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.
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.
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.
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.
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 military 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.’
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