OBITUARY: Sir Ivan Ewart Bt

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The Independent Online
Ivan Ewart commanded a Motor Torpedo Boat during the Second World War as a Lieutenant RNVR. On the night of 17/18 January 1942, Ewart's MTB was one of a patrol of three which attacked a German coastal convoy off Boulogne. It turned out that the convoy was strongly protected by escort vessels, some towing "gun barges". The patrol came under heavy fire and Ewart's boat was hit and severely damaged. Both engines were put out of action and the steering gear destroyed, leaving the boat helpless in the water. Ewart himself was wounded in the right arm and lost his left eye.

The other two MTBs broke off the engagement and withdrew. Ewart decided that the only course of action left was to scuttle his boat, which was now on fire.

When daylight came the Germans picked up the survivors, and the wounded were taken to a convent near Boulogne which had been turned into a hospital. When he had sufficiently recovered from his wounds, Ewart was sent to the naval prisoner-of-war camp known as Marlag & Milag Nord, at Westertimke.

Shortly after his arrival, Ewart was invited to take part in the construction of a tunnel, which was completed in the autumn of 1942. After a number of officers had successfully used it to escape, a perimeter sentry heard suspicious noises and raised the alarm. Ewart was caught in the tunnel as he was preparing to make his exit.

He soon made another attempt. A trailer truck parked in the compound overnight was due to leave the camp the following day. Ewart and a brother officer attempted to conceal themselves in a box, slung beneath the chassis, which housed the spare wheels. Unfortunately they were caught in the act.

The enterprise had an unusual feature in that both men had recently lost an eye, and were wearing black patches. If they had managed to flee the camp, they planned on being taken for victims of an Allied bombing raid.

The German authorities then sent Ewart to Colditz, where he spent the remainder of the war. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945.

Ivan Ewart was born in 1919 and brought up in Northern Ireland. He came from a distinguished family which has for many generations run a business producing Irish linen; he succeeded his cousin as sixth Baronet in 1959. He had taken over the family business when he came back from the war, but, as a war victim who had lost an eye, he was ever mindful of the problems and disadvantages of the partially and totally unsighted. Ten or so years after the tragic loss of his wife in 1964, he went to East Africa to work for the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, and later to the Freda Carr Hospital in Ngora, Uganda. This work gave him much fulfilment.

A few weeks ago Ivan Ewart travelled to Germany with a friend - to meet Adolf Schmidt, a German officer who had taken part in the night action which had sunk Ewart's MTB. Schmidt told Ewart that on that dark night in 1942 they had opened fire on the British MTBs without much hope of success; one of the gun-barges being towed had fired a heavy-calibre shell, and this, by a lucky strike, had found its mark on Ewart's MTB. Ewart regarded the German navy as honourable adversaries and retained no animosity against the enemy. He considered them to be honourable seamen fighting for their own country.

For him, his meeting with Adolf Schmidt was an event for which he had waited more than 50 years.

B. Rowland

William Ivan Cecil Ewart, naval officer, businessman, charity worker: born 18 July 1919; DSC 1945; director, William Ewart & Son Ltd 1954-73, chairman 1968-73; succeeded 1959 as sixth Bt; chairman, William Ewart Investments Ltd, Belfast 1973-77; chairman, Ewart New Northern Ltd, Belfast 1973-77; President, Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry 1974; East Africa Resident Representative, Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind 1977-84; Administrator, Ngora Freda Carr Hospital, Uganda 1985-89; married 1948 Pauline Preston (died 1964; one son, two daughters); died Hillsborough, Co Down 29 November 1995.