Patrick Shaw-Stewart

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Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart
Born(1888-08-17)17 August 1888
near Llanbedr, Wales
Died30 December 1917(1917-12-30) (aged 29)
Cause of deathKilled in action
Resting placeMetz-en-Couture, France
MonumentsMemorial at Balliol College Chapel, Oxford
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
EmployerBarings Bank
Notable work
Achilles in the Trench (poem)
Military career
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service1914–1917
RankLieutenant commander
Unit63rd (Royal Naval) Division
Battles/warsWorld War I

Patrick Houston Shaw-Stewart (17 August 1888 – 30 December 1917) was an Eton College (1901–1906) and Balliol College, Oxford (1907–1910) scholar and poet of the Edwardian era who died on active service as a battalion commander in the British Royal Naval Division during the First World War. He is best remembered today for his poem Achilles in the Trench, one of the best-known war poems of the First World War.


He was born in Aber Artro Hall, near Llanbedr, Wales. His career was one of great academic brilliance, matched by a steely determination to succeed. He came first in the Eton scholarship in 1901, a year after his friend, Ronald Knox, had come first in the same examination. He won the Newcastle Scholarship at Eton in 1905. At Oxford, he won the Craven, the Ireland, and the Hertford Scholarships in Classics as well as taking a double first in Classical Moderations in 1908 and Greats in 1910. Elected to a fellowship of All Souls, he instead committed his career to Barings Bank, where he was appointed one of the youngest managing directors in the bank's history, in 1913.

At this time he became devoted to Lady Diana Manners and wrote her many intimate letters full of erotic allusions to Greek and Latin literature. He became a leading member of her "corrupt coterie," known simply as the Coterie.

When World War I was declared in 1914, he joined the Royal Navy, serving with Rupert Brooke. Shaw-Stewart was present at Brooke's burial in Skyros and commanded the firing party. He was shaken by his prominent role in the young poet's funeral in Greece:

"The brilliant and beguiling youth who had never failed in anything, for whom all life's prizes seemed to wait his taking, had little wish to outlive his friends. He now used all his charm and influence in high places to get into the firing line."[1]

Promoted to lieutenant commander and in temporary command of the Hood Battalion, he was killed on 30 December 1917, in France. He is buried at Metz-en-Couture in the British extension to the communal cemetery.[2]

While he was at Imbros he seemed to enjoy speaking ancient Greek to the inhabitants of the island; in one of his letters he wrote: "here I am, living in a Greek village and talking the language of Demosthenes to the inhabitants (who are really quite clever at taking my meaning)."[3]


His fame today stems from one of his poems, Achilles in the Trench, one of the best-known of the war poems of the First World War. It was written while Shaw-Stewart waited to be sent to fight at Gallipoli. He was on leave on the island of Imbros, overlooking Hisarlik (the site of the ancient city of Troy), and in the poem, Shaw-Stewart makes numerous references to the Iliad, questioning, "Was it so hard, Achilles,/So very hard to die?" In the stanza beginning, "O hell of ships and cities," he plays on the similarity of "hell" and "Helen," imitating the similar wordplay in Aeschylus' Agamemnon 681–690.[4] In the final stanza he evokes the image of flame-capped Achilles screaming from the Achaean ramparts after the death of Patroclus, and requests that Achilles likewise shout for him during the battle (implying that he, Shaw-Stewart, will be dead).


The first biography of Shaw-Stewart, by Ronald Knox, was published in 1920.[5] Elizabeth Vandiver's Stand in the Trench, Achilles includes a detailed discussion of Shaw-Stewart.[6] A new biography by Miles Jebb was published in May 2010.[7][8]

A memorial to him was erected at Balliol College, Oxford, on the west wall of the Chapel passage.[9] He is also named on the War Memorial in the antechapel at All Souls College.[10] Patrick Shaw Stewart is named on a war memorial just outside Munlochy Highlands.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Evelyn Waugh (1959), Ronald Knox: A Biography, 1988 reprint, London: Cassell, Book III, "The Hidden Stream", Ch. 1, "Nova Conspersio 1917–1926", p. 170, ISBN 0-304-31475-7 .
  2. ^ "Casualty Details: Shaw-Stewart, Patrick Houston". Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
  3. ^ Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War, p. 37, at Google Books
  4. ^ Kostas Myrsiades (1987), Approaches to Teaching Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, New York: Modern Language Association of America, p. 105, ISBN 0873524993.
  5. ^ Ronald Knox. Patrick Shaw-Stewart. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd.
  6. ^ Elizabeth Vandiver. Stand in the Trench, Achilles: Classical Receptions in British Poetry of the Great War. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-19-954274-1.
  7. ^ Miles Jebb. Patrick Shaw Stewart, An Edwardian Meteor. Wimborne Minster: Dovecote Press. ISBN 978-1-904349-77-8.
  8. ^ Phillip Zeigler. "A review of Jebb's biography". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 14 November 2011.
  9. ^ John Jones (1999). "Memorial inscriptions". Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts. Balliol College, Oxford. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  10. ^

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