Letters and obituaries

Letter to Canon Steward from Lt. Col. Mac Neece

9th Balloon Section, B.E.7.

6th October, 1917

It is my very sad duty to have to tell you that your son, Lieut. A.A. Steward was killed about 1 am this morning.

The four officers of the Section were sleeping in a big dug-out, which would have been proof against anything except a direct hit.   Early this morning there was some desultory shelling around the Camp, and one of them came right through the roof of the dug-out, exploding on the floor.Of the four officers inside, one beside your son was killed: and like him – painlessly and instantaneously: another was severely wounded.   While the fourth escaped with a very bad shaking.

They are being buried today, and I will write to tell you of the exact place.

I have written very shortly and simply of the crude facts as they happened; for I know from experience in my own home, the desolation that such a letter brings, and that no words that can be written ease it.

It would be impertinence for me to speak of his good qualities to those who must have known him far better – yet it may be some little consolation to you to realise how fully these were appreciated by those amongst whom he lived in the final phases of his life.   Many people show bravery nowadays, and of course your son was one of them: but there must be few who carry about with them in face, manner, speech and living such an appeal to universal liking and respect.

I would have written to your daughter-in-law, but I could not take this responsibility.   I need hardly say if there is anything I can do in this respect, how gladly I will do it.

With the most respectful regret and sympathy of my officers and myself.   Please believe me.

Yours sincerely,

W.F. Mac Neece


The Times, October 16, 1917.

 Second Lieutenant A.A. Steward, R.F.A. attached R.F.C., who was killed on October 6th, was the younger son of Canon Steward of Boynton Rectory, Codford, Wilts, and the late Mrs. Steward.   He was educated at Wellington and Magdalen College, Oxford.   He held a commission in the Norfolk Militia during the South African War, in which he saw active service.  He was subsequently ordained by the Archbishop of York to a curacy in Hull, and at the outbreak of the war was on the staff of St. Mary’s, Johannesburg.   He returned to England, offered his services as a combatant officer, and was given a commission in 1915 in the R.F.A., proceeding to the front in April, 1916.   He was transferred recently to the R.F.C. as an observation officer.   He married in 1912 Miriam, third daughter of the late S.H. Carver of Alexandria, and of Mrs. Carver of The Moot, Downton, and leaves three daughters.

Norfolk Chronicle.

 Saxlingham Nethertgate.   The Rev. Arthur Amyot Steward, grandson of Mr. Edward Steward of Saxlingham Hall and younger son of Canon Steward of Salisbury, was killed in his dugout by a shell about midnight, Oct. 6th.   Educated at Wellington and Magdalen College, Oxford, he held a commission in the Norfolk Militia through the Boer War.   After holding a public appointment in O.R.C. he took Holy Orders, being ordained by the Archbishop of York, eventually returning to South Africa to work in Johannesburg.   Having been a keen member of the O.T.C. at Oxford, and seen active service in Africa he determined at the outbreak of war to return to England to offer his services s a combatant officer.   He was at once given a commission in the R.F.A., in which he has been serving at the Front for 18 months in the recent battles in Flanders.   At the time of his death he was doing balloon work as an observation officer.   He was married, and leaves a wife and three young daughters.

From the President of Magdalen College.

I do indeed remember your dear boy well as most bright and engaging child, a delightful dutiful lad, and then a most promising and attractive young man, gallant and faithful soldier for both King and Country and for the cause of our Church and his master Christ.

I think he has set a signal example.   I remember well how good his sober strong influence here was when he came back a second time.   “Killed in his sleep” you say:  Truly a peaceful end:  “He was not, for God took him” –took him, we must trust and try to realize, to some other higher duty for Himself.

I need not tell you how fond and proud we were of him.

A very old friend – widow of a former headmaster of Hailebury who had known us all for many years writes:

His was a most simple, strong, radiant nature – really if any of us are xxx swift passing from life in which indeed there were both beauty and mercy xxx.

I cannot forget how he instigated a little visit from G. and myself to his rooms to climb the Magdalen Tower with him on May Day, 1911.   It was the most beautiful one of the past 30 years and a ‘vision’ to think over.

It was our privilege to know Arthur from a child onwards.   He was so sweet to my father and to all old people – and the poor always.

His uncle, Campbell Steward, who died a few weeks later wrote:

Foff was a darling as a child, frank and free as a boy, gay and debonair as he grew up, and I believe true to the backbone throughout.   Had I a son I should have hoped that he would have no better sample than the blend of Foffy and Bunny.   Personally I envy him his life and dare to grudge him his death.

The late Principal of Wells Theological College wrote:

He was one of the most attractive men I have known.   He was one of my best friends at Oxford and later at Wells.

Arthur’s friend writes:

I like to think of Arthur’s wonderful outlook and appearance and whenever I disagreed with him he forced my admiration by the fearlessness with which he applied his principles.   I can understand how he would not allow personal considerations to influence him when they were divergent from service claims.

That he served his religion and Church better by his action in taking combatant service than by obeying orders, I have no shadow of doubt.   Don’t you think it probable that in the future this action of his and others may be one of the holds which the Church will have on the minds of the people.

Archbishop of York to Miriam, his wife:

He, more than most, gave his life when he might honorably have kept it.   There is nothing lacking in the steadfastness of his self-sacrifice.   I commend the dear boy to the Love of God and with him, you and your children.   You will always believe that death cannot break the bonds of love – though his part is beyond sight and touch – that his love for you will reach across the barrier.

From Major Tweedie:  336 Brigade, R.F.A.                                              Oct 19, 1917

Being as I was in the same Battery with him for a year, I knew him pretty well and had a great admiration for him.   He was always cheerful in the worst circumstances and whenever there was a nasty bit of work on he would volunteer for it.   He was a great favourite with us all.   I had recommended him to be Captain of the Battery, and if I had not left it I might have persuaded him not to go to R.F.C.

No one could help liking him.   He was my favourite of all the many officers I have had under me in this war.

From the Archbishop of York (to his father)

Arthur was, in a sense, one of my own sons for I ordained him a priest.   I think, as I write, of the bright affectionate boy whom I knew and loved at our dear Magdalen 24 years ago, of his confirmation, of his days here at Bishopthorpe both before and after his ordination.   It was wonderful to watch the growth of the schoolboy and chorister of old days to the fine chivalrous young priest and then the brave and devoted soldier of whom his colonel could write those true words which you have sent to me.   Truly in full unrestricted measure he gave his life for his country – more than most – he might quite honourably have kept his life.   But, as we know, he couldn’t withhold the offer of it.   You will be proud of him in your sorrow.   God rest his gallant soul and train him for further higher service in His Kingdom!

But these memories make my sympathy with you very specially real and true.   Your life now must needs be much centred ‘beyond the veil’ – wife, daughters and now your Arthur.   How intolerable human life would be without the consolation of that waiting life, where all is made good!

Forgive all these imperfect words – you know they come from my heart.   God keep and strengthen you.

Webb, Oxford.

I remember him as one of our Magdalen choristers over twenty years ago and then as an undergraduate of the College when he came up from Wellington in 1902.   Between his two spells of undergraduate life I had married and when he returned to us in 1909 he was often at our house.  It was with great interest that I heard some time ago from the Archbishop of York that he felt bound to release him from his service as a clergyman to become a combatant in what most of us feel to be the cause not only of our country but of international righteousness and of the cause of freedom.  And now he has won his place among the great company of Magdalen men who have given their lives for their country.

From a Fellow of Magdalen

I knew him well when he was here and appreciated him highly.   It has seemed as if this war took special toll of those of whom we thought best and from whom one was entitled to hope for most in the future.

One of the Senior Masters at Wellington writes:

As his old tutor I have the happiest recollections of him.   He was always one of my best friends.   He had such a bright and sunny nature and I know that these qualities must have served him in good stead in the eventful an self-sacrificing life he has since led.   Of him, if of any one, we may surely say “Having served his own generation by the will of God, he fell asleep” (Acts XIII)

From a Fellow of Merton

I met your son years ago at Oxford, when he was an undergraduate at Magdalen and I a fellow at Merton.   I was immensely attracted to him then and thought he was a type of young Englishman of whom we all could be proud.

From a Fellow of Magdalen

I had no certain knowledge that he was at the Front, but I was convinced that the same high and unselfish spirit which led him to offer himself in the South African War would take him to the fighting line in this great struggle, and more so perhaps than he had since consecrated his life to the fight for good against evil.   There was always something about him which differentiated him from the ordinary undergraduate.

It seems natural that he should be found wherever a blow was to be struck for the right.   He has got his reward, but it must be hard for those who loved him to realise it.

From an old friend

I saw so much of the four children during those happy visits to Sarum.   You know how I loved their mother.   I have a letter she wrote to me after she and Muriel had been to Oxford, which I call a “Magdalen Rhapsody”  – telling of Arthur plunging into the river after a football, and then singing most beautifully for the Christmas practice.

These letters and obituaries are printed with the courtesy of his granddaughter, Ann Lunn