Warrant Officer Class 1 RSM Alfred Stewart

  • Africa Star medal
  • Italy Star medal
  • France and Germany Star medal
  • Mentioned in Despatches medal

Alfred Stewart was born on 25 March 1905 in Mirfield, Yorkshire. His parents were William Albert Stewart and Emily Clara Stewart. 

In early 1924, Alfred found out that his girlfriend, Gladys Barrowclough, was pregnant. At the age of only 19, and with his first child having just been born, he decided to leave and join the army rather than stay. He enlisted on February 12, 1925, and joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Regiment (KOYLI), seeing service on the North West Frontier of India. But Geoffrey Stewart (Patrick's elder brother) was born as an illegitimate child on January 28, 1925, just two weeks before Alfred left. Gladys was forced to take Alfred to court for maintenance on May 15, 1925, and Alfred was the family's main provider ever since, ordered to give "10 shillings and no pence per week" to Gladys. He had to attend the court date and whilst there acknowledged that Geoffrey was his son. Perhaps not knowing this, Geoffrey grew up thinking Alfred was not his father, resulting in a "sourness" towards him (according to Patrick). Whether Alfred joined the army to escape his responsibilities or merely to earn a living is up for debate.

By 1932, Alfred held the rank of Lance Corporal in the regimental police. This was a position that held a lot of power but which made Alfred unpopular; he may have been selected for the role because of his ability to intimidate people. Alfred left the KOYLI in 1933 and married Gladys to support his family properly. Their second son, Trevor, was born in 1935.

However, Alfred was later recalled to the Army on the outbreak of war and joined the 2nd/4th (Territorial) Battalion of the KOYLI. When the TA was mobilised, this battalion was sent to join the BEF in France in 1940 with the 138th Infantry Brigade, but they were expected to dig ditches and build railway lines behind the front lines. They arrived in France on April 27,1940 with this role still in their minds. However, with the Nazis advancing through the Ardennes in May, Alfred's battalion was sent to the front in Belgium. They never got there. A soldier from his battalion kept a diary of the journey:

"All day we passed train after train full of Belgian troops with artillery and machine guns travelling in the opposite direction to us. They grinned at us and made gestures of throat cutting pointing in the direction we were going. Everyone [was] wondering what it all meant". 

As the Battalion drew up to Abbeville near the border, they realised the Germans were already there and the town was being bombed. The train was stopped and the soldiers forced to get out. They crossed the Somme Canal by a bridge "and disappeared in the fields from where they had an excellent view of modern war at its foulest". While they hid, bombs blew apart cows and trees which were flung over the train. They saw refugees leaving Abbeville along the Canal - "it was pitiful to see them" according to one KOYLI soldier. These refugee columns were deliberately bombed by the Nazis. After their train conductor left with their train, the 2nd/4th men had no choice but to march to the coast back along the line. They passed the carcass of a hospital train and saw two children lying dead in the grass. Patrick remembers a story his father told of encountering a bombed out train which sounded similar: "there was a woman's hand hanging out with a ring on her finger...sometime later coming back up the train he saw that the hand was still there but the finger that had the ring on it was gone". Alfred was disgusted and enraged by this. While Patrick could not be sure this story was from the retreat from Abbeville, it appears to fit. 

After retreating to the sea, Alfred was part of the fighting withdrawal from France and was one of the last to leave. He was evacuated from Cherbourg on June 17, hours before it fell and three days after the Nazis had entered Paris. He returned home traumatised by the manner in which the Nazis conducted the war, despite being an 8 year veteran of the British Army. He had also been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He related his experiences to the Mirfield and District Reporter which stated "the brutality of the Germans against civilian refugee children has left a deeper impression [on Alfred] than anything else of his experiences". He had no rest for three weeks and hardly any food. It continues, "nearby bomb explosion gave him shell shock from which he still suffers". This would now be referred to as a mixture of combat stress and PTSD and was probably the result of multiple incidents, not just one. At the time, it was seen as a mark of shame and weakness. At the end of the Second World War, there were 22,000 ex-servicemen in psychiatric hospitals. Patrick later noted that his father never talked about his time with the BEF besides his story about the train. 

By 1942, Alfred held the rank of Company Sergeant Major and was listed as being stationed in Grimsby with the KOYLI on May 25. He was then on various forms of leave until he was transferred to the 30th Battalion of the Green Howards on 2 August. After being posted to the No.1 Infantry Base Depot on September 4, Alfred embarked for North Africa on November 25. He disembarked in Algiers on December 6, 1942. On 7 March 1943, he was posted to the No.3 Corps Reinforcement Unit. 

On December 11, 1943, Alfred transferred to the 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade whilst based with the British North Africa Force and was posted to HQ, retaining the rank of Warrant Officer 2. He completed his Parachute Course in Sicily. This made him a paratrooper at the age of 38. Shortly after this he took part in a publicity stunt to promote joining the Paras, parachuting in to play a game of football with his team.

In August 1944, he jumped into the South of France for Operation Dragoon, serving as the Company Sergeant Major, Defence Platoon, in the Brigade Headquarters. He was with around 30 men tasked with defending HQ. He served with Dick Hargreaves, a company commander of the 4th Battalion, who later told Patrick about what happened:

"We left Rome at one o'clock in the morning and flew for four hours in the dark...there was a ground mist and when we came in over the sea we had some light ack-ack from the German coastal batteries and...we all thought we were jumping in the sea. But your father [Alfred] and Brigade headquarters all landed in the proper dropping zone

They had landed in the town of Le Muy just after 4 AM. Their objective was to secure Le Mitan, a small village, for use by Brigade headquarters. Le Mitan later held a POW camp, formerly a chicken run, which Alfred was involved in guarding. 

He took part in Operation Manna in Greece in the October of that year, before embarking for the UK on December 26, 1944. On his return to the UK he was posted to the 2nd Para Bn as acting RSM on January 9, helping to rebuild and rehabilitate the Battalion following Arnhem. He was promoted to an acting Warrant Officer Class 1 at the same time. He remained in this role until his discharge on July 18, 1945. Patrick reflected on the pastoral duties his father had adopted:

"It hit me strongly that my father, who up til then had not been much of a father figure to his children, was taking on the responsibility of being a father figure to hundreds of men...The picture I am beginning to get if of someone very focused and not, um, chaotic as sometimes he could be in later life". 

He was released to the British Army reserve on November 11 1945 and a stamp on his service record from after 1950 states "attained the age of 45 no further liability for recall". On November 29, 1945, Alfred was mentioned in despatches "in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Italy".

A few months after the Dunkirk/Cherbourg evacuation (13 July 1940) Patrick Stewart was born. He did not see his father until the end of the war, five years later. He recalled: "I was indulged and spoiled and petted and loved during those five years. All of that changed dramatically when this man [Alfred] appeared, in many respects not for the better, either. At weekends, when he had been drinking, he could get very angry". However, Patrick pointed out that he was never hit by Alfred, even when he intervened to stop his father hitting his mother by placing himself between them.

Patrick states that Alfred did abuse Gladys however - "he hit her, he threw things at her. Sometimes we had to call an ambulance". Nevertheless, he continues, "she adored my father...later on, my brother and I discussed with her, you know, leaving him, but there was no question of it. I think she really loved him". 

Patrick stated of his father's wartime career "his war service found him a superstar. And I'm told he was very very good at his job...it was having left all that behind him that made him, at times, a pretty unhappy individual". His brother Trevor concurred when speaking to Patrick: "life wasn't all that much fun with him was it? But we didn't know any of this [relating to Alfred's PTSD] so we couldn't qualify his treatment of us...we just took it for what it was...it might've eased life for both of us had he been able to talk about this". 

Alfred Stewart died in 1980. He left his medals to the Airborne Forces Museums, Aldershot in a bequest. 

Compiled with information from:

Wikitree Alfred George Stewart 

Whodoyouthinkyouaremagazine article on Patrick Stewart

Who Do You Think You Are? Episode with Patrick Stewart

Airborne Assault Archive Box number 2.D.2 29.1.14

London Gazette

Original museum display and Paradata article written by Bob Hilton

Paradata article later lost and rewritten by Alex Walker


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Service History

  • 1925
    King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Lance Corporal)
  • 1939
    Company Sergeant Major (CSM) 2nd/4th Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Warrant Officer Class 2)
  • 1942
    Company Sergeant Major (CSM) 30th Battalion Green Howards (Warrant Officer Class 2)
  • 1943
    Company Sergeant Major (CSM) HQ 2nd Parachute Brigade (Warrant Officer Class 2)
  • 1945
    Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) 2nd Parachute Battalion (Warrant Officer Class 1)


RSM Alfred George Stewart

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  • RSM Alfred Stewart's medals displayed in the Airborne Assault Museum

    RSM Alfred Stewart's medals displayed in the Airborne Assault Museum

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