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Sir Ivan Ewart (1919 - 1995):
Industrialist and charitable worker

Sir William Ivan Cecil Ewart, 6th baronet of the Ewart Baronetcy, of Glenmachan in Strandtown in the County of Down and of Glenbank in Belfast in the County of Antrim, was one of Ulster's leading figures in industry and commerce, a charitable donor and worker, local politician, and decorated war veteran. As Director of William Ewart & Sons Ltd, he headed one of the largest linen producers in the world.

The Ewart family, one of the great linen merchant families of the Lagan valley, can be traced as such back to the 18th century and eight generations before Ivan Ewart: in 1716 one Tomas Ewart was granted a lease of a farm in the townland of Carnreagh, Annahilt, near Hillsborough. Part of his agricultural activity involved the production of damask, which the then Linen Board encouraged. The lease was renewed to his son Thomas in 1746; the latter's son William (was more ambitious and sometime around 1790 set up his own concern at Ballymacarrett, then a village, now a suburb of Belfast, though he co-operated with the Hillsborough concern. His business flourished, and he had agents outside Ulster. He took his son, also William, into business with him and as William Ewart & Son set up an office and warehouse in Rosemary Street, Belfast, in 1814. They were incorporated as William Ewart & Son in 1883. In 1843, the third William Ewart, son and grandson, was taken into the business.

This son/grandson became Sir William Ewart, 1st baronet, in 1887. He had been a prominent figure in Belfast, Mayor in 1859, MP for Belfast City and later Belfast North 1878-1889 and President of the Irish Linen Trade and Flax Supply Associations. Ivan Ewart was his great-grandson.

William Ivan Cecil Ewart was born at Derryvolgie House, just north of Lisburn, in 1919. He was educated at Radley College in England. During World War Two he served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose Ulster Division he had joined in 1938, commanding a motor torpedo boat in Coastal Forces. These craft were often sent on raiding attacks against German forces operating in the English Channel. During one such action, during the night of 17-18 January 1942, against a German coastal convoy near Boulogne, Ewart's MTB suffered serious damage from enemy fire: its engines and steering system were completely destroyed and Ewart himself sustained serious injuries to his right arm; he also lost his left eye. He ordered that the MTB be scuttled. The following morning the Germans picked up the survivors. After recuperation, Ewart was sent to a prison camp complex for military and mercantile naval personnel, the Marlag und Milag Nord, near Westertimke in north-west Germany. Ewart attempted to escape twice, once by tunnel and once suspending himself from the chassis of a truck, but unsuccessfully. He was then sent to the famous, or infamous, prisoner-of-war camp in Colditz Castle, near Chemnitz in east Germany, where he would spend the rest of the war. In 1945, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. As an epilogue to his war experience, half a century later he met with Adolf Schmidt, who had been one of the German naval personnel whose unit had attacked Ewart's patrol on that January night in 1942.

William Ewart & Son Ltd had flourished during the war, both despite and because of it. By 1950, it had a flax factory in County Tyrone, two spinning mills in Belfast, as well as weaving factories, bleachgreen, finishing and dye works, a stitching factory and warehouse, 4,000 staff, and its own research laboratories and training school, with branches in London, Manchester and New York City and some 75 agencies worldwide. Although it suffered bomb damage to some of its Belfast premises during the war, it was able to diversify into the production of the seventeen-pounder anti-tank shell, one of the most effective weapons in the Allied armies. The company produced 1,793,953 shells in all; this represented 25% of all UK production.

This was the firm of which Ivan Ewart became Director in 1954 and was Chairman from 1968-1973. He also served as Chairman of the Flax Spinners' Association, 1961-1966. In 1973, given that the worldwide linen trade had very substantially fallen off, the company was taken over by an English concern. Subsequently, Ivan Ewart was Chairman of William Ewart Investments Ltd and of Ewart New Northern Ireland (1973-1977); he was President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 1975. Other positions he held in Northern Ireland were High Sheriff for County Antrim, 1976; President of the Oldpark Unionist Association 1950-1968; and Belfast Harbour Commissioner, 1968-1977. He had also been a Northern Ireland delegate to the Duke of Edinburgh's Study Conference on the Human Problems of Industrial Communities within the Commonwealth and Empire at Oxford in 1956.

He himself having lost an eye during the war, Sir Ivan took a keen interested in aiding the blind and partially-sighted. This led to his association with the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind. In this capacity, he served as Administrator of the Ngora Freda Carr Hospital, Uganda, 1985-1989. This hospital is run as part of the Church of Uganda, Kumi Diocese and was founded in 1922 as a small medical mission with a donation from a Mr Ernest Carr in memory of a daughter who had died in East Africa. The 1980s were a peak period for Ngora Hospital, when the Association of Surgeons of East Africa, and a Flying Doctors' service, operated from the hospital, which had its own airstrip. Ivan Ewart retired in 1989.

The former William Ewart & Son Ltd head office building still stands in Bedford Street, Belfast, directly opposite the Ulster Hall; it was this building which was one of those which received a royal visit, from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, on August 8, 1961, when Ewarts (as it was colloquially known) was still a leading world concern, before the decline in the industry of the late 1960s.

The internationally-acclaimed academic, author and religious polemicist CS Lewis  was not only a neighbour but also a second cousin (he described his relations with the thinly-disguised Ewarts in his autobiography); both families had strong connections to St Mark's Church, Dundela, east Belfast, and there was much socialising between the families: CS Lewis's letters are replete with mentions of many members of the Ewart family. Sir William Ewart, first baronet, was one of the founders of St Mark's and a crucial benefactor; Lewis's grandfather, Reverend Thomas Hamilton, was its first Rector, and there are commemorative windows in the church to members of both families. Members of the family also contributed to the life of the church as Sunday school teachers. In addition, Ewart himself was President of the Church of Ireland's Young Men's Society from 1951-1961 and 1975-1977.

He had succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his great-uncle, Sir Talbot Ewart, in 1959; another great-uncle was Lavens Mathewson Ewart, also a linen merchant, and a keen local historian. He had also inherited Derryvolgie House from his grandfather (whose son, Ivan's father, predeceased him); he occupied the house until 1970. Subsequently he lived at Hill House, Hillsborough. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his son, William Michael.

Born: 18 July 1919
Died: 29 November 1995
Richard Froggatt

Wesley McCann