Obituary: John Ross Stewart, 96

Major John Ross Stewart.
Major John Ross Stewart.
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A well-known North Berwick resident who survived Dunkirk has died at the age of 96.

A father, a tailor, a greengrocer, a soldier, Major John Ross Stewart was many memorable things to the people of North Berwick who fondly remember him.

John Ross Stewart was born in Loganswell, Renfrewshire, during the final year of the First World War to Esther and William.

The family ran a tailoring business in the West End of Glasgow. However, they didn’t remain in the city, moving to Yetholm in the Borders where John’s father ran a small post office, before he died of heart trouble at the age of 49.

John then moved to Hawick after his mother, a former headmistress, found work in a nearby school, a move which saved the youngster from a daily 26-mile bike to Kelso High School.

After leaving school at 16, John reflected his father by joining the tailoring firm Montague Burton, venturing down to Leeds to learn the business and work in its vest factory.

However, his calling was always as a soldier.

He told friends: “War was shaping up, so I joined the Army Reserves and was sent off in the first week of the war to Army General Headquarters.”

In his early days on the front line he endured a week of “being bombed and shelled on the beach” of Dunkirk, and “swam out to avoid being captured by the Germans”.

He even cheated death during that infamous evacuation, keeping faith in the small boat he chose to escape on, only to see the alternative vessel he considered boarding explode under enemy fire.

But his leadership qualities and survival instincts were later rewarded, as he was commissioned into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers before being posted to the 2nd Battalion, based in the North-West Frontier Province of British India.

He would later be moved to Burma, “engaging in many battles with the Japanese”, and ascending through the battalion hierarchy.

By the end of the war John Ross Stewart had found himself as the adjutant of the battalion, an instructor training officer for the KOSBs, and earned his promotion to the rank of major, before returning home to a grateful Scotland.

Settling in the seaside town of North Berwick, he once again took up a role as a tailor – this time in his uncle’s shop on the town’s High Street.

John and his late wife Esther also ran a greengrocer’s in the same street, alongside an eight bedroomed guesthouse on the seafront, which doubled as the family home.

Before his death, the 96-year-old said his fondest memories were “getting married and having my children”.

Sadly, both his sons, Colin and Alistair, passed away at the early ages of 21 and 23.