11 April 2007

About eighty people gathered in Glasgow's Eastern Necropolis in on Wednesday, 11th April 2007, to witness the laying of a turfstone over the previously unmarked grave of Sergeant James McKechnie VC. The regimental padre of the Scots Guards led the dedication service and paid tribute to Sergeant McKechnie who was born in Paisley in 1826. Members of the Scots Guards Association Club, serving members of the regiment and representatives from the Royal British Legion Scotland also attended the ceremony.

The first major battle that took place during the Crimean War ( 1854-56 ) was the Battle of the Alma on 20th September 1854. The Allies decided to launch a pincer movement against the Russians. The French were to advance along the sea shore on the right flank before scaling the cliffs and capturing the heights. The British were to advance on the centre and left flank. The British troops were deployed into a long line, two deep across a two-mile front, and crossed the river Alma under heavy fire, encountering on the far side, steep rocky ground leading up to the Heights occupied by the Russians.

During the battle two of the strangest incidents took place. After the British had attained the Great Redoubt, suffering appalling casualties, the Russians counter attacked. At this point a wild-eyed staff officer galloped along the line shouting 'Don't fire! For God's sake, The column's French!' The officer was not recognised nor has he been substaniated since. He then rode up to the bugler of the 19th Regiment and ordered him to sound the Cease Fire, and then ordered another bugler to sound Retire, which was taken up by other buglers.

Later, after the Russians had recaptured the Great Redoubt, the Russians advanced down the slope encountering a thin line containing the remnants of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 7th Royal Fusiliers, and men from other regiments who had taken part in the initial assault. The Grenadier and Coldstream Guards were emerging from the river along with the Scots Fusilier Guards who moved forward up the slope first.

At his point the mysterious galloping staff officer put in a second appearance. There was a shout of 'Retire! Fusiliers, retire!' This could have applied to the 23rd, or the 7th or the Scots Fusilier Guards. The 23rd took it to apply to themselves and hurridly withdrew through the ranks of the Scots Fusilier Guards, knocking over several men in the process. The latter were also suffering their first casualties and during the confusion the Queen's Colour went down, its pole smashed and the silk shot through.

It was at this point that Sergeant James McKechnie earned his Victoria Cross. Brandishing his revolver, McKechnie dashed forward to retrieve the Colours, rallying his men around it despite receiving a wound in the process. Calling out 'By the centre, Scots, by the centre, look to the colours and march by them.' he thereby kept order in the regiment.

Following the successful conclusion of the battle, three other officers and men of the Scots Fusilier Guards were awarded the Victoria Cross for their heroic actions during the day - Captain Robert Lindsay, Sergeant John Knox and Private William Reynolds.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ], River Alma, Crimea, 20 September 1854, Sergeant James McKechnie, Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards.

When the formation of the Regiment was disordered at Alma, for having behaved gallantly, and rallied the men round the Colours

James McKechnie was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857.

Little is known of the post-military life of James McKechnie other than he died in Glasgow on 5th July 1886, aged sixty, and was buried in a pauper's grave in the city's Eastern Necropolis.

Medal entitlement of Sergeant James McKechnie - Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards

  • Victoria Cross
  • Crimea Medal ( 1854-56 )
    • 4 clasps:
    • "Alma" - "Balaclava" - "Inkermann" - "Sebastopol"
  • Turkish Crimea Medal ( 1855-56 )


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Iain Stewart, 16 April 2007