Gerald Pakenham Stewart, I.C.S. Joined service 1930, Assam; Political Agent, Manipur 1938; Prisoner of War in Japan 1941-45.
Typescript Memoir: ‘The Rough and the Smooth: the Autobiography of G.P. Stewart, I.C.S. (Retd.)’.
Born (in 1901) and bred in Ireland, G.P. Stewart, after completing his education and his probationary year for the Indian Civil Service, departed in November 1930 to take up his first appointment as Assistant Commissioner in Sylhet, Assam. From there he was transferred, after little more than a year, to Kohima in the Naga Hills District and appointed Subdivisional Officer, Mokokchung. During this period he married Liz Scott, daughter of Mr Walter (later Sir Walter) Scott, a senior I.C.S. officer and a New Zealander. In March 1933 Stewart was moved again, this time to Imphal in Manipur, as President of the State Durbar.
After their return from leave in Ireland in 1936 he held sundry posts. Within two years they had seven transfers. Some of his appointments were: S.D.O., Sibsagar, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Sylhet and to Shillong, the chief town in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills District, where he was given the task of making territorial boundaries for each of the Khasi chieftains.
In February 1939 he was appointed Deputy Commissioner, Sylhet, where they spent two and a half years before departing for leave in New Zealand in September 1941, a journey made by flying boat. Hs leave was to be shortlived for, after Japan’s entry into the war in December, he was recalled to duty in Assam. He departed from New Zealand on 12th March 1942. After various exigencies of travel his ship, the Nankin’, was attacked by a German raider on 10th May and he, along with all other passengers and crew, were made prisoner and taken aboard by their German captors. After transfers to two more German ships they were disembarked at Yokohama on 10th July, having spent eighty-four days at sea. They were imprisoned in an abandoned convent in Fukushima where they remained under stringent conditions until their release in September 1945 by American airmen, after Japan’s surrender. Stewart rejoined his wife and family in Nelson, New Zealand.
He and his wife, leaving their children in New Zealand, returned in May 1946 to Assam where he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Cachar District, posted at Silchar.
For their final ten months in India he was appointed Political Agent, Manipur, moving there in December 1946. He records the changes which had taken place during the five years since their previous appointment there. He mentions the many V.I.P. guests they had to entertain while at the Residency and tells of the last hill tour he and his wife made to the northeastern part of the Province.
When Sir Akbar Hydari was appointed Governor of Assam he asked members of the I.C.S. to stay on for a few months after the transfer of power. Stewart agreed to do so. At the time of independence there was the possibility of trouble in Manipur between Satyagrahis and the Maharajah’s people, making a tense situation. In the end all was settled amicably.
Stewart and his wife left Manipur on 20th October, only two months after independence. His position had become untenable and they were feeling increasingly isolated. They managed to leave Calcutta by air on 10th December, arriving in Nelson, New Zealand where they rejoined their children on 18th December.>
The final chapter of the autobiography describes their life in Nelson. He qualified as a barrister and worked in a law firm. After his retirement he was appointed Coroner of Nelson.
His story is full of interest from many angles. He describes various ethnic groups of the northeastern corner of India amongst whom he worked and tells of their customs, giving some historical details of the area. The life and work of a District Officer in Assam is graphically described, not only by himself but also in his wife’s letters to her parents from which he quotes. His dispassionate account of the daily routine and conditions in a Japanese prisoner of war camp is both moving and illuminating. 237pp.