A BRIEF RECAP.  In 1912, highly respected Dr John Stewart  shocked everyone by deserting his wife and family in Perth, W.A.  He bought a practice in  Bangalow, N.S.W.  and for two and a half years lived there  quietly  with his mistress, Muriel Meallin.  Muriel was known to the community as the doctor’s charming young wife, Mrs Stewart. In September 1914  Annie Stewart tracked down her husband and divorce papers were served.  A month later the doctor  enlisted as Major in the  medical corps of the A.I.F and sailed to Egypt on the medical ship Kyarra.  Once there he transferred to the 12th Battalion as Regimental Medical Officer. Meanwhile, Muriel sailed for England.  Major Stewart expected to be sent to France. The couple planned to meet up in London when he was on leave, or when the war ended.  Instead, the 12th Battalion were sent to the Dardenelles. For the full story, CLICK HERE.

GALLIPOLI – At dawn on April 25th, the  men of the 12th Battalion A.I.F  climbed down from the destroyer HMS Ribble into landing boats….and into deadly chaos.

Leving the Ribble at Anzac Cove
Leaving HMS Ribble

Unfortunately, Major Stewart fell during the landing, displacing the cartilage in his knee.  Despite this, the  49 year  continued  on.  His courage  and determination would be desperately needed during the carnage that ensued. Stewart treated countless wounded on the beach while under Turkish fire.  Another medical worker who landed from the Ribble that morning  was  stretcher bearer John Simpson, who became known as The Man With the Donkey. It’s interesting to note that like Dr Stewart, Simpson had also enlisted hoping to be sent to England enroute to France.

Medical tents on the beach at Anzac Cove
Medical tents on the beach at Anzac Cove.
Anzac Cove 1915
The carnage at Gallipoli.

The Major was singled out for praise in a history of the battalion;

Pg. 52 The Story of the 12th.  by L. Newton – The A.M.C details worked hard all day on the beach, under the command of Major J.M.Y Stewart (Capt. Ratten having returned to Australia from Mena) who tended to the wounded as they were brought to him, although suffering from a dislocated knee…The beach soon became conjested with stretcher cases, and as the Turks began to rake the foreshore with shrapnel it became necessary to carry as many of the men as possible into sheltered spots, or to build protective walls with the numerous packs which littered the beach.

It was two days before  the dedicated Stewart was  evacuated back to Egypt, and from there to the 1st London General Hospital at Camberwell. He was discharged on June 3, but just one day later was re-admitted, seriously ill with enteric fever.

WWI Military Hospital Camberwell
Military Hospital, Camberwell

He and Muriel were finally married at Camberwell on July 28, 15 days after his  divorce became final. Muriel could now be listed as next-of-kin, which was important, since Major Stewart was soon off to the battlefields of France in charge of  various  field hospitals. There is no evidence that Muriel had family in the UK, it must have been such a lonely, anxious time for her.

Field hospital in France during WWI
An Australian Field hospital in France.

In 1917 Stewart  was promoted to lieutenant-colonel, to head the 15th Australian Field Ambulance. He was mentioned in dispatches, and awarded the Distinguished Service Order;

In 1918 he was promoted to the rank of colonel.  When he returned to Australia early in 1920 he was awarded the C.B.E. for his outstanding war service.

John Stewart never really recovered from the enteric fever he had contracted in 1915. He was  awarded a full disability pension in 1920, but continued to practise medicine  until 1925, both in Australia and England.  Much of his life in the years ahead was spent in hospital as a patient rather than a doctor. He died on April 24 1940 at the Red Cross  Hospital in Brighton. Muriel returned to Australia. She died at Malvern, Victoria in 1966, aged 85. The couple did not have children.

What a complex character  Col.  John Stewart was.  It is difficult to equate the man who deserted his wife and young sons in 1912  with the physician  who gave so much to his comrades and his country during World War One.  Did the Boer War veteran re-enlist simply as a means of escaping a difficult situation at home?  It’s impossible to know.

NOTE – Stewart’s first wife Annie remarried in June 1923 to a man described as being ‘of considerable means.’


  1. Such a poignant tale of heroism almost by default. I imagine he picked up the enteric fever while on Gallipoli, and as I know from my forebear’s history, it was a recurring and debilitating illness. No antibiotics in those days.
    Re the question of why he left his first wife for another woman, clearly we’ll never know, but maybe she made his life impossible – and then he found someone who far more congenial. Muriel was well-liked in Bangalow, which says a lot.
    Wrong or right, he was a brave man who redeemed himself by service to his men and his country. RIP Dr Stewart.

    • Pauline

      I agree, Ann. As you understand from your own work, romantic love is a very powerful emotion and as researchers we cannot sit in judgement. Dr Stewart certainly excelled himself, whatever his motivation for enlisting.

  2. Hi Pauline, I’m the editor of DIGGER magazine, the journal of the Families and Friends of the First AIF. I would be interested in publishing this story in DIGGER. If you are interested, please send me an email. Graeme

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