b. 11/04/1876 Pietmaritzburg, South Africa. d. 1932 Durban, South Africa.
DATE OF AM ACTION: 15/11/1899 Chieveley Station, Natal, South Africa.
Little is known about Alexander Stewart, born on 11th April 1876, son of Alexander and Mary Jane Stewart (nee Hollington). He began working for the Natal Government Railways at the age of 14, having been made an orphan. On 10th July 1900 he married Ada Florence Yeoman at St Peter’s Cathedral in Pietermaritzburg. They would have five children. Following the incident both Stewart and Charles Wagner continued working for the railways and their gallantry was not recognised until the intervention of Winston Churchill who witnessed the incident. When he became Home Secretary one of his duties was to advise on awards of the Albert Medal. As Churchill stated “I have had, in the last four years, the advantage, if it be an advantage, of many strange and varied experiences. But nothing was so thrilling as this: to wait and struggle among these clanging, rending iron boxes, with the repeated explosions of the shells and the artillery, the grunting and puffing of the engine – poor, tortured thing, hammered by at least a dozen shells, any one of which by penetrating the boiler, might have made an end to it all…”
“When in 1910 I was Home Secretary, it was my duty to advise the King upon the awards of the Albert Medal. I therefore revived the old records, communicated with the Governor of Natal and the railway company, and ultimately both the driver and his fireman received the highest reward for gallantry open to civilians.”
On the loth November, 1899, near Chieveley Station, in Natal, an armoured train which had been sent out on patrol was intercepted by the Boers and three carriages were thrown off the line. These vehicles lay between the rest of the train and the track over which it must travel on its homeward journey, and until they were removed the train, the engine and its escort— about 150 men—were exposed to a severe converging fire of rifles and artillery from the surrounding hills. The sole means by which the line could be cleared was the engine, which moving to and fro butted at the wreckage until after about 50 minutes’ work it was heaved and pushed off the track. The part played by the driver of the engine, Charles Wagner, and by the fireman, Alexander James Stewart, was therefore indispensable to the rescue of the wounded with whom the engine and its tender became crowded. The working of the engine itself was a difficult matter, because at each collision with the wreckage at which it was butting it might easily have been derailed. The danger was exceptional. The heavy fire of shells and bullets inflicted many casualties, and more than one quarter of all in the train were killed or wounded. The shells repeatedly struck the engine and at any moment might have exploded the boiler. The driver, a civilian, under no military code, was wounded severely in the scalp by a shell-splinter almost immediately. Although -in great pain he did not fail during the whole of this affair to manage his engine skilfully, and by clearing the line saved from death and wounds a proportion at least of the 50 or 60 persons who effected their escape upon the engine and its tender. Both the driver and his fireman are still in the service of the Natal Government Railways.
BURIAL LOCATION: UNKNOWN.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD AT DNW IN MAY 2018 FOR £32,000.
Dix Noonan Webb – Image of the Alexander Stewart AM Medal Group.