In memory of Patrick Shaw-Stewart

Photo of Patrick Shaw-Stewart

In memory of Patrick Shaw-Stewart

Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart was born to Scottish parents at Aber Artro Hall on 17 August 1888, writes Adrian Hughes. He was the youngest son of Major-General John Heron Maxwell Shaw-Stewart and wife Mary. 

In 1901 he won a scholarship to Eton College. He entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1907, where he excelled and won many academic prizes in Classics as well as gaining first class degrees in Classical Moderations and Greats. The photo, courtesy of the Balliol College archives, shows him at this time.

He was a prominent member of the university debating society. His tutors and contemporaries assumed that he would accept a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, but instead he pursued a career in banking. By 1913, when he was just 25 years old, Patrick became one of the youngest managing directors in the history of Barings Bank.

Throughout his university years and in his early career, Patrick was a leading member of the “corrupt coterie” – a celebrated group of young aristocratic intellectuals. The group included Lady Diana Manners (widely acknowledged as the beauty of the century!), Raymond Asquith (son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith) and Duff Cooper, later Secretary State for War.

Shortly before the First World War began, Partick was working in the United States. On his return he was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and joined the Hood Battalion of the Royal Navy in November 1914.  In February 1915, he set sail for the Mediterranean and his companions included the war poet Rupert Brooke; Victoria Cross recipient Bernard Freyberg and Olympic Games athlete Frederick Kelly. Later Patrick played a prominent part in Rupert Brooke’s funeral, commanding the firing party that released a volley of shots over the poet’s grave on the island of Skyros in April 1915.

After the Gallipoli landings, Patrick was attached to the French forces in Salonika for most of 1916, and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre for his actions. However he was unhappy at being appointed as a staff officer and persuaded the War Office to be allowed to see “real action”. He re-joined the Hood Battalion in France in May 1917 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander and was killed on 30 December 1917.  He is buried at Metz-en-Couture in the British extension to the communal cemetery.

His fame today stems from his poem Achilles in the Trench – see below. One of the best-known of poems of the war, it was written while he was on leave on the island of Imbros, waiting to be sent to Gallipoli.

Patrick was survived by his elder brother, Colonel Basil Heron Shaw-Stewart and two sisters, who died unmarried.


Achilles in the Trench

I saw a man this morning
Who did not wish to die;
I ask, and cannot answer,
If otherwise wish I.

Fair broke the day this morning
Upon the Dardanelles:
The breeze blew soft, the morn's cheeks
Were cold as cold sea-shells.

But other shells are waiting
Across the Aegean Sea;
Shrapnel and high explosives,
Shells and hells for me.

Oh Hell of ships and cities,
Hell of men like me,
Fatal second Helen,
Why must I follow thee?

Achilles came to Troyland
And I to Chersonese;
He turned from wrath to battle,
And I from three days' peace.

Was it so hard, Achilles,
So very hard to die?
Thou knowest, and I know not;
So much the happier am I.

I will go back this morning
From Imbros o'er the sea.
Stand in the trench, Achilles,
Flame-capped, and shout for me.

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