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Seventh generation soldier from one family begins his career in the Army

A few weeks ago around three hundred newly commissioned officers marched up the steps of Old College at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to start their careers as Officers in the British Army. 

For many the trying 44-week leadership course they have just completed was their first experience of the military life but some have already been involved with the Armed Forces, some through Reserve services, at a University Officer Training Corps, as a soldier, or for some growing up in military families themselves.

Some of these military families go back generations, but few can claim such a long period of Service as that of 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Cartwright. He is the seventh generation from the Stewart/Cartwright family to have undertaken military service in the British Army, a commitment dating back to 1799, during the Napoleonic Wars. Following the Commissioning parade we spoke to 2Lt Cartwright and his father Brigadier Stephen about their experiences and thoughts on such a long period of service by their family.

What are your feelings following the Commissioning parade. How does it feel to share such a long family relationship with the Army?

Stephen:  It was a special day for us as a family of course, but also for all those who commissioned.  It has been a particularly challenging course for them, with all the COVID restrictions, so my first thought was to them all as one team for their achievement. I am of course thrilled that the next Cartwright generation is now represented in the Army and the Regiment, and quietly hope we have a grandchild – but we are in no rush - that can make it eight generations!

Alexander:  It was great to have a proper Sovereign's Parade and commission in front of our friends and family. The last few parades have been behind closed doors and it is great to see normality returning after the pandemic. I am proud to follow in the footsteps of many Cartwrights and Stewarts and I hope I can do my forefathers proud, while also making my own journey in the Army. 

Brigadier Stephen, seeing your son commission and continue the family ‘business’ what are your thoughts?

Stephen:   I admit to being rather emotional during the parade.  My immediate feeling was enormous paternal pride in Alexander’s personal achievements in successfully being awarded his commission.  I am currently serving in the Middle East, and it was also fantastic to see the international cadets commission as well and remind ourselves what a great role that Sandhurst plays in supporting our wider Defence Engagement objectives.

Both of you, your family has taken part in some of the most well known and largest conflicts in British history, this personal link, including those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, must mean a lot to you?

Stephen:  Absolutely.  Inevitably the Scottish infantry have been involved in combat operations throughout the history of the British Army, and I recall my father on the news in 1977 when one of his soldiers were killed in Crossmaglen.  I was born after both my uncles had died, one of them in military service. I would have loved to have learned about their experiences, and I have no doubt they would be delighted to have seen Alexander commission as well.  But I will also never forget those who gave their lives under my command in Afghanistan: they are also ‘family’.   All my Cartwright cousins - and there are many - are very proud that the Alexander has joined the Regiment, so that the link has been maintained.

Alexander:   Of course – there is a lot of military history in my family tree.  I was 11 when Dad went to Afghanistan and I remember it well, preparing myself for the worst, especially when there were reports in the national news of what the Battalion were doing and the operations they were on. I am really looking forward to going on operations and playing my part, serving the soldiers under my command and I hope I can do right by them.

Military Service in 2021 is a lot different from Service in 1799, despite the technological and societal changes there are however some things that remain the same, how would you describe the Army as an institution?

Stephen:  From the anecdotes and stories my Dad has told me about his career, the Army has changed arguably beyond recognition; for a start, I have never had a whisky at lunch!  And I have reminded Alexander that he is joining a different Army from the one I joined.  What has not changed is the nature of war and the ability of the Army to adapt quickly to new challenges.  At the heart of military service is people; Alexander’s ultimate privilege will be to lead young men and women through demanding training and on operations, getting the best from them, building a team and leading by example.  That has not changed either.  It is not easy, but I have the confidence he will crack it.

Alexander:  What will never change is the brother and sisterhood within the Army. The knowledge that whoever you meet within the organisation has gone through hardships of some kind and come out the other end. Everyone in the Army works to a common goal and for each other. What I have been told is that the Jocks have not changed much even since my Grandfather’s days. I look forward to getting to Battalion and seeing if that is true or not!

Having both grown up in a military household and now serving in the Army how would you explain this to those who have never served?

Stephen:  I think I have lived in about 25 houses as a child and serving officer in my 53 years.  From the earliest age, I have many happy memories of different cultures and climates.  Although Scotland is my birthplace and undoubtedly where my heart is, it is difficult to answer the question, “where is home?”.  But I have no regrets: military service has given me experiences and diverse life-long friendships that would not have been possible with a non-military upbringing and career.  A military career has provided adventure and professional fulfilment.  I can’t remember a day when I did not want to go to work.  I leave the Army next year, and I have no doubt I will be a little restless living in our home for more than 2 years.

Alexander:  Though it might seem strange to move house every 2 years I actually loved growing up on an Army patch. I made friends for life, many of whom are joining the Army themselves. Just like being in the Army itself, being an ‘Army child’ brings you close to many different people who I find I bump into randomly across the country. It is a different lifestyle but it has made me independent and used to moving at short notice which will hopefully help me in my military career!

A long Military History

Alexander’s Great, Great, Great, Great, Grandfather, Serjeant Donald Stewart, joined the Army in 1799 during the Napoleonic War. He served with the then 72nd Regiment of Foot (The Duke of Albany’s Own Highlanders, since amalgamated and the traditions inherited by the 4th Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland) and fought at the Battle of Waterloo. He left the Army in 1822.

His son, also called Donald Stewart, served in the Gordon Highlanders 1853-55 and fought in the Crimean War.

Alexanders Great, Great, Grandfather Peter Baxter Stewart, joined the Gordons in 1891 and served until 1912. He re-joined the Army at the outbreak of World War One and was unfortunately killed in action as a WO2 during the Battle of Loos in 1915, a battle of particular poignancy for Scottish Soldiers and many Scottish Units took part and thousands fell during the Battle.

Next we move to the Cartwright side of the family with Francis Ernest Hadgraft Cartwright who was Alexander’s Great Grandfather. He also served in the Army 1914-1918 during World War One and was demobbed but re-joined in 1919. Following years of service he was commissioned into the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the outbreak of the Second World War He participated in many of the crucial campaigns including with the BEF in 1939-1940 and during the North West Europe Campaign 1944-1945, he was awarded an MBE for his actions at Dunkirk. He retired in 1951 as a Major.

Alexanders Grandfather, Ian Gordon Stewart Cartwright, (and two great-Uncles, one of whom sadly died in Service) also joined the Army with Ian serving from 1958 to 1990, retiring as a Lieutenant-Colonel. During his service he travelled around the world experiencing many different countries and conflicts, including Aden and Dhofar.

Stephen John Cartwright is Alexander’s father and he and his brother Paul have both been Brigadiers serving in the British Army. Stephen’s service has included Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, where he was awarded the OBE, he was Commanding of 3 SCOTS while his brother was Commanding Officer of the Royal Highland Fusiliers.

Alexander himself has commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Scotland and will join the 2nd Battalion in Penicuik shortly after his post-Sandhurst infantry platoon commanders training.