Lieutenant Alexander Stevens

Biography of Lieutenant Alexander Stevens

Alexander Stevens was a lecturer (and later first Professor of Geography) at the University of Glasgow when he joined up only two weeks after returning from his exploits in the Antarctic in 1917. You can find more information on his career in his University Story biography here.

Aged 31, Stevens was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers (RE) on 5 September 1917, a natural choice given his background and experience. He would have spent a portion of his training at Chatham in Kent, the home of the Regiment. It is unknown exactly when Stevens arrived in France and Flanders, but it is likely to have been around April or May 1918. He would probably have been a replacement for the dreadful losses sustained in the recent German Spring Offensive.

Stevens served at GHQ in France and with 5th Field Service Company (later 5th Field Service Battalion) RE, undertaking trigonometrical work in order to produce maps of the battlefield. This was of particular importance for the Royal Artillery, helping the guns to lay down accurate fire on enemy positions. He served behind the lines as well as at the front. The War Diary for 5th FSC notes that he arrived with the Company on 22 May 1918 on temporary duty from GHQ as a ‘Trig Officer’. Unfortunately a week later, on 29 May 1918, it is noted that he was sent to hospital suffering from ‘debility’. The Diary records that he recovered and re-joined his Company on 8 June 1918.

In August 1918, Stevens undertook magnetic trigonometrical work in Fourth Army’s area of responsibility and assisted fixing British battery positions for the upcoming Battle of Amiens (8 – 12 August 1918). The battle was a huge success for the British artillery, which pounded German targets with great accuracy and contributed considerably to the successful Allied outcome.

Stevens returned to GHQ on 17 August 1918, and presumably served there until the end of the war. The war was now one of movement, and 5th FSB went on to undertake work and participate in the crossing of the Somme, the assault on the Hindenburg line at the end of September 1918, and the Battle of Beaurevoir at the beginning of October. Fourth Army reached the Belgian frontier on 10 November and the following day the war ended.

Stevens played a small but vital role in the last months of the war. Thanks to the complex and demanding work of the FSBs, British artillery dominated and ruled the battlefield from the summer of 1918 on. There is no doubt their efforts shortened the war. Stevens would have experienced a quite different war to those who had served in previous years. 1918 was indeed a year of movement, in complete contrast to the static years before. The British Army was at its most advanced and brutal in terms of the efficiency of its operations, and the technology at its disposal. His work demanded that he go to the frontline and even in the rear, he would have been vulnerable to frequent enemy shellfire. He would have seen the wounded and dead. He would have seen the worst and the best of times, the horrors and the dark humour of war. And he was a comparatively old man in poor health. He was 32 in 1918, older than the average British soldier. But as he proved in Antarctica, he was a survivor.

He was promoted to Lieutenant at some point, but this seems to have been an Acting or Temporary rank, as when he was demobbed he reverted to his original, permanent rank.

Stevens received two standard medals for his wartime service: the British War Medal and Victory Medal. Their whereabouts are unknown.


Lieutenant Alexander Stevens
Rank: Lieutenant
Regiment: Royal Engineers
Degree: MA BSc
Awards: British War Medal; Victory Medal
Comments: N/A
Note/Press Clipping: N/A
Photo ID: N/A


Biography kindly supplied by Jesper Ericsson, Hunterian Museum.

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