Major General Alexander Gavin STEVENSON (1871-1939) CB CMG DSO Colonel-Commander Royal Engineers

Surrey in the Great War Jenny Mukerji

Major General Alexander Gavin STEVENSON (1871-1939)

CB CMG DSO Colonel-Commander Royal Engineers

Buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Woking, Surrey

Alexander Gavin Stevenson was born in South Shields, Northumberland on 15 October 1871. He was the younger son of Archibald Stevenson (1838-1877) and his wife Margaret Jane, nee Anderson. His father was a partner in the Jarrow Chemical Works, manufacturing alkali and a partner in the Tyne Tug Company Limited in South Shields. Sadly, Archibald Stevenson died at sea on a voyage to Adelaide, Australia when Alexander was only five years old and his mother was left as a widow with five young children. By 1881 she had left South Shields and the family were living at 53 Ladbroke Road, Kensington, where Margaret remained until her death in 1893.

Before entering the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Alexander was educated at the Chanonry School in Aberdeen (his mother was Scottish). In February 1891 he was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant in Royal Engineers (RE). In September 1895 he was attached to the Egyptian Army to help them to develop their railway system. He took part in the 1896 expedition to recover the Dongola Province from the Dervish forces and was mentioned in dispatches. In 1897 he took part in the Nile operations and he saw the overthrow of the Khalifa at the Battle of Khartoom the following year. This was when Alexander was awarded his Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and was once more mentioned in dispatches.

Alexander left the Sudan in 1899 to serve as a railway staff officer in South Africa. He later became Superintendent of locomotives there. He took part in the advance on Kimberley and the Orange Free State between February and May 1900 and saw duty in the Transvaal and Cape Colony where he was again mentioned in dispatches. He also gained the Queen’s Medal with three clasps. In July 1901 he was given an administrative appointment with the Central South African Railways and remained with them until the end of the hostilities in May 1902. He helped the reorganisation of the railways to meet more commercial requirements. In 1904 he moved to work on railways in Somaliland until 1907 when he moved to Uganda and the East African Protectorates to work on surveillance work for their railways.

In October 1909 he returned to Britain where he remained for four years and was appointed Inspector of Iron Structures at the War Office. He was promoted to Major in 1910.

When the Great War broke out Alexander was in Plymouth but he immediately went out to France with the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). In August 1915 he was appointed Commanding Royal Engineers (CRE) of the 6th Division. At the end of 1915 the mining services were reorganised and Alexander was transferred to the Headquarters of the Second Army as Controller of Mines and was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in January 1916. He was responsible for the preparation and carrying out of the deep mining offensive of 7 June 1917. This took place along the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge with 19 mines exploding prior to its capture. The Second Army was also involved in battles that took place around Ypres in Belgium.

In November 1917 Alexander was sent, as Deputy Engineer-in-Chief with a force to Italy and in January 1918 he was promoted to Brevet Colonel and after wintering in Italy he returned to the Western Front in April 1918 as Chief Engineer of the V Corps, a regiment in the Third Army. During this time, Alexander saw action in the Battles of Selle and Sambre. In September 1918 he reached the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in his corps.

After the Armistice (11 November 1918) he was appointed the Chief Engineer of the IV Corps in the Army of Occupation in the Rhine and returned home in September 1919. Alexander had been created Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1917 and Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1919 and mentioned in dispatches seven times.

In 1920 Alexander became President of the Engineer Board which analysed the outcome of the progress made in mechanical equipment and research in the light of the War. He was promoted substantive colonel in 1921 and left Britain in 1922 to take up the appointment of chief engineer to the British forces in Turkey where the Kemelist armies of Asia Minor were threatening the Dardanelles defences and Constantinople (Istanbul). In April 1923, with the tension in this area diminished, he returned to Britain and went to the Aldershot Command as chief engineer. Between November 1924 and May 1926 he had been Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to King George V. Alexander was promoted to Major-General in May 1926 and remained at Aldershot until that August when he was promoted as Engineer-in-Chief in India. This was his last posting and he retired from the Army in June 1932. He became Colonel-Commandant, RE.

In 1909 he had married Elizabeth Nicoll Jobson (1884-1964), the daughter of Surgeon-Major W Jobson and they had three sons and a daughter. They were Margaret, born in 1910; William Alexander, born in 1912; Michael Gavin, born in 1915; and John Campbell (1920-1974) who is also buried in the family plot in Brookwood Cemetery. When he died in his sleep on 13 March 1939 Alexander’s home was at The Red Cottage, High Street, Sandhurst, Camberley. His funeral service took place at Sandhurst Church at 2:30pm on 15 March and he was interred in Brookwood Cemetery (Plot 31) on 3:45pm. By request there were to be no flowers and cars met the train at Camberley Station at 2pm.

Elizabeth Nicoll Stevenson was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 19 November 1964, having died at her home, The Red Cottage on 14 November.

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