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Don Stewart

 

Date and Place of Birth: 1906 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Date and Place of Death:    March 13, 1941 Glasgow, Scotland
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Umpire
Rank: Private
Military Unit: Calgary Highlanders, Canadian Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

Don Stewart was an excellent semi-pro player who had trials in the Pacific Coast League. He would become a casualty of WWII's most intense German bombing raid on Scotland.

Donald A. Stewart was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. He was the nephew of local baseball legend Babe Esplen, and a well-known semi-pro player in his own right. Stewart played the outfield with BC Telephone in 1934 and was with Home Gas in 1935. In 1938, he had a brief trial with the Seattle Rainiers of the Class AA Pacific Coast League, even though he was 32 years old at the time. The following year, to supplement his work as an oil salesman, he began a career as a professional umpire and joined the Class B Western International League, continuing in that role during the summer of 1940.

With Canada - as part of the British Empire - at war with Germany since September 1939, Stewart enlisted with the armed forces of his home country after the 1940 season. He served with the Calgary Highlanders and in September 1940 said goodbye to his wife Ruth Hoggarth Stewart and left to serve in Europe. When they arrived in the British Isles, the Calgary Highlanders were encamped near Glasgow, Scotland, where they trained in preparation for combat. The location was close to a where a cousin's family lived and Stewart was invited to visit them one afternoon.

Glasgow sits on the River Clyde and was the hub of British shipbuilding at the time. Consequently, it seemed a prime target for the German Luftwaffe, but their only sustained air raid in that part of Britain occurred during the nights of March 13 and 14, 1941. The Luftwaffe's target was the industrial center of Clydebank, to the northwest of Glasgow, but this did not stop the German bombers also dropping explosives on the city.

March 13, 1941, had been a pleasant, sunny spring Thursday, and Private Stewart spent the evening visiting the McRae family in Dudley Drive, Glasgow. Late in the evening the air raid sirens wailed across the city and just before 11:30 P.M., the distinctive, terrifying sound of Luftwaffe bombers was heard as they approached overhead. As everyone made their way to the community shelters at the back of the houses, the bombers could be seen silhouetted against the clear night sky as searchlights criss-crossed each other in a desperate attempt to illuminate the raiders for anti-aircraft gunners.

Incendiaries (small bombs designed to start fires) were dropped in the vicinity of Dudley Drive, but the most devastating blast was caused by a parachute mine that destroyed 24 homes and killed 36 people, including Private Stewart and members of the McRae family he was visiting.

ARP (Air Raid Precautions) rescue teams and the Home Guard, stretchered the injured to nearby shelters and frantically dug through the rubble for survivors, but it was not until March 26, almost two weeks later, that the body of Stewart was finally recovered.

Don Stewart was buried at the Glasgow Western Necropolis in a McRae family plot, but his name was never added to the headstone. Almost 5,000 miles from home, his burial site now lies neglected and the headstone has been uprooted by the encroachment of surrounding shrubbery. An inscription, taken from the Book of Wisdom, can just barely be read on the headstone: "The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and there shall be no sorrow touch them. They are at peace."

Epilogue

Because Donald Stewart’s death occurred in Glasgow - where I live in the west of Scotland - my curiosity naturally got the better of me. I wanted to find his gravesite. See if it was tended by anyone. See if anyone in Glasgow remembered him.

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial identified the location of Stewart’s grave at the Glasgow Western Necropolis, so off I set with my children - Mollie, Jack and Josh - on a sunny afternoon for a visit.

Together we searched the vast cemetery, weaving in and out of endless rows of headstones in a hunt for Donald Stewart – former ballplayer. An hour of searching among the perfectly preserved headstones of WWII's fallen heroes proved fruitless other than my children learning how to identify a military headstone from 50 yards.

Upon rechecking the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website, I discovered that an exact plot location is provided. Section P, Grave 2344. So, off we went again the following day with this new information in hand. We were kindly escorted directly to the exact plot location, but upon arrival I felt sure there had to be some mistake. The headstone we were looking at was not a military headstone and had been uprooted by a bush. It lay on the grass in a sorrowful, neglected state.

We carefully lifted the headstone and wiped away the decades of dirt to find an unfamiliar name. The headstone named Catherine Macrae as the person who had been buried in Section P, Grave 2344 on January 28, 1922. Nineteen years before Stewart’s death.

Back home we went empty handed, believing there must be some mistake. I telephoned the Cemeteries & Crematoria Registrar with my dilemma and spoke to an extremely helpful lady who finally put the pieces into place. Donald Stewart IS buried at Section P, Grave 2344 even though his name does not appear there on the headstone. It seems that he was interred in a McRae family plot. I am surmising that after Donald Stewart’s tragic death, the McRaes offered to have him buried in their family plot in the Western Necropolis. Why his name was not added to the headstone will forever remain a mystery.

Clydebank Blitz

Devatstation caused by the Clydebank Blitz in March 1941

Thanks to the late Vancouver baseball historian, Bud Kerr and the Literature & Social Science Department of the Vancouver Public Library for help with this biography. Thanks also to Anne MacLeod Andres for verifying the link between Don Stewart and the McRae family.

Date Added: April 13, 2012 Updated August 3, 2013

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