served with the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) in the Boer War (No.3208). He was made a prisoner of war on 11 July 1900 at Zilikats Nek, but was later released. (Later in the war a Trooper Hamilton Stewart (No.1502) served in the 1st Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, from 5 August 1901 to 3 February 1902.)

Stewart and his family had moved to Ireland in 1898 or 1899, living in Lisburn (where he worked as an insurance agent), then in Belfast. On his return from South Africa and discharge from the army he worked as a weighbridge master. By the time of the 1911 Census he was living at Pearl Street, Belfast with his wife and six children. They later moved to 107 Lord Street, Belfast.

Stewart enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Antrim on 22 August 1916 (No.2244 – later Corps of Hussars No.71721). No doubt fearing rejection due to his 45 years, he stated his age as 38, but made no mention of his earlier military experience.

On 7 April 1917 he embarked for France, where he was posted to one of the squadrons of the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment. He was appointed unpaid lance corporal on 28 May and paid lance corporal on 11 July.

In February and March 1918 the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment was dismounted and converted to a cyclist unit. As this required a 25 per cent reduction in the regiment's establishment, many men were transferred out. Stewart was transferred to the Labour Corps on 17 April (No.576283), most likely his age being a contributing factor.

At the end of May, Stewart returned to the UK, where he was posted to No.304 Labour Company. On 13 August 1918 he was transferred to the Royal Defence Corps (No.84641), a home service regiment, and posted to No.253 Protection Company. On 28 March 1919 he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve. He was granted a pension due to varicose veins in both legs, aggravated by his military service, his level of disability assessed as being less than 10 per cent.

Stewart returned to Belfast, his address soon after the war being 24 Jocelyn Avenue.


The image above shows Stewart (seated) and his eldest child James, probably taken in France in 1917 or early 1918. On the reverse is written:

To Aunt Aggie, With Hammie's Love. [and in a different hand] & his son who met in the tranchs [sic] the time of the war.

James served in the war as a driver in the Royal Engineers (No.64268). He enlisted at Belfast on 11 February 1915, although he was only 17 years old at the time. Six months later his mother wrote to the authorities:

I enclose Baptism lines of Driver James Stewart 64268. You will see by same, that my son is not yet 18 years. He is too young for the front. He enlisted without my leave and I am willing for him to do home service till he is 19 yrs. At his present age and health he is unfit for the front. His enlisting has been the cause of my illhealth, and I will ask you to not send him to the front till he is 19 yrs. Since he came home last week we had to get the Doctor for himself. He is not even strong and he never would be able to go through the hardships of the front till he is a bit older. So I will depend on you as a gentleman to see to the matter, I will ask you in God's name to keep him for home service, owing to my health I could never stand it, and he did it behind his family's back & without my consent. I will trust to you Sir to see about the matter and to please send back marriage certificate & my son's lines.

& oblige
Yours truly
Annie Stewart.

PS you will see by marriage lines my husband was at the Boer war.
My son can do home service for another year. He made a mistake in his age.

Annie must have been unaware that when James enlisted he brought a letter from his father:

This is to Certify that James Stewart, has my permission to enlist in the R.E. Battalion. His age is 18 years & trade Ironmoulder.

Signed by his Father
H. Stewart

James embarked for France on 1 February 1916, serving in the RE's 150th Field Company, attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division. He survived the war, returning home on 11 February 1919.


The picture below shows Stewart's cousin (marked 'X') also named Balfour Hamilton Stewart (No.M1/06941), of the 2nd Auxiliary Bus Company, Mechanical Transport, Royal Army Service Corps, who served in France from 24 October 1914 until his death at the 3rd Australian General Hospital on 4 March 1919. On the reverse is written:

Balfour H. Stewart, Uncle Joe's son who never came back from the war.



Stewart's war medals and Scots Greys cap badge, courtesy of his great grandson Richard Stewart.