Royal Scots Fusiliers, Memorial: Doiran
Photo not yet available
This information is largely from Trevor Whittley. James Ewart was Trevor’s Great, Great Uncle.
James Ewart came from Portglenone in Co. Antrim, not far from Ballymena. (I expect that his birth was registered in Ballymena, though I’ll have to check that.) His father was Robert Ewart; his mother Mary Ann McCaughey; his brother, John, lived in BallyClare and was my great-grandfather.
James came to live at Kilmaurs, Crosshouse, Kilmarnock where in the 1911 census he is recorded as working as a grocery salesman. There he met and married Margaret Garven Fulton on 18th July 1913 at Crosshouse; he was 23 and she 21; she was the daughter of William Garven Fulton, a coal mining contractor. They lived on the Irvine Road (Bentink cottage). Their daughter Marion Wilson Ewart lived to be 84, dying in Kilmarnock in 1998. Another daughter, Margaret Fulton Ewart was born in 1917 (?), though sadly she likely never knew her father and was to die of acute appendicitis in 1923 aged only 8. I do not know if there were any sons or other direct descendants.
James Ewart joined the 8th battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and was posted out to the Balkans where he took part in the Salonika campaign. Sometimes dubbed the forgotten front, all was reasonably quiet there until the very final stages of WW1 when the tide of war had swung decidedly in the Allies favour. Despite this, it was decided to make a push against the Bulgarians who were dug in at very strong defensive positions in Northern Greece, in the mountains near lake Doiran.
On the 19th of September 1918, just six weeks before the end of the war, a near suicidal attack was ordered against these enemy positions on the hill tops; James and his battalion attacked bravely but suffered very bad casualties; James sadly was killed. Some argued the attack was completely unnecessary as the Bulgarians were already in retreat and, in fact, abandoned their trenches the following evening. Sadly, James’s grave was never identified. I went to Doiran last year, possibly the first member of his family to make that journey; he likely lies out there in No Man’s Land, we not where exactly. He is commemorated on the memorial at Dorian.
In 1923 his widow, Margaret, remarried a Kilmarnock man called David Hastings, a coal miner; they lived at Carmel Cottage. David died in 1957 and had a son also called David who lived at 19 Thornhill Place, Kilmarnock. I believe that Margaret died in 1996.
Sadly, I have no picture of James Ewart, though I would dearly like one. My sources in Ireland have no such photos and the last living relative there, his niece Florence, died last year. I was hoping perhaps that the Hastings’ family / descendants might have some more information or perhaps a photo?
THE MEMORIAL and information about the Battles
The memorial stands near DOIRAN MILITARY CEMETERY. The cemetery (originally known as Colonial Hill Cemetery No.2) was formed at the end of 1916 as a cemetery for the Doiran front. The graves are almost entirely those of officers and men of the 22nd and 26th Divisions and largely reflect the fighting of April and May 1917 (the attacks on the Petit-Couronne), and 18-19 September 1918 (the attacks on Pip Ridge and the Grand-Couronne).
Battle of Doiran:wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Doiran
This link is to a website – The Long, Long Trail: the British Army in the Great War.www.1914-1918.net/salonika.htm
In October and November 1918 the British attacked a series of fortified hills. The final assault began along the whole front on 15 September 1918; the British being engaged in the Lake Doiran area. This battle was really on the 18 and 19 September 1918 and was a disaster for the British Divisions. They had to frontally assault ‘Pip Ridge’ which was a 2000 foot high heavily defended mountain ridge with fortresses built on some of the higher mountains, notably Grand Couronne. (This was what the Bulgarians had been working on in the first months of 1916 and early 1917.) They sustained very heavy casualties.
[Sep 19th 1918] A fresh and equally futile massacre on the Doiran hills was arranged for the following day, in spite of the total breakdown of the general scheme. It was now the turn of the Scotsmen – Fusiliers, Rifles and Highlanders of the 77th Brigade, undismayed by the dreadful evidence of havoc, ran forward among the Welsh and Bulgarian dead. Artillery demoralised the regiment of Zouaves on their left. A storm of machine-gun fire blew away the Greeks on their right, in uncontrolled disorder. Fighting on into a maze of enemy entanglements, the Scotsmen were being annahilated, their flanks withering under a terrible enfilade. A fine battalion of East Lancashires attempted to move up in support. The 65th Brigade launched another forlorn attack on the Pip Ridge. The broken remains of two Brigades were presently in retreat, leaving behind more than half their number, killed, wounded or missing.
We had now sustained 3,871 casualties in the Doiran battle. Our troops were incapable of any further effort. A terrible high proportion had been lost or disabled. We gained only the unimportant ruins of Doiran Town and a cluster of small hills immediately above it, never of any value to the enemy or strongly defended. The fortress of Grand Couronne was unshaken, with crumpled bodies of men and a litter of awful wreckage below it. No one can view the result of the operation as anything but a tactical defeat. Had it been an isolated engagement, there would have been every prospect of disaster. The whole plan of the battle and its conduct are open to devastating criticism; but so are the plans and the conduct of a great majority of battles. (The Cheshires, South Wales Borderers and the Argylls were awarded the French Croix de Guerre for their part – the Royal Scots Fusiliers lost 358, the Argylls 299 and the Scottish Rifles 228 men) Luckily, the Franco-Serbian advance was being continued with extraordinary vigour. (elsewhere) Before long the Bulgarian Army was cut in two and a general withdrawal began to take place along the entire front. Our Doiran battle was now regarded as a contribution to victory for had we not been effective in pinning down the enemy reserves? British commanders are wonderfully philosophic after all. ” In other words a waste of lives.
A sad tale of a brave man from Crosshouse caught in the futility of that terrible war.
Trevor Whittley, Edinburgh, 2016