Lieutenant-Colonel Neil Graham Stewart-Richardson

 

 

Neil Graham Stewart-Richardson was born at 23 Ainslie Place, Edinburgh, on 23 October 1881, third son of James Thomas Stewart-Richardson, 14th Baronet, of Pitfour Castle, Perthshire, and his wife Harriet Georgina Alice Stewart-Richardson (formerly Cochrane).

He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst.

On 8 January 1901 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and two months later joined the 2nd Battalion,Seaforth Highlanders. He served with the regiment in South Africa from April 1901 to January 1903. He was promoted to lieutenant on 7 May 1904.

In June 1905 he was seconded for service with the Colonial Office, Serving in the Gold Coast West Africa Frontier Field Force until he fell ill with malaria. He returned home in August 1909.

He rejoined his regiment on 25 March 1911 and three months later was seconded for duty as Extra Aide de Camp to Lord Denman, the Governor-General of Australia. He embarked for Melbourne on 27 June 1911, returning home the following June and rejoining the Seaforth Highlanders. On 12 October 1911 he had been promoted to the rank of captain.

At the beginning of 1913 Stewart-Richardson fell ill with diabetes and he was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital for Officers at Osborne. On 16 April that year he resigned his commission on account of ill-health.

Stewart-Richardson moved to Ireland, becoming land agent to Viscount Massereene at his family residence at Antrim Castle. He played a prominent role in the activities of Antrim's Ulster Volunteer Force. Massereene was in command of the South Antrim UVF's 3rd Battalion, while Stewart-Richardson was his adjutant, taking a leading role in training the men. He was also known as an accomplished cricketer, being the Muckamore Cricket Club's leading batsman.

Immediately on the outbreak of war Stewart-Richardson applied for a commission in the North Irish Horse. He was appointed lieutenant on 11 August 1914 and embarked for France with C Squadron ten days later. He saw action during the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne, sending a number of colourful letters to acquaintances which were published in local newspapers:

We are now in the middle of the biggest fight of the lot. This is the fifth day of it, and it is getting what I call a little stale. If I was managing director I should be inclined to take off a piece. The artillery firing is something hellish. This division is up against the front and centre position, and the result is not cheering to watch, there being a lot of casualties. It’s the Irish Brigade here – Belfast and Dublin – and they have had a bad time. Our job is rather slack at present while this is on, chiefly sitting up and allowing them to put lyddite into or near us. We have had to clear pretty quick more than once during the last day or two. Yesterday we lost two men. We are sitting about a mile and a half from the centre of the German position. There is a brigade across the road by the river, and they have a maxim which has to be approached most circumspectly. I believe the other divisions and the French are getting well round on our right and left. We really had an amusing time in the run back from Belgium in chasing Uhlans, who invariably ran away. I had to stop writing for half an hour, as they visited us with lyddite, and I had to shift horses and men.
(Letter dated 16 September 1914, published in the Belfast News-Letter, 9 October)

Just a line to tell you we are well and cheery, and enjoying life as much as we can. We have had a fairly hard time in the way of work, and some very unpleasant spots – plenty to eat and drink. In fact, we have done ourselves very well. We got to ------ on the day of the 'scrap' there, and joined in the general run back, which was pretty useful. (A passage here has been deleted by the censor.) After they had formed up in their positions again we went on retreating, and we had rather good fun with the Uhlans who followed. They hunted us with artillery and machine guns and men in motors. The Uhlans are just about my line. They run like scalded cats when they see you, and are always in close formation as if they were frightened to separate. I had a grand hunt after twenty – only five of us – and we got four dead and picked up two men afterwards. We came on them round the corner of a street, and they went like hunted deer, so we galloped after them, the men shooting behind on their horses, a most dangerous proceeding to me, but very amusing. Next morning I got four more, so we had a good day’s work. We keep bumping into them everywhere. I have got a very nice sword from one of them, which I use. Alex. West got an officer and a man in single combat at ------ He took them on by himself, and shot them both at ten yards, and got four shots into his horse. He came on them round a corner, too. Chance meetings like these are exciting. We went back to ------, and for some reason the noble foe bolted back, and we hunted them. We joined with the 5th Lancers one day, and got into an awful holw at ------ We crossed the river, getting up on the heights with a troop, and there was a battery just going into action 800 yards away. We had to get down into the town. We were joined by two other troops and one of the 5th. To get away back all of us had to gallop down the road with two companies of infantry.

We had only two men hit and four horses, and the 5th had one man and three horses. I have never seen such bad shooting. After that we had the open to cross, and they gave us a real taste of shrapnel. I saw one of the enemy's batteries wiped out next day, with about eighty dead lying in the trenches and a lot of wounded. At ------ there were a lot of dead about – a rather foul sight. We then came on to here, when they halted us up for twelve days. We got in here with the 5th Lancers and the 12th, and we were shelled with melignite on the Sunday, and then went back to ------, and have had work on various days on observation while the battle proceeds. To-day things seem quieter here. There has not been so much firing, and none at us. I have been here since five this morning. Had to stop, as no sooner had I written the above than they started with melignite again on an English property just here. Forty shells have gone in, and the place is blazing. There is no one there, and it is simply to destroy property. The French are getting around well on the left and right, and we have replused every attack night and day, and all prisoners taken are fed up, so things, I think, look rosy. So far as we can see, the next stand will be on the Meuse. When they advanced they left a lot of men and ‘spares’ to put this position on the Aisne into a state of defence, and mounted those hellish big guns, 11-inch howitzers, on an old French fort. I saw one of their shells take eleven men and nine horses at one go. One man sitting on the roadside had his head taken off, and his body remained sitting there. The Zouaves got away from their officers on our left the other day, and attacked on their own, and came back with several losses and a lot of trophies, such as heads, &c.
(Late September 1914, published in the Belfast News-Letter, 9 October)

Just received your post card. First letters we've had. Very sorry to hear of result of Cup. Had great hopes for you all. If all's well we'll have a go next year at it. We've been having a terrible time in the way of casualties in our division. Ourselves have been lucky, but we've been in some corners we ought never to have got out of. Artillery fire is hellish, and the last week we've been up against 9.7 guns with 90lb melinite shells. I saw one get 11 men and 9 horses at one go, all blown to bits. Another gun team of 6 horses and 3 men absolute mince meat. They got the horse I was standing by two days ago, but except for kicks and dust and filth I was all right. We've had some grand hunts after Uhlans, and have bagged a good number to our credit. So far we've not lost many men, about 15 killed and wounded, but it's a lot for our job. This battle has been going on for 9 days now, and the Germans have 300,000 men, a front of 120 miles, and they are now practically cut off on the north; so two days or so ought to see something decisive. We've lost a good many, but if we catch this lot its worth it. Best luck to all, and give my regards to all U.V.F., especially my cricket pals.
(Letter dated 20 September 1914 to Mr. A. Reid, vice-captain of the Muckamore Cricket Club, published in the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 10 October 1914)

Here we are in the land of frogs and honey, and ladies; but there are plenty of frogs, no honey, and no women. We have had a h--- of a time the last three weeks or a month, and have had to run like h--- with 400,000 Germans against only 70,000 British [To start with, our casualties are nearly 30,000, I should say, killed and wounded, &c.]  The shellfire is absolute Hades. We’ve been at it day in, day out, and have never slept in the same place two nights running. The beggars started to run on the 5th and 6th, and we’ve been after them ever since. This battle here started five days ago, and it is at its height now. I've been here all day with my troop, and we’ve been shelled since daylight with lyddite, and have to keep moving the horses every now and then. The average at the moment is about a shell every minute, but all are going over us by about 100 yards, so one does not mind so much; but it’s a nerve-racking business, I can tell you. I am relieved at 8 to-night, and go back about three miles to my quarters; but the devils have started shelling at night all along the ridge, so it’s warm work getting home, even in the dark. We are longing for your Australian troops and Canadians [&c.,] to arrive, as our fellows have done the best part of 300 miles in 15 days – and fighting a good bit of the time. But since we turned on the brutes the feelings of the men have bucked up. [But they’ve had a terrible knocking in this division all the way; the division has lost the best part of 6,500 men since the start – that is, roughly, out of 12,000 fighting men.]
(Letter dated 16 September 1914 to Mr George Lorimer of Melbourne, published in The Register (Adelaide) and The Argus (Melbourne), on 18 November. I have used the Register's version, with additional words from the Argus in square brackets.)

Here we are, hard at it, and very well. We’ve given the dirty Allemanders h---. To-day I’ve been out on patrol and observation, and the blighters are running. At least, I saw a lot of their transport moving back. I hear we’ve caught old von Kluck, the general, to-day; but I don’t get back till late, so can’t say if true or not yet. We are thoroughly enjoying ourselves, in a way.This is the eighteenth day of this little battle.
(Letter dated 29 September 1914 to Mr George Lorimer of Melbourne, published in The Register (Adelaide), on 18 November.

On 15 November 1914 Stewart-Richardson left C Squadron for urgent dental treatment in England. On 4 January 1915 he reported for duty at the North Irish Horse reserve at Antrim. He remained there through 1915 and 1916, taking command of H Squadron and training the new recruits. According to a report in The Argus (Melbourne) of 26 June 1915:

It will interest the many friends he made whilst out here as aide-de-camp to Lord Denman to learn that Captain Neil Stuart-Richardson, since fighting his way back from the Marne, where he was invalided from an injury to the shoulder, has been stationed at Antrim Castle. He is suffering from three broken ribs, but is otherwise fit and well, working on a new squadron of the North Irish Horse, which he says are the ‘next for shaving,’ or rather the next to go to France.

He was promoted to captain on 6 February 1915 and major on 30 August that year.

In 1917 he was attached to the 1/4 Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, joining it in Egypt. From 19 November 1917 he commanded the battalion, with the rank of acting lieutenant-colonel. He played an active role in the offensive that led to the capture of Jerusalem on 9 December, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order. He was also mentioned in General Sir Edmund Allenby's despatch of 3 April 1918.

In April 1918 Stewart-Richardson's battalion moved France. Here he fell foul of the Brigadier General of the 155th Brigade, who complained that he lacked the "organising power" to instill "a proper standard of discipline" in his battalion. His divisional commander agreed, though writing in his defence that "during the advance and fighting from Gaza to Jerusalem he commanded his battalion with great credit" and that it was a lack of training in organisational skills that had handicapped him.

It was decided to attach Stewart-Richardson to a battalion as second-in-command to test his suitability in that role, but on 12 June 1918 he slipped and fell into a shell hole, spraining his ankle. He was evacuated to England for treatment. While there it was recommended that he attend a course at the Senior Officers School, Aldershot.

However an administrative oversight led to his being ordered to proceed to France to rejoin his regiment – the North Irish Horse. He embarked at Southampton and joined the regiment in the field six days later.

On 21 October he was detached for duty with the Assistant Provost Marshal, V Corps, and on 17 November was posted to the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers. On 28 May 1919 he was posted to the 164th Prisoner of War Company.

A report dated 8 January 1919 stated that:

He possesses considerable ability; is a very capable officer; and tactful in dealing with all ranks.

Stewart-Richardson was demobilised on 24 November 1919 and resigned his commission on 1 April 1920.

He was staying at Antrim Castle in 1922 when it was destroyed by fire, reports stating that he saved the lives of Viscountess Massereene and her two children, tying sheets together before lowering them down to the roof of the chapel.

In 1924 Stewart-Richardson married Alexandra Ralli at St Margaret's, Westminster. He died in London on 23 February 1934.

 

Stewart-Richardson lost his two brothers in the war. Captain Sir Edward Austin of the Black Watch died of wounds on 28 November 1914, and 2nd Lieutenant John Lauderdale of the Coldstream Guards was killed on 17 May 1916.

 

The local UVF hierarchy at Antrim Castle during Sir Edward Carson's review of the South Antrim UVF in April 1914. Stewart-Richardson is on the viewer's left, standing. Viscount Massereene is seated far right.

 

 

The first image was kindly provided by David Ralli and Peter Stewart-Richardson. Alvin McCaig provided the second image, as well as some of the information on Stewart-Richardson's life in Antrim. The third image was sourced from www.bygonedays.net.