James Greer McKay was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone and his father and grandfather, Mr Samuel Smart, were in business in the town. The family were prominently connected with First Presbyterian Church, Cookstown. After leaving Gallipoli he was sent to France, where he was attached to the 1st Battalion Australian Machine Gun Corps. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 2nd July 1916 and was killed in action on 19th August close to Mouquet Farm, know as Mucky Farm to allied troops.
James Greer McKay was the son of William and Annie McKay. William McKay and Annie Smart were married on 8th October 1874 in the district of Cookstown.
James Greer McKay was born in Cookstown, County Tyrone on 7th July 1885.
His father and maternal grandfather, Samuel Smart, were in business in the town for many years.
The family were prominently connected with First Presbyterian Church, Cookstown.
Known family: William McKay, Annie McKay, Eleanor McKay (born 20th September 1875), Hugh Malcolm Gracey McKay (born 17th August 1877), Caroline McKay (born 20th June 1879), Herbert McKay (born 28th May 1881), William E McKay (born 13th June 1883), James Greer McKay (born 7th July 1885), Margaret McKay (born 26th June 1887), Ann McKay (born 8th September 1889), Ernest Laurence McKay (born July 1891, Leeds).
The family left Cookstown for Leeds. They lived at Consort Terrace, Leeds and later of 8 St John’s Terrace, Belle Vue Road, Leeds.
James was educated at Belle Vue Road School and Leeds Central High School.
James was also actively associated with Cavendish Road Presbyterian Church, and was a member of the choir.
He served with the territorial regiment, Yorkshire Hussars before he emigrated to Australia in 1909.
He came to Australia, and the open free life of the farmer appealing to him, he made up his mind to gain experience and then settle on a farm.
When war was declared he first thought of returning to England and re-joining his own regiment. When Australia joined the war, James joined the Australians.
At the outbreak of the First World War he enlisted at Broadmeadows as a private on 27th August 1914. His attestation papers show that he was 6 feet tall.
Private McKay left Australia with the 4th Light Horse Regiment on HMAT Wiltshire (A.18) on 19th October 1914.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 27th March 1915: The Australian Forces in Egypt
Mr Greer McKay, fourth son of the late Mr W C McKay, formerly of Cookstown, is at present with the Australian Expeditionary Forces in Egypt. Mr McKay left England for Australia about three years ago, and travelled with Rev Thomas Glass, B.A., and Mrs Glass on their first voyage to the Antipodes. He joined the Expeditionary forces on the declaration of war, having has some experience in the Territorial forces in Yorkshire while residing there. Writing recently to his mother, who has resided in Leeds since she and her husband left Cookstown, he says:-
It was a bitter disappointment at Port Said to learn that Egypt was to be our destination, but now we are here the fascination of this country has got hold of me, and I am thoroughly enjoying the novelty of the people and everything about us. All the Australian boat is gathered in this great camp, and the place is teaming with life from long before sunrise till bed time. Right in the shadow of the Pyramids, you almost believe yourself back in the days of Exodus, with the swarm of Egyptians clad in quaint robes of every colour and design, who do the labouring for the camp; they carry the fodder, etc., on beasts of burden of every kind and primitive vehicles that certainly must have belonged to the Ancients. You see a great string of asses and mules passing along with loads which you would think would break their backs and a big long-legged Arab on top of the load. On another track, a line of big dignified camels will be moving along silently like ghosts also with huge loads of stores, nearly frightening the horses they pass out of their wits. The more the horses see of the brutes, the less they love them. The patient ox is also much in evidence, and it is funny to see the natives riding them to work. You would almost think the natives working here were the slaves of old; they are treated like such; any amongst themselves who has authority uses a cane over their backs to enforce it, and the native police use their whips with terrible force over the almost naked backs. But the Egyptian ‘fallah’ is not what my imagination had called up; he is a bright humorous ruffian, tall and well-built; he is the most persistent wretch imaginable after piastres (local coin) and every time we make a deal with him, he tries to cheat us in the most unblushing manner, and if we find him out he immediately loses his understanding of our language. He has turned us all into the greatest hagglers outside Regent Street. If he offers a water melon for three piastres, we immediately offer one piastre, and most likely after telling him two or three times to clear out we get it for two and a half – they always get the better of us as the melon would probably would only be worth half a piastre. We have good fun over the local money, milliemes and piastres. Every time we exchange our English coin they cheat us. If you see a little crowd having a heated argument, you may be sure on going closer to hear ‘piastres’.
Animal life here seems to be as precious as human. Every cow seems to have a native, told to watch her and lead her to pasture. A flock of two or three queer looking sheep will have four or five natives hovering around. As we went into Cairo on Sunday last we laughed at the sight of two tall Arabs with dignified mien and long poles driving four scraggy turkeys. On the same trip we also saw the most wonderful funeral I ever witnessed. It must have been that of a very great man. Eight beautiful whips decked out with the greatest magnificence, great handsome trappings hanging down to the ground and white plumes sticking up from the horses’ heads two or three feet – it was just like the most extravagant picture of Cinderella’s rags. The hearse was for all the world like a huge very gaudy bride’s cake, all white and round with the different tiers and ribbons and imitation flowers, and hardly a trace of the coffin at all. It was most cheerful.
The ideal winter climate has been misbehaving itself very much of late. For the past two days a sandstorm has striven to blow us out of the camp. It was horrible drilling into it; riding against it was like being in a blizzard, and our eyes have ached – sand everywhere. All our kit was full, and every bite gritty, but it’s a sin to growl about anything here thinking about the hardships endured in the trenches in France and Flanders.
You would love a holiday in this part of the world, but when you come don’t be enticed into climbing the Great Pyramid, as it is a form of lunacy; so we thought last Sunday afternoon, when three of us out for a holiday (?), arrived at the top in a perfect lather of perspiration. The blocks of stone in it are about here feet deep, and climbing these in all sorts of tortuous positions is a trifle harder than even the steps of St Mary’s Whitby. One slip, and you would crash down into eternity (of, course eternity for the likes of you would be upwards); no matter how long you keep on at this gymnastic, the top ever seems to be towering away. It’s like chasing the ‘Blue Bird’. However you are amply repaid bt the wonderful view from the top. On the one side of the Nile can be seen for scores of miles, and all its fertile valleys crowded with hamlets. On the other, everywhere is absolute desert. But if you ever have to choose between climbing the outside or exploring the interior, don’t hesitate, climb. We got guides, and leaving our boots and leggings at the entrance, crawled, nearly double, after the guides, up and down slippery tunnels, running first through the rocks into the bowels of the earth, and then up to the Pyramid. There was hardly a foothold on the slippery stones and the atmosphere was stifling, but we saw the King’s Chamber and the Queen’s ditto, and the way to the daughter’s ditto, then much more painful toiling, and then out we came into the glorious day having had quite enough of the tombs of the Ancients for that day.
Private McKay landed at Gallipoli and served throughout. After Gallipoli he received his commission for services in the field.
After leaving Gallipoli he was sent to France, where he was attached to the 1st Battalion of the Australian Machine Gun Corps.
He then went with his brigade to France and came unharmed through the Battle of the Somme.
James was promoted to Lieutenant on 2nd July 1916
Lieutenant James Greer McKay was serving with the Australian Machine Gun Corps when he was killed in action on 19th August 1916 close to Mouquet Farm, know as Mucky Farm to allied troops.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated Saturday 9th September 1916: Lieutenant James Greer McKay
Amongst the Yorkshire casualties recently reported appears the name of a Leeds Australian, Lieutenant James Greer McKay, the fourth son of the late Mr W C McKay of Consort Terrace, and of Mrs McKay, St John’s Terrace, Belle Vue Road, Leeds, who was killed in France on 19th August. Lieutenant McKay, who is a nephew of Mr Foster McKay, Petty Sessions Clerk, Aughnacloy, was born in Cookstown, his father having been in business there before going to Leeds. His grandfather, Mr Samuel Smart, who also lives in Leeds and is over 80 years of age, was equally well known in business in Cookstown, and was warmly welcomed by old friends on the occasion of a visit to Cookstown some years ago. Lieutenant McKay’s father and grandfather were prominently connected with the First Presbyterian Church, Cookstown, and were successively superintendents of the Evening Sabbath School of that Church for about half a century. When the war broke out Lieutenant McKay was in Australia, having gone there about five years ago when he had for fellow passengers on the ship Rev Thomas Glass and Mrs Glass then of the First Presbyterian Church, Cookstown, and now resident in Melbourne when on their first visit down under. He at once joined the Australian contingent and fought at Gallipoli where he received his commission for services on the field. He then became attached to the Australian Machine Gun company. Prior to going to Australia, Lieutenant McKay was actively associated with Cavendish Road Presbyterian Church, Leeds, and was a member of the choir. He was educated at the Belle Vue Road School and the Leeds Central High School. Mrs McKay has two other sons serving with the colours. Captain W R French, in a letter to Mrs McKay says:-
‘Lieutenant McKay was one of the finest characters it has been my fortune to come across, and a more gallant officer never lived. He volunteered to relieve another lieutenant for six hours as he told me they had had a very bad time and considered they should be relieved.’
From the Bendigo Independent, dated 22nd December 1916: Lieutenant J G McKay
On Sunday, November 17, at the Drummartin Methodist Church, an ‘In Memorial’ service to the late Lieutenant James Greer McKay was conducted by the Rev. T. B. Lancaster. The pulpit was suitably draped with the Union Jack and Australian flag. A large congregation assembled to honour the memory of the brave soldier, who during his short residence in the district, had endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact by his agreeable manner and cheery disposition. The preacher, in opening his address, said that he wished to take the opportunity of giving a summary of the life of a departed friend, and by a life so unselfish, so noble, given up in the cause of righteousness and Christianity when it held in store for him many hopes, to draw some lessons that would urge others to follow his example not only on the "field of honour," but, in the performance of the daily round and common task. His watchword was ever "Duty First'. When war was declared he first thought of returning England and re-joining his own regiment. When Australia offered assistance to the Motherland he, after careful consideration of the matter, decided to offer his services to the Commonwealth. His previous military training and fine physique enabled him to join the First Expeditionary Force, and he sailed for Egypt in October. He took part in the memorable landing at Anzac and fought valiantly right through that campaign, and won his commission for his conduct and gallantry on the battlefield. He went with his brigade to France and shared with other Anzac heroes the privilege of taking his turn in the "first line" of trenches facing the enemy. He came unharmed through the terrible Battle of the Somme, and later on the Battle of Pozieres, and wrote praising the heroism of the men he led into action in these important engagements, concluding with the statement that none of them wished to be out of it until Britain stood victorious over her enemy. Although an Irishman by birth he spent most of his life at Leeds in England. He came to Australia, and the open free life of the farmer appealing to him, he made up his mind to gain experience and then settle on a farm. He cheerfully answered Australia's calls to arms to defend her liberty, and his name is written on Australia's scroll of honour, the pages of which will never dim while descendants of the noble Anzacs people our sunny land. In conclusion the Rev. gentleman extended to the relatives in England and here heartfelt sympathy in the loss of the dear one, and also referred to the later bereavement sustained by the death of Corporal Alan McKay, son of Mr and Mrs N. B. McKay, and nephew of Miss Essie McKay. At the conclusion of the service The Dead March in Saul" was effectively rendered by Miss Nessie Nicholls, the congregation standing while the last tribute of honour was paid to the dead.
He is buried in plot 20, row B, grave 16 at Serre Road Cemetery No: 2, France. It is one of the largest cemeteries on the Somme.