CSM James Steward
Unit : Headquarters, 21st Independent Parachute Company
Army No. : 6285245
Awards : Distinguished Conduct Medal.
"Jim" Stewart joined The Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) in 1932, being under age he added a year or two to his enlistment paperwork. He served with the Buffs in Burma/Indo China where he was wounded in the thigh by a gunshot wound in 1935. Surgery could not remove the bullet so he carried it in his body for the rest of his life.
Jim was serving in France with the Buffs as a Sergeant by 1940. When the German onslaught started on the 10th May 1940 he and his unit were forced back to the coast and he escaped by fishing boat back to England.
Posted with the unit to the Middle East he volunteered for the Special Boat Squadron with whom he had great fun "playing at pirates in the Dodecanese area". Later he joined the newly formed 11th Parachute Battalion as a Company Sergeant Major. Sometime during his operational service in the Middle East he suffered a second wound, shrapnel in his back.
Jim returned to England with the rest of the 1st Airborne Division at the end of 1943. In April 1944 he was posted to the 21st Independent Parachute Company. After countless training exercises and standing by for numerous operations he at last took off for Holland on Operation Market-Garden on Sunday, 17th September 1944.
On the Wednesday, 20th September, during a supply-drop he and Private "Barney" Moore from No.3 Platoon managed to recover a container and bring it into their position. Unfortunately it was full of radio kit, when what they needed was ammunition and food. That same evening he recovered General Urquart's maps and papers from his wrecked jeep after Captain Roberts had crashed it opposite their position and in full view of the enemy.
After five days of almost continuous action the problem of 'airing' one's feet was becoming a problem. Sergeant Ron Kent remembers how their CSM overcame this problem; "Most of us only took our boots off once during the whole time we were in action and that was to change our socks and we put the boots back on immediately. Our Sergeant Major, James Stewart went one better and finding some stout leather open work sandals paid us a visit with his bare toes wiggling triumphantly free to the air." Don Canadine-Bate, from the Company Intelligence Section recalls the Sergeant Major's visit to their position; "The CSM, Jimmy Stewart, was seen strolling nonchalantly down the road on a tour of our positions, wearing a smart pair of sandals. Together with his red beret pushed to the back of his head, yellow silk scarf, white kid gloves and a large pipe cocked at a jaunty angle from the corner of his mouth, he cut a dashing figure".
On several occasions Major "Boy" Wilson sent CSM Stewart to check on the situation in and around the main Oosterbeek crossroads area. The following article was published in the Observer newspaper in 1969. "It was chock-a-block with wounded in the Schoonord, there both British and Germans. The Germans had moved in and taken over the place, but our medical people had stayed there working. The routine was that they used to leave the wounded and their ammunition outside for a few minutes while they sorted things inside. We were very short of ammunition and used to creep along and see if we could whip any. On the Thursday I went along to the dressing station to see if there were any British wounded well enough to sneak out. Just as I walked in two Germans jumped me. There was nothing for it but to hand over my rifle, which I did to one of them. To the other I gave my grenade, but as I pulled it out of my belt I pulled the pin out. I knew what I was doing, so I had three seconds advantage over them. We all dived. The two Germans were killed, but I wasn't even wounded."
Citation for his Distinguished Conduct Medal:
On 21st September 1944, the above Warrant Officer, who was acting as liaison between Company HQ and troops under command, worked continuously under fire during the nine attacks made on one position that day. Late in the afternoon of the same day he proceeded alone to ascertain whether troop movement on our left flank was our own or enemy troops. When heavily fired on by the enemy he returned with the information.
On the morning 23rd September 1944, whilst carrying out his liaison duties, he was fired on by the enemy from a house into which they had infiltrated into the Company position overnight. He at once attacked it single handed with 36 grenades and destroyed the four enemy in occupation.
On 24th September 1944, the CCS was occupied by the enemy, and the position in the Company's left flank became obscure. I sent CSM Steward to try and find out if the enemy were infiltrating through the grounds of the CCS. He entered the grounds where he met two armed sentries who told him he was a prisoner. Having neutralised this opposition he returned with the most valuable information. His complete disregard for personal danger throughout the action was a great example to all the troops under my command and the value of the information he supplied was of the utmost importance.
Jim Stewart, along with many others in the Company were adamant that they could have held their positions on the Northern banks of the Rhine indefinitely when they were informed of the withdrawal order!
Having returned to England the Company was rebuilt in time to take part in the liberation of Norway in May 1945. CSM Stewart, along with Captain Spivey and Lieutenant Page of the Royal Corps of Signals was made responsible for the Stavanger area. It was here that he helped prevent, along with Petty Officers from HMS Wolfhound, a German u-boat from leaving the harbour. After Norway the Company was posted to Palestine and this is where Jim left them to be the Company Sergeant Major of the Parachute Regiment Demonstration Company, 1st Battalion The Parachute Regiment. Later he was the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 18th (Volunteer) Battalion The Parachute Regiment.
In 1957 he became a member of The Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard, a 'Beefeater'.
James Stewart, DCM.
Reading Bob Midwood's letter ref the 22nd Independent Parachute Company in the July issue and then Fred Lee's plea about the old 21st Independent Parachute Company, in the next one, finally decided me, after some 25 years, to try and gather together the remnants of our old Company, the 21st.
For those readers of Pegasus who do not know, the 21st and 22nd Independent Parachute Companies were the pathfinders units of the 1st and 6th Airborne Divisions respectively. The 21st served with the 1st Division in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Arnhem and Norway and then with the 6th Airborne Division in Palestine until disbandment. Initially commanded by Major John Lander, TD, until he was killed in Sicily, and then by Major 'Boy' Wilson, DSO, MC, and finally Major Spivey, the 21st were the pioneers of the technique of kit-bag dropping, later adopted as standard practice. A Platoon of the Company were left in Italy with the 2nd (Independent) Parachute Brigade. As Fred Lee says, a really polygot assembly and a wonderful bunch of people.
I myself went to the Company as Sergeant Major when my predecessor, Chris Kiernan, was commissioned and I found a unit which to a Regular Soldier like myself was both unique and truly elite. It was a privilege to serve with them.
The "old man", 'Boy' Wilson, is unfortunately no longer with us, but I know the whereabouts of Joe Smith, Val Allerton, Jock Hewitt, Bob Kendall, Scotty (or should I say Solomon), McMahon, Dixon, Mollett and a few others, and I'm sure there must be other readers who can supply details of others of our old Company. Please write to the address given above and I shall endeavour to sound out the possibilities of some form of reunion or get-together.
Incidentally, and to record the facts as I know them, I should like to state here very firmly that the unit which held the crossroads at Oosterbeek, portrayed in David Shepherd's very fine painting, was No 1 Platoon of the 21st Independent Parachute Company under command of Lieutenant David Eastwood, MC; the Platoon Sergeant was "Sonny" Binick, MM, later of "Come Dancing" fame and a future World Ballroom Dancing Champion. At the time the Company was under command of Brigadier 'Shan' Hackett, 4th Parachute Brigade and the other elements of 4 Brigade were in close proximity, and I was the individual who received the demand from the German officer that our guns should be removed from the crossroads or accept the consequences in respect of our wounded in the Aid Posts set up in the hotels Scoonord and Vrewjik opposite. I personally passed the message to 'Boy' Wilson, who in turn passed it to Brigadier Hackett. The half-track shown in the painting did not appear, the German officer came out, under a Red Cross Flag from the Schoonord accompanied by one of our Medical Officers. This I imagine can be confirmed by the Company War Diary, if still in existence. Only minutes previously I had been visiting the Schoonord where among hundreds of other wounded I saw my old friend George Gatland [CSM: SP-Coy], 11th Parachute Battalion lying in his own gore. As the Germans came in I went out. The incident of the German officer happened soon afterwards.
The year 1974 sees the 30th Anniversary of "Market-Garden" and this might be the opportunity of meeting in Arnhem and having a drink together, but whether or no, I should be very pleased to hear from anyone who would care to write, together with any news or information about other old members of the 21st Independent Parachute Company, 1st Airborne Division.
Letter written to the Editor Pegasus Journal. January 1974.
James "Jim" Stewart died in October 1978 at the age of 61.
Leading the Way to Arnhem. An Illustrated History of the 21st Independent Parachute Company 1942-1946. By Peter Gijbels & David Truesdale.
Newsletters of the 21st Independent Parachute Company.
My own personal correspondence with veterans.
My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.
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