Second Lieutenant Stewart Harris Moir



Stewart Harris Moir was born on 1 February 1898 at 16 Ivan Street, Belfast, the last of six children of Scottish-born parents, shipyard rivetter John Moir and his wife Isabella (nee Harris). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living with his parents and four siblings in Alexandra Park Avenue, Belfast.

Moir enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast on 10 August 1914, six days after war was declared. He gave his age as 19 years and 1 day – he was only 16 – and his profession as engineer. He was issued regimental number 973.

Moir embarked for France with C Squadron on 21 August 1914, seeing action on the retreat from Mons. On 1 September he was reported as missing. According to a later report in the Belfast Evening Telegraph:

Corporal Fred Lindsay, of No. 4 Troop, North Irish Horse, spending a few days’ leave at his home in Islandbawn, near Castledawson, relates some interesting particulars of his six months’ experience of war. No. 4 Troop first went into action near St. Quentin during the retreat from Mons. In this rearguard action Trooper Moirs, of Belfast, and a comrade, were captured by Uhlans, and re-captured later by the Suffolks, who made prisoners of the troopers’ erstwhile captors.

Moir sustained an injury to his hand and fell ill, and after time at hospitals in Paris and Boulogne, was evacuated to England at the end of December 1914, where he was admitted to the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester. His parents requested his discharge on account of his actual age, and this was granted on 31 January 1915 (paragraph 392 vi, King's Regulations). His character was recorded as 'very good'. (Further details of his service in France in 1914 can be seen below.)

Soon after, Moir joined the Officer Training Corps at Queen's University, Belfast, and on 25 May applied for a commission in a "Highland Regiment as I am pure Scotch descent, or an English Infantry Regiment". On 1 July 1915 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to the 13th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry.

Sent to a school of instruction in Glasgow, Moir soon fell foul of the authorities. A report in October 1915 stated:

This Officer was absent without leave from 28th September to 7th October 1915, and could give no satisfactory explanation for his absence. He was placed under close arrest on his return, but broke his arrest and was placed under charge of a picquet. He was badly reported on while at a Course of Instruction, as being a very careless and unsatisfactory Officer who did not come up to the proper standard. The Supervision Officer of the Young Officers Training Centre also reported badly upon him. His C.O. does not think he will become an efficient Officer. The G.O.C. 12th Reserve Infantry Brigade recommends his removal from the Service and the G.O.C. in C., Northern Command recommends that 2nd Lieutenant Moir's services be dispensed with.

Instead, he was ordered to face a court martial, charged with:

(When on Active Service) Absenting himself without leave. In that he at Stobs Camp, absented himself without leave from the Young Officers' Training Company from 9.30 a.m. parade on the 28th September 1915 till 12 noon on the 7th October 1915.

(When on active service) when in close confinement, escaping in that he at Stobs Camp, on the 13th October 1915, when under close arrest escaped.

(When on active service) Conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, in that he at Hipswell Camp on the 30th October 1915 when in close arrest under charge of a picquet, and allowed to take exercise with an escort, (who was a private soldier) absented himself from the escort from about 5.0. p.m. till returning with the escort about 9.0 p.m. and spent part of the time in which he was so absent in the Black Lion Hotel in Richmond.

The statements tendered in Moir's defence are revealing. His sister Jean wrote:

That immediately after the outbreak of war [he] enlisted as a private soldier in the North Irish Horse. After a very short period spent in training he was dispatched on active service to France. I am informed and believe that he was present at the retreat from Mons where he was wounded. He made his way to Paris and he was taken to the house of a French gentleman and nursed there. After a week's stay at the house of the French gentleman he left most unexpectedly and without announcing his departure. The French gentleman thereupon wrote to my mother asking for news of my ... brother and informing her of the circumstances under which he left. For some time past my ... brother appears to have little or no recollection of the French gentleman in whose house he stayed. My ... brother was subsequently sent to a hospital in Boulogne suffering from rheumatic fever and towards the end of December 1914 he was invalided home to Ireland. My mother subsequently applied to have him discharged upon the grounds that at the time of his enlistment he was under age. As a result ... he was discharged in February 1915.

... Stewart H. Moir from early boyhood had very indifferent health. He was constantly troubled with indigestion and neuralgia causing frequent headaches. He was at times depressed and melancholy. At other times he was hysterical, excitable and irresponsible. He left school when he was fourteen years of age and consequently his education is very inadequate.

Shortly after he left school he ran away from home and made his way to New York and my father wired to the Immigration authorities in that City and had him deported. When he returned he could not give a connected account of his experiences from the time he left home.

After his discharge from the Army in February 1915 he remained at home where he was carefully looked after and about May 1915 his condition seemed to be so much improved that he joined the Officer Training Corps at the Queen's University, Belfast. After being there a month he was recommended for a commission and in or about July he was duly appointed as a sub-lieutenant in the Highland Light Infantry.

From the time that he received his commission down to the present moment he has been ill practically the whole time and his mental condition has been quite out of the normal.

Ever since the retreat from Mons his nerves appear to have been entirely shattered. During his stay in Belfast in September 1915 his memory was at times a perfect blank. He was most excitable and appeared to me not at all responsible for his actions. He would attempt to relate some experience through which he had passed and in the middle of the narration he would stop and ask me what he was telling me. He appeared to be quite unable to exercise his reasoning powers, in fact during the time referred to all his old ailments and eccentricities appeared in a much aggravated form.

[He] arrived home in Belfast on the 19th September 1915 and immediately on his arrival he informed us that he was home under Doctor's orders. He was certainly very much run down in health and I feel sure that he was under the impression that his absence from duties was quite in order. A few days after his arrival a letter came from a Major of the regiment to the effect that [he] should not be absent from his duties. [He] thereupon took the first available steamer back to Scotland. I am informed and believe that on his arrival in Scotland he was so ill that he was unable to proceed on his journey to his regiment and that he sought refuge in the house of his father's friend, Mr John Ferguson of 39, Park Drive, Whiteinch, where he was confined to bed.

During the last year [my brother's] actions here have been very strange. On one occasion without adequate cause he locked me in a bedroom at the top of my father's house. I was not released until one hour and a half had elapsed. In the meantime he had forgotten what he had done. On two other occasions within the past year I am informed and believe that he visited a Belfast Picture House ... while a war film was being exhibited. On both occasions his nerves completely over powered him. He got up to his feet and brandished his stick round his head and his companion had the greatest difficulty in getting him quieted down. On none of these occasions had he any drink taken.

I have two other brothers, viz.- George Moir and David Moir. ... George Moir at the outbreak of war was resident electrical engineer for Cradock, South Africa. He immediately joined the Union forces under General Botha and fought in German South West Africa to the termination of the Campaign, attaining the highest non-commissioned rank. ... David Moir immediately after the outbreak of war joined the North Irish Horse and was out at the front until he was invalided home with rheumatic fever. He returned to the front about last November and is there now.

Moir's doctor, Robert S Taggart of Woodleigh, Larne, wrote:

After his return from the front about December 1914 he was suffering from shell shock and there is no doubt that for some time past his mental capacity has been affected. During the time I had him under observation which period included his visit to Belfast in September 1915 he suffered to a great extent from loss of memory sometimes partial and at other times complete. During these lapses I have often observed that he did the most extraordinary and eccentric things totally regardless of where he was or what company he was in. In my opinion it will be a considerable time before his mental equilibrium is restored and I think that it is only right that these points should be taken into consideration in any proceedings that may arise against him.

Moir's own statement was:

I was born at Belfast on 1st February 1898 so I am now 17 years and 9 months. I was educated at the Belfast Mercantile College and left School when 14; after that I spent two years in Engineering shops in Belfast (Workman & Clarks). I went up for enlistment the day after war broke out and joined the North Irish Horse which was part of Carson's Army. I was attested on 10th August in A squadron as a trooper. The age I gave was 17 next birthday. I was only 16½.

I always liked horses and was a good rider. I had no barrack square training, and went off  to France with the regiment in a week, as soon as we got our equipment. We were sent up to the front at once, and I had altogether 5 months war service in France. The North Irish Horse was part of the protective cavalry in the retreat from Mons. We suffered an awful lot for we were engaged in a rear and flank guard action most of the time.

Early in September 1914 (I don't remember the date) I was cut off at a bridge along with another man, when we were doing flank guard and a patrol of Uhlans captured us. This was near Soissons. That same night the Uhlans were engaged by the Suffolks and I managed to escape, I hardly know how.

I cannot tell much of what happened after that. I had been injured and had had hardly any sleep for days and was sore and exhausted from having been riding and fighting so long.

I think I made my way towards a French Infantry Brigade North East of Paris and returned to Paris with some wounded Frenchmen. I am told that I collapsed by the roadside and was picked up by an American lady in a motor car and was taken to the home of a French gentleman and nursed. That part of the time is so indistinct that I hardly know anything about it. In October I know I was in a hospital in Paris and was sent back to the fighting line the same month. I was doing general Mounted Duties again there for some weeks in the rain and mud. Then I took rheumatic fever and was sent to hospital in Boulogne. I was very ill there, but was allowed out at the end of December and was sent on sick leave to Ireland.

After I got back home my mother wouldn't hear of my going back again. She asked for my discharge on account of my age and I got it in the beginning of February. I was still weak then, and had to lie quiet for a long time at home. It took weeks before I felt anything like right and on and off I was getting only a little sleep at night. I improved in Spring and after a few months began to feel that I wanted to go back again to the fighting. I worried my mother so much that at last she agreed to my joining the O.T.C. at Queen's University, Belfast. I had been only there a month when the Commandant recommended me for a Commission and I got one in the beginning of July. I had applied for a Scots Regiment because my people had been Scots.

I went to Glasgow to the School of Instruction on 5th July and was on duty only 10 days when I fell ill. It was the fever back again and I was vomiting blood and shaking all over. I had to go into Stobhill Hospital and was let out on sick leave on 31st July. I went home and was ill all the time there and shouldn't really have left Belfast when my leave was up on the 13th August. I went to Stobs Camp to join the 13th H.L.I. and from that time till now I have hardly felt right a single day. I have always buzzing in my head and I can't sleep at night except in short snatches. I often feel shaky too and ready to do peculiar things. I know I alarmed my people at home several times without meaning it.

The first charge is that I was absent from 28th September till 7th October. This was the time after my second sick leave to Ireland. It seems that I hadn't the proper authority to go home on 19th September although I really believed that I was obeying the doctor's orders in going home. But when I had been three days home I got a letter (I think it was from Major Johnson) which showed that they hadn't given me the proper permission. So I packed up and took the first boat back. It was fearfully stormy and I was as sick as could be and could hardly walk ashore. All my old illness came back and I was almost raving. I found my way to the house of a friend of my father's there Mr John Ferguson, 39, Park Drive, Whiteinch. Most of the time I stayed with him I was in bed. It was about a fortnight before I could travel back. I am sorry now that I did not get hold of an Army Doctor in Glasgow but I was too ill to bother, and I thought that the Officers at Stobs knew how bad I was.

The second charge is that I escaped from arrest on 13th October. That isn't true. I didn't try to escape and never thought of doing it. I was just taking exercise on my motor bicycle that afternoon. The Guard and I were riding round the lines and as my bicycle needed repairing I thought there would be no harm in my going down to the shop in Harwick. I made no preparations, just went off on the spur of the moment, and never thought there was anything wrong in it. When I reached Harwick I saw Major Neilson. I didn't try to dodge him. He spoke to me and as soon as he told me to go back to Camp I got on my bicycle and went. I was out only for about half-an-hour.

The third charge says that I was wandering about in Richmond for 4 hours with my escort. I hardly remember anything about this evening. It was one of the times in which my mind was almost a blank. I know that I was allowed to take exercise and that I didn't know anything about the countryside and Pte. Wilson didn't either. We went too far and got lost in the darkness. We wandered about a lot until we were both tired and I was lame. I had given Wilson my waterproof to wear as he had none and I had a greatcoat. I remember my foot being very sore and wanting to get whiskey to rub on it, but I hardly know anything else that happened that night. I didn't want whiskey to drink and don't believe I drank any.

Except for the time I served in France I have not done more than a month's duty in the last 17 months. I have had no lectures on discipline or on Army Act or the King's Regulations, and I have never attended a Battalion or Company Orderly Room for Instruction.

I am sorry I asked [for] a Commission last June for I see now I hadn't recovered enough. I have been wanting to resign for the last month or so.

Moir's continuing illness – neurasthenia, gastritis and appendicitis – eventually led to the court martial not taking place. Instead he was asked to resign his commission, which he did on 2 March 1916.

Soon after, Moir sailed from Liverpool for New York, but must have returned, for on 12 April 1917 he enlisted at Belfast City Hall in the Royal Flying Corps as a 3rd air mechanic (No.75671), giving his age as 19 and his occupation as a marine engineer.

It appears that he then trained as an officer, for on 14 June 1917 he was "Convicted at Aldershot Police Court on a charge of theft of three £1 notes, and ordered to refund the three £1 notes, and bound over in the sum of £5 on his own recognizances to be of good behaviour for twelve months" and a month later he was discharged, "his services being no longer required, he having been found unsuitable to hold a commission." He may however have continued in the ranks of the RFC (then the RAF).

At some point after the war Moir again emigrated to the United States. He served in the US Navy in World War 2. He died on 3 June 1997, at the age of 99, and was buried in the Williams Memorial Park, Roanoke, Virginia.


Williams Memorial Park, Roanoke, Roanoke City, Virginia, USA


Moir's two brothers also served in the war: George Harris Moir ("the well-known Cliftonville centre-forward") in the South African Defence Forces and as a captain in the Royal Air Force, and David Watson Moir, in the North Irish Horse.


Image of Moir, from the Belfast Evening Telegraph, kindly provided by Nigel Henderson, Researcher at History Hub Ulster ( Gravestone image sourced from the Find-a-Grave website.