Jump to content
Free downloads from TNA ×
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

A Macclesfield Family at War 1900-1942

Mercian Volunteer

Recommended Posts

As we approach the remembrance of the 90th Anniversary of the end of the First World War; an almost unknown tragic family story evolved in Macclesfield Cheshire at the start of the Boer War and finally concluded during the middle of the Second World War.

Lieutenant Robert Hope McKay, and his wife, Mary was to become one the most tragic mothers to suffer from the aftermaths of war within Great Britain. They had a family of six sons and two daughters and were residing at the Barracks on Crompton Road Macclesfield at the start of the Boer War in 1899. Robert McKay was for a considerable period, the Regimental Sergeant Major at Chester and had served in India where he had met and married Mary Ann who then just a young 17 year old girl. In time, he was to make the then rare move from the ranks to obtain a commission with his regiment to Lieutenant.

At the start of 1900, Lt Robert McKay and his eldest son Walter were serving with the 4th Cheshire Volunteer Regiment based in Macclesfield. The battalion was sent out to South Africa in February 1900 to fight in what we now refer to as the Boer War. It was whilst serving there, that they both shortly afterwards contracted typhoid fever. Walter was to die from the illness within a month of arrival. Lt Robert McKay was later to be invalided home on a casualty hospital ship and arrived back in April 1901. He was not to recover and died at the relocated family home on Cumberland Street in September 1901. He was buried in Macclesfield Cemetery with great ceremony where his fellow officers of the 4th Cheshire Volunteer Regiment paid for his memorial headstone in remembrance and great affection of him.

All Mrs McKay’s surviving sons attended Macclesfield Grammar School and in later years followed their father’s path and were actively engaged in the newly formed 1/7th Cheshire Territorials based at the Drill Hall on Bridge Street.

August 1914 saw the start of the First World War and in the agonizing five years that followed, Mary McKay was to suffer several more tragedies before the war was finally to end with the signing of the Armistice and German surrender on the 11th November 1918.

In recognition of having five sons serving within the Cheshires in 1915, Mrs. McKay received royal respect in the form of a letter of congratulations from the King. Her pride was to later turn to grief as the war was to claim three further sons before the war’s end.

The first loss was Sergeant Herbert McKay, dying from wounds in May 1915 at Ypres. Secondly, Lt Ernest McKay who was shot by a Turkish sniper in September 1915 at Gallipoli, and finally Sergeant Charles McKay in May 1917 who died soon after receiving a severe leg wound after coming under shell fire in France. Their names are remembered on the Macclesfield War Memorial & The King’s School Memorial.

The war had not yet ended when Mrs. McKay was to suffer a further double loss when her youngest daughter Elsie aged 18, died in January 1918 after a long illness at the family home at 214 Bond Street. She was buried in the same grave as her father. The final blow to befall Mrs McKay came again the following year after the war when her eldest daughter Lily died aged 42 in October 1919. She was also buried in the same family grave.

Shortly after Lily’s death in 1919, Mrs. McKay was to move away from Macclesfield to live in Stockport. She eventually settled after several house moves to live near her youngest married son Arthur, in Offerton, Stockport. For the next 15 years she settled and integrated herself back into church life at her local church of St Albans Offerton and was to pass away in 1934 age 74.

The church service at Stockport was attended by many friends and mourners of the devoted wife and mother who had seen her husband and six sons depart off to wars, five of whom were fated never to return. Mary McKay made the final journey back to Macclesfield to be buried and re-united with her husband and two daughters in the family grave.

In her Last Will & testament she left an estate worth over 730 pounds. This would have represented quite a substantial sum of money at the time. This was equally divided between the two sons, Frederick & Arthur. Curiously, it would appear that neither son made the effort to add their mother’s name on the family headstone!

The surviving son Frederick was living in Macclesfield as the Quartermaster for the 1/7th Cheshire Territorials in Macclesfield in 1928. A post previously held by his deceased father in 1900. The last trace of him was residing in Bournemouth at the time of his mother’s death. From her obituary report in the Macclesfield Times, he does not appear to have attended his mother’s funeral! No further information about Frederick has come to light about his subsequent life.

Mrs. McKay’s death was not yet to be the final chapter in the family tragedy. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Arthur, the younger of the surviving two brothers enlisted again into the army. By 1942, he was by now a Major in the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers and was to lose his life fighting against Japanese forces in Burma on the 17th December 1942 at the age of 46. His wife was initially informed he was missing in action. It was another three years before she was formally informed of his death. His name is remembered on the Stockport War Memorial & The King’s School Memorial.

Spare a thought for Mrs Mary Ann McKay this Remberance Sunday. I will be visiting her grave to remember her sacrifices.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting this, Steve.

I'm always interested to read stories from "down the road" particularly when, like this one, they remind us that there was history and grief both before and after our main period of interest.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks for posting this, Steve.

I'm always interested to read stories from "down the road" particularly when, like this one, they remind us that there was history and grief both before and after our main period of interest.


Thanks John,

Hopefully the story will run a bit more! Arthur's wife died in Stockport in 1982 . They had a son ( Duncan ) & three daughters. I'd like to trace one of them at least and try and put a photo to the story.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...