Lieutenant Colonel W. W. Stewart †
86th (Machine Gun) Battalion
The cost of this tremendous war cannot be stated in terms of the Stock Exchange, for life and happiness mean infinitely more than dollars and cents.
Who can assess the value of a genial disposition, a kindly, sympathetic nature, a forceful personality, a large heart, a noble, earnest spirit?
(The Canadian Machine Gunner, June 1917, 12)
Born on 1 June 1871 in Covington, Kentucky, Walter Wilson Stewart immigrated to Canada with his family as a boy. He pursued a career in architecture, working in Hamilton and Cleveland, Ohio. In the Canadian militia, he served for two years with the 13th Regiment and twelve years with the 91st Highlanders. Beginning in 1915, he organized the 86th Battalion based in Hamilton with former 4th Battalion commander Robert H. Labatt.
Local militiamen and civic leaders in Hamilton were enthusiastic to announce the creation of “a machine gun battalion, the first of its kind in the British Empire.” The city’s Machine Gun Club offered the Canadian government $210,000 for the purchase of machine guns and equipment. Although Ottawa rejected a monetary offer, the club nevertheless furnished the battalion with several dozen weapons.
Upon arriving in England in May 1916, the unique battalion was reorganized to form the Canadian Machine Gun Depot. In March 1917, Stewart went to France as an observer. He was killed by exploding shell during the battle of Vimy Ridge on 11 April. The Depot’s official journal The Canadian Machine Gunner, eulogized its former commander: “One of nature’s gentlemen, his untimely death has been a cause of deep sorrow to the large circle of his admiring friends.”
Back home, the Canadian architectural magazine, Construction, also lamented the death of the esteemed member of its profession: “To know Walter Stewart was to like and respect him. Broad-minded, courteous and competent and cheerful always.”
Cartoon. Canadian Machine Gunner, Vol. X, No. 5 May 1917, 181