Galloway’s Great War

Private John McConchie
Private John McConchie

The Galloway Gazette

February 26th, 1916

Signaller R A Smith, RND, formerly of The Galloway Gazette offices, who was serving as a wireless operator on a hospital ship, wrote to tell his friends in the Gazette offices, back in Newton Stewart, of his new life.

He said: “I had the Gazette of 29th January and I see it contains a description of the Cape Helles evacuation. All its details are pretty near correct. We were there till after dark the night the evacuation was carried out so successfully, and of course we had to come away before the final move was made. There was some shelling going on on the Friday afternoon, I can tell you. It was one continuous bang, boom, crash etc., The guns on the Asiatic side had a splendid view of the Cape, and I think we got off very lucky indeed. We had been to all the points - Anzac, Sulva and Cape Helles, carrying wounded to Alexandria and Malta. We were also up at Anzac till just before the evacuation. The last trip we had was up to the Adriatic. We went to Taranto in Italy and from there to Valona in Albania and right up the Albanian coast to San Giovannia de Medua, almost on the borders of Montenegro. We took on board there Serbian sick and a few refugees. When leaving at night four shots were fired at us, and it must have been from a submarine, as there was nothing in sight. We put on all available steam and got as far away as possible. We called at Messina (Sicily) for water, and then we went to Bizerta in the North of Africa where they were put off. As we were going into Messina I saw Mount Etna, and there was a good deal of smoke issuing out of it. We were quite close to it. I also saw Stromboli. The scenery up the coast of Albania was simply lovely, and especially going into Valona, where the rugged hills, tipped with snow, made an excellent scene for anyone who admires wild scenery. Our Monitors (small gunboats) did some fine work up the Dardanelles, and they are torpedo proof and can go quite close to shore to fire if necessary (but they never do) having a draft of only some three feet.”

The same signalman then wrote to his old teacher, Mr Williamson, of the Schoolhouse, Kirkinner:

“As an old pupil of yours I take the liberty of writing to let you know a little of my doing since I joined the colours. I went to the Crystal Palace, London, to train with the Royal Naval Division, which has done some splendid work on the Gallipoli Peninsula. They asked for volunteers for the signalling division, and, after going through a small examination in dictation and spelling, I commenced in the Signal School there. During my course of instruction I had two examinations and came through successfully with 98.2 per cent. and 97.9 per cent respectively. I then moved to the Naval Barracks at Chatham, for further and more advanced instruction. After three weeks there the final examination came on and I passed out third of eighteen with 98.9 per cent. The first man had just 99.1 per cent, only two per cent more than myself. That was the examination for the star over the crossed flags and 8d per day extra. I was then sent aboard ship on October 6th.

“Little did I dream when I was sitting in the old school paying but scant attention, I am afraid, to the geographical lessons, that I would see Mount Etna and all these other places. The one thing I regret now is that I did not learn French, for it is spoken all over where I have been.

“I like this life well and agree with it all right. Our deck hands and firemen are Lascars (sailors from India or South East Asia) and I have got a working knowledge of Hindustani, or at least I can understand and make myself understood enough to carry on.

“The boys of the school have done their share in this great war.”

Private John McConchie, 8th Reinforcements, New Zealand Expeditionary Force, was on active service in Egypt, at the age of 60.

Private McConchie, was born at Creetown in June, 1856, and was brought up at Criagnine, the late Mrs Paterson being his aunt. He was educated at Stronord and the Douglas Academy. He was employed on the Caledonian Railway running between Stranraer and Lockerbie, then for some time after that, he travelled in Norfolk, England, before leaving for New Zealand in 1885. His official age was given as 38, and he passed as being that age. He got the Gazette regularly from his sister, and claimed to be a constant reader. He was attached to the machine gun section and was reported to be enjoying himself immensely. he felt as fit, he said, as it was possible to make a man of his years.

Private McConchie’s wife died in 1910 and his two children were both married.