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MILLFIELD (Sunderland)

McDonald, J., L.Cpl., 1917

Photo : Taylor Bros

Memorial Plaque at Arboretum

CWGC Headstone

John MacDonald 2nd son of J. McDonald.

Medal Index Card

In St. Pol Communal Cemetery Extension is the Commonwealth War Grave of 19/420 Lance Corporal John McDonald serving with 'Z' Company, 19th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry who died 18/01/1917.

John McDonald [MacDonald], was born on the 2nd July 1888? at Jarrow, the second son of eight children to Malcolm MacDonald, born Scotland 1858, died 1891, and his wife Johnina, [nee McKenna], born Howdon 1862, died 1911. Three children died. Malcolm and Johnina were married in 1884. The children were Malcolm born 1884, Elizabeth Ann, born Sunderland 1886, married an Abraham Worthington, {born South Shields 1885} at St, Marys' Church Sunderland on the 26th June 1909. They emigrated to Australia from Liverpool, on-board the White Star Steamship Belgic ship number 131383, on the 27th April 1912, with one child Mary Ann born 1910, in 1949 were residing in Western Australia at 364 Newcastle Street, N Perth, Western Australia], Margaret born in the Isle of Wight, 1887, Donald born at 6 Childers Street, Linthorpe, Middlesborough in June 1890 and Robert born Sunderland in 1899.

By 1890, the family were residing at 6 Childers Street, Linthorpe, Middlesborough, but by 1911 Johnina now a Widow, was residing at 18 Kings Terrace, Millfield, Sunderland, with her son Robert and her married daughter Elizabeth Anne Worthington with a child called Mary Anne Worthington born May 1910. There were also four boarders staying there who worked for the local glass company. The Coates family, a widowed father Edward Coates and three children, 1 boy Charles and 2 girls Jane and Margaret.

John McDonald was employed by Greeners Glassworks as a labourer.

The Wear Flint Glassworks in Sunderland traded under various names, changing from Angus & Greener to Henry Greener and lastly to Greener & Co in 1885. Greeener glass competed with several firms in the North-East, including Sowerby Glass and Davidson Glass.

Henry Greener began as a travelling salesman for John Sowerby at the Ellison Glass Works. In 1859 he returned to Sunderland. He went into partnership with James Angus, and took over the Wear Flint Glass Works. The partnership lasted for 12 years, and when Angus died, he built a new glassworks with 5 furnaces.

From 1858-69 the firm traded as Angus and Greener and registered its first design on the 21st December 1858. The firm expanded rapidly in the 1870s, trading as Henry Greener The Wear Flint Glass Works. The range of designs included fancy glass and commemorative ware, and in 1886 Greener registered his own trade mark.

By 1877 he was in debt, and the works was mortgaged for £9,000. The debt was later cleared, and he issued new patterns including vitro-porcelain. In 1879, he introduced ornamental glass; Roman tiles or glass mosaics' in opaque glass and many colours.

In 1882 Henry Greener died, and the business was carried on by his son Edwin. In 1887, the firm exhibited at the Newcastle exhibition, and was awarded a silver medal. In 1885, the firm was reconstructed under the name of Greener and Co, but ran into debt again.

James Augustus Jobling from Newcastle bought the business which continued and became a limited company in 1921. In 1922, it was the first English firm to make Pyrex, under licence from Corning glass works in New York. Jobling adopted a new trade mark, that of the Jobling family and dropped the word 'flint' from the name of the works in 1896.

John McDonald married Hannah [nee Cavanagh], born 1890 at Ryhope, on the 28th December 1909, [she was the eldest daughter of Thomas Cavanagh, born 1863, and his wife Hannah born 1866, residing at 25 Queen Street, Ryhope, in 1891, one of nine children]. In 1901 the family had moved to 2 Dyke Row in South Hetton.

In 1911, John and Hannah were now residing at 20 Wilson Street, Sunderland with their first child Malcolm, born 12th March 1910, [he emigrated to Australia on the 27th May 1928, on-board the Ballarat, ship number 145596, also enlisted with the AIF, service number WX37671. In 1942, Malcolm was residing at Forrest Road, Jandakot, married Margaret MacRitchie of Northcliiffe. The MacRitchie family settled there with the Government Group Settlement Farming Scheme], and a visitor Violet Cavanagh just age 3. John and Hannah later had two other children, John MacDonald [Jnr], born 11th May 1912, also emigrated to Australia, on the 27th May 1928, on-board the Ballarat, ship number 145596, [he was WX224 in 15th Platoon 'D' Company, of the 2/4th Australian Machine Gun Battalion, died 9th February 1942 near the village of Ama Keng, resided at Forest Grove, Jandakot], and Florence, [married name Johnson], born 6th October 1914, also emigrated to Australia, on the 27th May 1928, on-board the Ballarat, ship number 145596, she died 29th January 2018, aged 103 at Willagee, Western Australia.

By 1915, the family were residing at 19 Wilson Street, Millfield, Sunderland.

John attested on the 2nd March 1915 at Sunderland. At the outbreak of World War One, the height requirement for recruits to the British Army was 5 feet 3 inches (160cm), with a chest measurement of at least 34 inches (86.36cm).

It soon became apparent that this rule excluded many men, especially those from industrial and coal mining areas, who were otherwise perfectly fit to serve.

Not only were these men physically fit, many were desperate to 'do their bit' and join up. Having been refused at every recruiting office he tried because of his height.

The Bantam battalions were not however without their problems. It was easier to enlist in a Bantam unit if you were underage. Also, as the war progressed the Bantam battalions began to lose some of their identity. As former miners, many of the men were reassigned to tunnelling companies and because of their smaller size, some were also transferred to the fledgling tank regiments. They suffered heavy casualties during the Battle of Bourlon in 1917 and those lost were replaced by taller men. What with these events and the introduction of conscription, by the end of the war the Bantam battalions appeared largely indistinguishable from other British units.

John was 5 feet 2 inches tall, 134 lbs, and was allocated the service number 19/420. He was in 'Z' Company in the 19th (2nd County), Service Battalion Durham Light Infantry. He initially was quartered at the Baltic Chambers in George Street in West Hartlepool. On the 3rd April 1915, John was absent from the Tattoo until the 6th April 1915, he forfeited three days pay. The 18th Battalion Durham Light Infantry had moved out of Cocken Hall, so the 19th Battalion moved into the billets in May 1915. On the 1st August, John McDonald is transferred to the Army Cyclist Corps, returning to the 19th Battalion on the 7th September 1915. On the 20th September 1915, Private John McDonald was 'committing a nuisance in the training area' he was confined to Barracks for three days.

The battalion moved to Perham Down Camp on Salisbury Plain. John had been appointed Lance-Corporal on the 3rd November 1915, before becoming a paid Lance-Corporal on the 25th January 1916.

He had very bad teeth and John had Dental treatment performed by the Army. On the 31st January 1916, John was at Southampton embarking for Havre in France. On the 27th February 1916, the Battalion was at Pont de Hem where they were attached to the 57th Brigade of the 19th (Western) Division. In the field, John was admitted to the 106th Field Ambulance, one of three Field Ambulances with the 35th Division, then passed on to the 2nd London Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul them on to the 4th Stationery Hospital on the 5th May 1916.

On the 16th October 1916, John is in Hospital, and returns to duty on the 25th October 1916.

The Battalion moved back to the K2 sector, where the Germans commenced a heavy trench mortar bombardment of the front line and support trenches, especially around the King Crater area, in preparation for German Trench raids. From the 22nd November, the battalion had deployed some posts 'A' 'B' and 'C' normally holding about 6 men, on the night of the 25/26th the numbers were reduced to minimise casualties. Post 'A' was manned by Corporal Stevenson and one man, Post 'B' 19/1311, Lance Corporal E. Hopkinson and two Privates Harding and Hunt. Post 'C' which was the largest, was manned by Lance Corporal John McDonald and 19/505, Private T. Ritchie and 23/190 Private Cuthbert Spence, in a dugout in close proximity was 19/158 Lance Corporal Peer Goggins and 19/625, Private Arthur Davies, [resided at 75 Davidson Street, Gateshead], 19/1429, Private Henry Dowsey [was with the 185th Tunnelling Company], and 19/653, Private David Forrest.

At 01.00am on the 26th November, 19/647, Lance Sergeant J. W. [Willie] Stones, relieved Acting Sergeant James Staff as NCO of the watch in the front line. The enemy then re-started the Mortar barrage on the trenches at about 2 am on the night of the 25/26th November 1916. At 2.15am Lieutenant James Munday, the officer on watch, and Sergeant Joseph Stones were making their way to post 'A', spoke to Corporal Stevenson, then headed for Post 'B'. As they were entering King Crater, they were attacked by German raiders on the edge of King’s Crater, and Lieutenant Munday was shot and mortally wounded. Sergeant Stones then left his wounded officer, [on orders from Lieutenant Mundy, to alert Company Headquarters], he wedged his rifle across the trench, turned and ran back past Post 'A', shouting a warning to Corporal Stevenson, and continued to Company Headquarters. Corporal Stevenson went to Lieutenant Mundy's aid and brought the officer in though he died from his wounds.

The German raiders blocked the trench towards Post 'A' and moved towards Post 'B'. They were spotted as Lance Corporal Hopkinson and Private Harding left the post and ran down the line to Post 'C' shouting, 'Run for your lives, the Germans are on you'. Private Hunt who had stood his ground had been taken prisoner. In Post 'C' the sentries on duty, Privates Ritchie and Spence who were taking cover, heard a shouted warning that the enemy were in the trench. Possibly from the men running back from Post 'A'. Private Spence was blown off the fire step by an exploding bomb, he picked himself up and ran along the trench to warn the neighbouring battalion 17th West Yorkshire, who were manning a fire bay south of the King Crater. Private Ritchie with Private Spence then went to warn the men in the dug-out and together they headed down Cecil Avenue and were stopped by 24931, Private James Kidd at the junction of Cecil Avenue and G Work.

Meanwhile Lance Sergeant Stones had reached Company Headquarters and shouted down in the dugout. On hearing the shouting the CSM, WOII Holoyd, reported to Lieutenant Howes, who was in command of the support platoon. The platoon formed up in the communication trench and were distributed bombs. Lieutenant Howes then gave orders to follow him up Ghost Avenue, only four men followed him. Howes went back to collect the rest of the platoon. The last man to emerge from the dugout was 19/362, Private John Pinkney of Easington. Sergeant Stones asked him to show him the way to the HQ in Fathers Footpath. Then both went to the HQ Dugout, but the cooks were not there. Lance Sergeant Stones at his moment took ill and lost the use of his legs. They sat for a while then Stones said will you come with me to find a doctor. They set off down Bogey Avenue, with Sergeant Stones struggling to keep up. They eventually reached the junction of Bogey and Wednesday Avenues where a Regimental Police Battle Post was located, manned by 19/136, Sergeant Robert Foster. Sergeant Stones was asked where was his rifle and bayonet, and where was he going. Sergeant Stones asked for a few minutes rest, which was granted before Sergeant Stones returned back. Lance Corporal Hopkinson was asked the same question, where is your rifle and where are you gong. As he also had come down Bogey Avenue.

Meanwhile, in the dark and confusion, though the German raiders had not pressed home their attack, other Bantams led by Lance Corporals Peter Goggins and John McDonald abandoned their front line trench. These men were also stopped behind the front line by military police, who found that neither Lance Corporal was carrying a rifle.

At the subsequent Court of Enquiry, those that had left their posts were arrested and charged. Lance Sergeant J.W, Stones was charged with: When on active service shamefully casting away his arms in the presence of the enemy in that he in the front line trenches K2 sub sector on 26[th] November 1916 when as NCO of the watch and attacked by the enemy shamefully cast away his rifle and left the front line and ran away. Army Act Section 4 (2).

19/158, Lance-Corporal P. Goggins, 19/420, Lance-Corporal J. McDonald, 19/311, Lance Corporal, E. Hopkinson, 19/625, Private A. Davies, 19/1429, Private H. Dowsey, 19/653, Private D. Forrest and 19/505 Private T. Ritchie were all charged with When on acting service leaving his post without orders from his superior officer, in that he in the field on 26/11/16 when one of a sentry group in a front line trench left his post without orders from his superior officer, Army Act, Section 6 (1b).

Commanders had been complaining for a while about the physical standards of the re-reinforcements now reaching the front line. Between the 9th and 15th December the 35th Division was inspected by the Assistant Director of Medical Services. 334 were recommended to be transferred from the 19th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, as unsuitable either mentally and physically. [Men from the 19th, or other Bantam battalions], usually can be found in the Labour Companies that were to be formed in the Spring of 1917. 184 and 200 Labour Companies had a been allocated a lot of the 35th Division men.

On Christmas Eve in the village of Foufflin Ricametz the Court Martial of Lance Sergeant Stones and Lance Corporal Hopkinson took place.

President of the Court Martial Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Bampfylde James Riccard, Captain George Henry Mason, Captain Sydney Lara Bell, both from the 17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, Second Lieutenant Robert Mitchell Hill Middleton the Adjutant and Prosecuting Officer for the 19th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. Representing the Third Army as Courts Martial Officer was Captain Waldo Raven Briggs. Representing the prisoners as a 'Prisoners Friend' was a Captain George Warmington, [serving in 'Y' Company and was a solicitor by profession], he outranked the Prosecuting Officer!.

After the Trial, the verdict was passed up the line of command, Major General Herman James Shelley Landon then commander of the 35th Division, recommended that the death sentence to be carried out, the VI Corps commander Lieutenant-General James Aylmer Lowthrop Haldane, recommend the sentence to be carried out, the file is now passed up to HQ of the Third Army, Sir Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, also recommends the sentence to be carried out. Finally the file reaches Sir Douglas Haigh, who signed it in green ink 'Confirmed' dated the 11th January 1917.

On the 29th December, the same officers returned hear the case of the further six men. After the presentation of the prosecution case, it was the turn of each solder to make a statement, Lance-Corporal John McDonald was first On 26[th) November all the men who were off duty were standing in the dugout. I was with them. Somebody came running down the trench and shouted 'Run for your lives, the Huns are an top of you.' When I got out of the dugout I couldn't see anybody. I walked about 5 yards towards the front trench and as nobody was there. I went down Cecil Avenue. When I got to the Avenue I was halted by the Royal Scots sentry. We went in to G Works and got bombs and stood on the fire step. We were escorted to a dugout where one of the Royal Scots officers took our names. We were sent back to our company on the right of King Crater. He was then cross examined and gave a further reply, I saw no one when I came out of the dugout in the front line when I got there. The front line was very thinly held on this night, it was possible to go 20 yards along the line and see nobody. I expected to see all the sentry group when I got to the front line because they all went out of the dugout before me. I was not on duty at that time. I heard some men running down the CT {Communication Trench}, as I came up the dugout steps. I followed the men down to see where they were going. The Company Headquarters was not in G Works. I can give no reason why I went to G Works. I did not see the enemy but I heard them. That was before I went down the CT. I couldn't tell what direction they were in.

He was asked another question. When I was on duty it as my business to change the sentries. On that night we were ordered by Mr Harding to get under cover if we could..

The other soldiers gave their statements. Peter Goggins, Private David Forrest, [transferred to the Labour Corps as 111971 in the 187th Labour Company], Private Ritchie, Private Henry Dowsey and finally Private Arthur Davies.

The court adjourned to consider their verdict. On their return the court was told that Private Ritchie had been classified as unfit for service in the front line by the Assistant Director of Medical Services 35th Division, Lance Corporal Goggins, Privates Davies, Forrest, Dowsey had also been classified as unfit by the Corps Commander, Lance Corporal John McDonald was classed by his company commander as being physically incapable of carrying out the normal work of an infantry soldier. All except McDonald and Forrest were recommended for employment in Tunnelling work with the Royal Engineers. The Company commander was allowed to the men a character reference. Their general conduct has been good. I have never has any trouble with any of them. None of them has done anything special as soldiers but each of them is quite up to the average and had done all I have asked them to do. Goggins and Ritche I have noticed appear to suffer from nerves, this has not been sufficient to give me any trouble in the trenches but it is quite noticeable. In Ritchie's case he was rejected by the ADMS on account of his nerves.

The file now went to Divisional Headquarters The GOC added his comments: "These 2 NCO's and 4 privates have been found guilty of a most serious crime. They appear all equally culpable as soldiers, but the NCO's must be held as having failed in their duties, and responsibilities. There are, however some 4000 men in the Division of whom 314 are in the Durham L.I. who are recommended for transfer as being unsuitable mentally and physically as Infantry Soldiers and it is probable that any of them would have behaved similarly under the circumstances described in the proceedings of this Court Martial. In view of the mental and physical degeneracy of these men I consider that though the sentence passes on all six is a proper one, the extreme penalty might be carried out in the case of the two NCO's only and that the sentence on the four privates be commuted to a long term of penal servitude, and this I recommend."

The privates got 15 years Penal Servitude suspended the three NCO's the death sentence. Confirmed by Sir Douglas Haig.

Private Albert Rochester was a prisoner in the same barn as the convicted men, he later wrote after the war, In the morning, after a wash and a scanty meal of biscuits and 'pozzy' [jam], three of the men - all NCO's - were ordered out through the hole [in the wall of the outhouse], and escorted by a squad of military police armed with revolvers, transferred to a more isolated cell . Later he was ordered out of the prison and made to erect the posts against which the three men were to be shot. 'Come out you' ordered the Corporal of the guard to me. I crawled forth. It was snowing heavily. 'Stand There!' he said, pushing me between two sentries. 'Quick March' and way we went, not, as I dreaded, to my first taste of 'pack-drill' but out and up the long street to an R.E. dump. There the police corporal handed in a 'chit' whereupon three posts, three ropes, and a spade were given to me to carry back. Our return journey took us past the guardroom, up a short hill, until we reached a secluded spot surrounded by trees. Drop' em there! ordered the Corporal. After waiting about an hour, an officer and two police sergeants rode up. Certain measurements were made in he snow after which I was ordered to dig three holes at stipulated distances apart.

The three handcuffed men are told their fate, by an officer, to be shot at dawn. One man gasped the other two stiff and impassive. They then were lead away.

At 7.35am witnessed by a number of officers whose duty it is to watch, in Woodland near the village of Rouellecourt the three NCO's were shot.

The execution was described in the Railway Review February 1922 in rather graphic tones.

"Three stakes a few yards apart and a ring of sentries around the woodland to keep the curious away. A motor ambulance arrives conveying the doomed men. Manacled and blindfolded they are helped out and tied up to the stakes. Over each man’s heart is placed an envelope. At the sign of command the firing parties, twelve to each, align their rifles on the envelopes. The officer in charge holds his stick aloft and as it falls thirty-six bullets usher the souls of three Kitchener’s men to the great unknown. As a military prisoner I helped clear up the traces of that triple murder. I took the posts down… I helped carry those bodies towards their last resting place; I collected all the blood-soaked straw and burnt it. Acting on police instructions I took all their belongings from the dead men’s tunics (discarded before being shot). A few letters, a pipe, some fags, a photo. I could tell you of the silence of the military police after reading one letter from a little girl to 'Dear Daddy', of the chaplain’s confession that braver men he had never met than those three men he prayed with just before the fatal dawn. I could take you to the graves of the murdered."

From 'Shootings at Dawn' by Ernest Thurtle, Daily Herald,1925.

On the 26th February 1917, Hannah was informed that her husband has been shot by a Field Court Martial judgement firing squad.

By the middle of May 1917, Hannah, now a widow also in poor health was residing at 1 Simpson Street, Deptford, Sunderland. Any personal effects from her husband, would have been sent to this address.

She was deprived of a widows pension due to her husband's sentence, and also forfeited any Medals that John would have been entitled to. She was originally awarded a separation allowance pension of 28s a week for the three children. However this was suspended from the 12th August 1917.

Hannah had met Frank Diggle, [born 14th February 1895 at 22 Andrew Street, Chadderton Lancashire. He was one of eleven children to James Diggle born 1870 in Rochdale, and his wife Sarah {nee Butler}, born in 1871 at Heywood]. Frank was educated at St Lukes Church of England School at Oldham, from the 20th April 1899, until the 31st January 1902, then returned into the Juniors from the 3rd February 1902 until leaving the school on the 17th June 1904. Frank then was employed as a Ring Mule Doffer., {this is connected to the Cotton industry}, where also some of his brothers and sisters were also employed.

Frank resided at Crofts Buildings, at Haswell, Co Durham. He had enlisted on the 30th March 1915, and was given the service number WR/314738. Frank was a sapper with the Royal Engineers and was with the Inland Waterways and Docks Directorate.

In August 1917, he married Hannah McDonald, [a letter dated the 6th July 1918, from the Vicar at St Herbert's in Chadderton to the York Infantry office states The woman had three young children, the eldest between 8 and 9 years. After the allotted time, she received neither an allowance nor gratuity from the Government. She tried to work to keep the children from the workhouse. After some months, she received an offer of marriage from a soldier, who took pity on her and her case. She married him for the children's sake and came from Sunderland, to live here near his people]. Hannah had moved to Chadderton in Lancashire. According to the family, the three children were staying at their Grandmother's at Hartley Buildings, in Millfield, Sunderland.

At some stage Frank was wounded by a Gun Shot Wound in the Left arm. He had served overseas.

Frank was discharged from the Army under Kings Regulations Paragraph 392 (xvi) because of wounds on the 17th December 1918, also being awarded the Silver War Badge number B67560.

Hannah had moved to 27 Wellington Street, Chadderton Lancashire with her 2nd husband by July 1918. The Reverend J. Lawless the Vicar of St Herbert's at Chadderton was asked by Hannah if he could help with her Pension application, as there was a delay in her pension application.

Due to her change in her Circumstances from a Widow to being re-married, the Infantry Record Office at York eventually replied supplying the relevant information. The Ministry of Pensions on the 24th February 1917 has sent a letter to the York Infantry Record base and informed them that she is not eligible for a pension.

In 1919, Frank [Public Works Foreman], and Hannah had a child called Violet Mary, {born 1919}, and in 1928 all three including John, Malcolm and Florence, emigrated on the SS Ballarat ship number 145596, to the port of Freemantle in Australia on the 27th May 1928 departing from London.

Frank Diggle also enlisted into the Australian Army in 1939 at Claremont, Western Australia with the service number W29138.

Lance Corporal John McDonald was shot at 07.36am on the 18th January 1917 for desertion, at the same time as Lance-Corporal Goggins (South Moor) and Lance Sergeant Stones (Crook). All three lie side by side in St. Pol cemetery.

John McDonald is not remembered on a North East War Memorial, but is remembered at the National Arboretum

Acknowledgements: 2/4th Machine Gun Battalion.

2/4th Machine Gun Battalion
English Pressed Glass
The CWGC entry for Lance Corporal McDonald

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk