The History of Sedgehill

The most informative account of Sedgehill’s history can be seen on Jan Oliver’s website.

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Somme soldier who died a hero

Close to Wiltshire’s southern border, a road turns off the A 350 to a scattered little village called Sedgehill. Near that turning, only a few yards from the main road there is a memorial to a soldier who died in the First World War. Of a size and design that would not look out of place on a village green, it commemorates Lieutenant Niel Shaw Stewart who was killed in the first battle of the Somme on Monday 21 August, 1916, at the age of 22.

The Shaw Stewarts came from a most distinguished Scottish clan who can trace their ancestry back through an uninterrupted line of male succession to Sir John Stewart, illegitimate son of King Robert III of Scotland and from thence to Robert the Bruce. The charter that granted them their estates at Ardgowan, Renfrewshire 600 years ago is still in existence and the family continue to live there today.

Sir Michael Shaw Stewart, Niel’s grandfather, had married Lady Olivia Grosvenor, the youngest daughter of 2nd Marquis of Westminster, in 1852. On the death of the immensely wealthy Marquis, his estates were divided, the Wiltshire portion then becoming the property of the Shaw Stewarts. Their inheritance brought them to these parts where they had homes at Fonthill Abbey near Hindon, and at Hayes House, Sedgehill.

The dynasty has had a long and honourable association with the army. Both Niel’s father and grandfather had held commissions in the Argyle and Southerland Highlanders. His elder brother, Guy, survived his service through the war as a major in the Coldstream Guards, was twice wounded, awarded the MC and later commanded the 6th A and SH in France during 1940. It would have been no more than was expected at the time for the family’s middle son, who was barely 20, to volunteer at the outbreak of war in August 1914.

Memorial for a WWI Hero

Within the first year, he sustained a severe shrapnel wound to his knee whilst serving at Ypres with 1st Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. He returned from the continent and after an operation to remove the shrapnel, spent seven weeks convalescing before rejoining his regiment.

Two years after he originally joined, now attached to 3rd Battalion as a member of ‘D’ Company, he was sent into the front line nine day before he was eventually killed. Even for an experienced soldier like him, this must have been none day of sheer hell.

The troops in this particular section of line were trying to repossess the ruined village of Guillemont, about 60 miles north of Paris, where the bitterest fighting imaginable had been taking place for several weeks, amidst carnage that was beyond belief. Neither ide could gain the advantage.

One more cold impersonal telegram, similar to thousands of other, conveyed the dreaded news to a distraught home.

Excerpts from an article by Bernard Pike