WILLIAM MACCORMICK was born in 1868 on the Isle of Iona, the seventh-born of the family of Annabel and Neil MacCormick.He died in 1915 in an accident on board HMS Hannibal while serving as Chief Engine Room Artificer 1st Class in the Royal Navy.
In addition to his professional engineering life, William expressed his feelings in verse, perhaps inspired by his brother John’s literary activities. Here is his powerful view of the 1854 Battle of Balaclava, which I think has relevance in today’s crazed world. I assume he was inspired by a visit to the site of that battle while serving in the Royal Navy. He must have despaired when World War One broke out.
“A Mull Man in the Crimea
On Balaclava field I soul-moving thought!
Those are the very hills and these the very plains;
Twas here that nations for the mastery fought –
And that same golden orb that silent reigns
Shed not its light on peaceful labouring swains,
And laughing in the fruitful harvest’s gains –
His beams lit up no scene of peace or joy,
But marshalled serried armies panting to destroy.
And now the mighty cannons roar and flash,
And vomit forth their flame and shrieking shell;
Deep columns move and mounted squadrons dash,
The walkin vibrates with the battle’s knell.
The earth resembles now a smoking hell,
A reeking shambles; blood and murder rife;
A comrade closes where a comrade fell-
Blaspheming as he renders up his life-
The battle moves in fierce untiring strife.
The peaceful valley smiles neath God’s glad sun;
The autumn breezes whisper soft and low.
Among the rustling leaves. Sweet streamlets run
Their wimpling courses, singing as they flow,
In haste to join the rippling bay below.
The voice of labour wakes in cheerful strain
the slumb’ring echoes. Nature’s all aglow;
The sheen spreads o’er the wooded hills and plains
A happy, joyous scene where peace transcendent reigns.
Reign gentle peace, though blessed angel reign!
Long may the nations know thy hallowed sway.
Soothe thou to sleep those passions fierce and vain
Which make deluded man his brother slay.
Oh! light within our hearts a kindlier ray,
Let reason take the place of bloodly steel.
Our darkness then will change to gladsome day.
And outraged God will smile, His hand will heal
The deep and rankling wounds which mar the nations’ weal.”
In the normal scheme of things, I try to keep some chronological order. Here, I choose to continue with a salute to the work of a contemporary member of the William Line –
Linda Towne, a great granddaughter of William, has for many years labored in the parish records and other genealogical sources to bring calm to our attempts to make sense of the challenging network created by NEIL AND ANNABEL MACCORMICK’S ten surviving children. And Linda has managed to accomplish this while raising her own family.
I doubt that there are any readers of this series who have not gratefully referred to Linda’s body of work. But for the record, the results of her toil can be found principally at:
Moving back a generation but staying with Linda’s paternal line, the role of the military in the William line is seen in her father’s biography prepared by Linda. It is an account of great bravery and remarkable military skill, not to mention good fortune.
Neil MacCormick was born on 10 March 1925 at Floriana, Malta. He was baptized on 1 April 1925 at Malta.11 He began military service on 11 January 1943 at Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, in the Infantry Corps. He was assigned to the GSC at home from 18 February 1943 to 30 Mar 1943. This was probably his basic training assignment. He was assigned to the Highland Regiment from 31 March 1943 to 9 Jun 1943. He was assigned to Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders-from 10 June 1943 to 20 July 1943. He was assigned to the Gordon Highlanders at home and in Europe from 21 July 1943 to 4 July 1949. With the First Battalion Gordon Highlanders he landed on Sword beach during the D-Day invasions as part of the British 2nd Army, I Corps, 1st Infantry Division, Gordon Highlanders on 6 June 1944
Neil rarely spoke of his experiences during World War II but he did consent to an interview by his daughter, Linda, for a school assignment. The following essay was the result.
“He was only nineteen and a private in the Royal Army. On D-Day he landed with the Gordon Highlanders. In the months following the invasion, he was lucky enough to survive. At one town, the German troops had completely surrounded the regiment. Their supplies were cut off. He, with two machine gunners, drove a Bren gun carrier through German roadblocks and barricades to get food and other needed supplies. On their way back in, they crashed though the same roadblocks.
Over one thousand British soldiers were either wounded or killed while capturing the town of Liseux. Five hundred and fifty men fought the first day. Seven were alive and unharmed at the end. The next day, reinforcements arrived to bring the group up to full strength; only nine weren’t wounded that day. Only three people who had been there at the start survived unharmed to see victory.
“Having survived the battle at Liseux, he moved on. At one place there was a minefield separating the front line from the supplies. The soldiers were running out of ammunition, so they sent a Bren gun carrier across the field with more. The carrier hit a mine and blew up. The next five did the same. He drove the seventh and by some stroke of luck, made it across safely. Six more carriers were sent across with orders to follow his tracks exactly. None made it. Obviously he had driven across mines without them exploding.
“He went onto Holland where they were destroying dikes. Sent to evacuate supplies, he made several trips through rising water before the carrier drowned. He had to swim four miles to safety.
“Antwerp, Belgium had been liberated for some time and was used as a rest area for soldiers. He was sent there for two to three days to rest while a new Bren gun carrier was found for him.
“The first day he was there, he decided to go to the cinema to see a film. While he was there, the cinema was bombed! Out of over one thousand people inside, less than two hundred survived. He suffered a skull fracture, several broken ribs and a shattered knee. The blast also burned his eyes leaving him blind.
“He was taken to a Canadian hospital where he was treated. While he was there, a Canadian surgeon was posted there. This surgeon was one of only about a half dozen in the world who was qualified to do corneal transplants. The surgeon performed a corneal transplant on him. It didn’t take. He would have died quite happily. The surgeon didn’t give up and performed a second operation. When the bandages came off, he could see only shadows. He didn’t realise that the room had been darkened as not to shock the eyes after weeks of darkness. His eyes were back to normal and still were, over forty years later.
“He will never forget the night that his best friend died. He had known Dick since they had been in school together. They were dug into foxholes and Dick had come over to his foxhole and sat on the edge with his feet dangling into the hole. After talking to him for a while, Dick said that he’d have to say goodbye now and left. The strange thing was that Dick had been killed a half-hour before and it was his ghost that had gone over to say goodbye.
“Who was this soldier? He is my father, Neil MacCormick, and these are only some of the experiences that he had during World War II. Others include liberating a Nazi concentration camp and serving in the British Occupation troops in Germany.”
He was also one of only two people who landed on D-Day with the Gordon Highlanders who survived the rest of the war..12
“Neil MacCormick drove a bren gun carrier. It was a small, tracked weapons carrier which carried a .303 inch Bren light machine gun (modified and manufactured by Enfield), plus some other small arms..1
“For his service during World War II, Neil received the 1939-1945 Star; the France and Germany Star; the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945. He was transferred to the Royal Army Supply Corps in July 1949. He served in England until March 1952 when he was sent to Korea until November 1953. He then served in England again until being sent to Germany in february 1954 where he stayed until September 1957 when he returned to England. In November 1957, he went to Hong Kong and served there until October 1960. He once again returned to England until February 1964 when he was transfered to Cyprus.8 For his service in Korea, Neil was awarded the British Korea Medal and the U N Medal and Clasp Korea.13 Neil received the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal in 1953.
“Neil’s friend, Bill Spooner, wrote: “One other incident, which I relate only because it resulted in one of the few occasions that I saw [Neil] disconcerted. He was doing a rather strong line with a rather pretty air hostess at the same time as he was friendly with a lady who owned a bar in Varosha. It rather upset his apple cart when he found out that the air hostess was the daughter of the bar lady!”.
He celebrated his 40th birthday, in March 1965, with friends including Lillian Spooner. While he was stationed in Cyprus, he transfered to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) in July 1965. He returned to England in April 1967.
“Neil’s best friend, Bill Spooner, wrote ‘One event which could have ended both our careers was the result of a stupid decision by politician to invite a member of the Cyprus Government to the opening of the new water distillation plant, followed by a tour of the Garrison Headquarters. The person selected was the minister of the interior, one Polycarpos Giorgades. I had made something of a hobby of collecting posters of the EOKA period, so I was able to meet a request of [Neil’s] resulting in the offical party being confronted, on entering the H.Q. building with a 3 feet by 2 feet poster proclaiming ‘Wanted for murder, POLYCARPOS GIORGADES £10,000 reward’.,
“Another memory of Neil shared by his friend, Bill Spooner: ,Another, less hazardous, example of [Neil’s] sense of humour was at the expense of the two rather dim young 2nd Lieutenants who shared his office. They knew he had access to their confidential reports. And did their best to get a preview, with total lack of success. Tired of their clumsy efforts, Neil prepared two dummy reports and left them where his two young men were sure to find them. One said ‘works well under supervision, can ride a bicycle’ and the other, ‘sets very low standard, which he consistently fails to maintain.'”
“In July 1967, Neil MacCormick was described as being 6′ tall with a fresh complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He had a scar over his eye and a scar on his left hand.. On July 20, 1967, Neil was discharged from service for the purpose of being appointed to a commission. His rank at discharge was Warrent Officer 1 (SSM 1st Class). He had spent 24 years and 154 days on active duty and an additional 37 days in the reserve.
“Neil MacCormick was commissioned on July 21 1967. His first posting was to SHAPE in Belgium. On July 26, 1967, he received an assessment of military conduct as exemplary which was the highest possible rating. His commanding officer wrote: ‘Neil MacCormick is a smart upstanding individual of good appearance and presence. He has a quiet manner and obvious authority. He has been employed as a chief clerk for most of his army service but has not become desk-bound and would do well in a travelling executive position. He has a good organising ability and can express himself coherantly both verbally and in writing.’
“He was a Captain in the RAOC between 1969 and 1974.In June 1969, Neil MacCormick lived at Adamson Road, N.W. 3, London, England.
“His car almost got towed during his wedding ceremony. They were in the Registry Office , partway through the ceremony, when a man came in and asked if anyone owned the Rover parked in front because it was about to be towed. Neil said “I’ll be right back” and ran outside. He came back in, said he had explained what was going on and the tow-truck driver gave him a couple more minutes
“In February 1970, he was transferred to Shornecliffe England where he was the A/OIC BKS. In April 1971, he was transfered to Osnabruck, Germany to be the A/OIC BKS there. In April 1973, Neil was transferred to Munster, Germany as the OIC Barrack Office. Two months later, he was reassigned as OIC BKS Munster BK SVCS.1In 1974, Neil MacCormick lived at Winterbourne Barrack Services, Munster, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
“Neil was promoted to Major on May 31st 1975.
“Neil was posted to Shorncliffe, Folkestone, England as the OIC Barracks BK SVCS. He had anticipated remaining there until retirement but he swapped assignments with another officer in April 1977 and went to Cyprus as the OIC Barracks BK SVCS so that officer could return to England with his ill wife.
“Neil received The Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He was one of the only people to receive both the Coronation and Jubilee medals during military service. In June 1978, Neil was reassigned to OC ASU Cyprus. He ended military service in 1980.”
He then immigrated to the USA in March 1980 . He arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport. He was employed by Free Heat Insulation Company in the early 1980’s.4 He was was later employed by Williams and Manchester Shipyards. at Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA. He was a front office worker for the Treadway hotel in 1986. He joined the Newport Artillery’s B Company in the late 1980’s.
In August 1988, Neil moved with his wife and children to 52 Allston Avenue, Middletown, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA.He was employed as a desk clerk at the Bay Voyage Inn in Jamestown, RI until his death.
Neil MacCormick died on 16 September 1989 at Newport Hospital, Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island, USA, at age 64.
His obituary reads:
“Retired British Army Maj. Neil MacCormick, 64, of 52 Allston Ave., died Saturday, Sept. 16, 1989, at Newport Hospital. He was the husband of Jean Maguire MacCormick.
He was born March 10, 1925, in Floriana, Malta, a son of Daisy Taylor MacCormick of Wallingford, England and the late Neil MacCormick.
Mr MacCormick came to the United States in 1980 after retiring from the British Army.
He worked as a desk clerk at the Bay Voyage Inn in Jamestown and also had worked for the Free Heat Insulation Co., the Williams and Manchester Shipyard, and the Treadway Inn.
“He was a World War II British army veteran, having landed with the First Battalion Gordon Highlander at Normandy on D-Day. He also served in the Korean War and later with the Royal Army Service Corps and Ordnance Corps. He served in Germany, Hong Kong, Cyprus and with SHAPE in Belgium.
Mr MacCormick was mentioned twice in dispatches while serving in Korea and was awarded the Coronation and Jubilee Medal.
“He was a member of the Newport Artillery’s B Company.
“In addition to his wife and his mother, he leaves three daughters, Barbara Grimm of Shiplake, England and Linda MacCormick and Jodi MacCormick, both of Newport; a brother, William MacCormick of Didcot, England; a sister, Annabelle Shillitto of Malvern, England; and two granddaughters.
His funeral will be Tuesday at 11.30 a.m. from the Memorial Funeral Home. Burial will be private..”
His body was cremated in September 1989 at East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA.5 He was buried at Old Saints Church, Didcot, Oxfordshire, England, in the same plot as his maternal grandparents, Percival and Charlotte Taylor.
[A personal note. I met Linda’s father and grandfather, as mentioned in the first of the series, when I sat at our dinner table in Glasgow along with my own father and grandfather, a grand total of five Neil MacCormicks! And while I was stationed with the U.S. Army in northern Japan, my father wrote me to say my cousin had been wounded while fighting with UN forces in Korea. I attempted to get leave to see him in hospital in Tokyo but alas was turned down. I bring up that passing encounter only to take the opportunity to point out that there were very few times when I met the grandaunts and granduncles and their families during my youth in Glasgow which I left at age 17 in 1949. The disruption of World War Two of course partly explains the lack of contact.]