Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Monday, February 25, 2008

Thomas McNay, Lancashire Fusiliers

Some of you may already know that a key reason why I wanted to go to South Africa was to see some battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War, fought 1899-1902.

My grandfather, Thomas McNay, of Wigan, England, joined the Lancashire Fusiliers, a British regiment based in the Liverpool-Wigan-Manchester area. A few years ago, I found his military record at the British archives in Kew, near London. It has been a revealing document. Tom McNay was only 18 and gave his height at 5-5 and his weight at 116 (about my size in seventh grade). Listing his occupation as a coal miner, he had coal scars on his back which come from scratching your back on a rock wall in the mine and getting coal dust into the wound. As it heals, coal dust is sealed under the skin leaving a black line.

I never met my grandfather on my father's side since he died in the 1930s. He had been born in Ireland and the family apparently moved to the Wigan area sometime after that. My grandfathehr immigrated to the U.S. in 1908 bringing his eldest son, Pat, with him. His wife Bridget followed bringing other children who were born in England. More children were born in Anaconda, Montana, for a total of seven in all.

He joined the Lancashire Fusiliers at the height of the British empire on June, 13, 1894. It was the defense of the empire that brought him service in South Africa as well as at Khartoum in Sudan. Apparently an independent thinker, Tom McNay was in trouble a few times, including a district courst martial on Aug. 12, 1897 for striking his superior officer that led to his imprisonment for six months at hard labor.

It appears that Tom McNay served in all three battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers and that when he was released from confinement he entered the second battalion. It was this battalion that would make a name for itself at Spion Kop in South Africa.

Tom McNay's military record shows that he participated in a campaign in the Sudan in 1898 and in South Africa in 1899-1902 and was also involved in the occupation of Crete in 1898. He received no special medals but the medals he did receive tell of his service. His Sudan medal had the "Khartoum" clasp and this suggests that perhaps he was in on the famous battle of Omdurman. He received a Queen's South Africa medal with clasps for the Free State, Transvaal, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, and Laing's Nek. He also received a King's South Africa medal. It is useful to note that his record shows that at least twice the army aimed to send Tom McNay to serve in India and both times in 1897 and 1898 the move was cancelled.

Imporantly, it is also recorded that he was wounded at Venter's Spruit, an engagement that occurred Jan. 19-20, 1900. This is important information because being wounded just before the famous battle at Spion Kop in which many members of the Lancashire Fusiliers were killed seems to have been a stroke of luck, particularly for his descendants.

The reasons for the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War or Boer War) are complicated and fascinating. Please read the good books by Thomas Packenham or by Byron Farwell if you are interested. Basically, spurred on by the discovery of diamonds and gold and the machinations of Cecil Rhodes, Britain set out to expand its holdings in South Africa. The Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers in the 1600s, badly wanted to maintain their independence and fought vigorously. Black Africans fought on both sides and were victimized by both sides. Eventually, the whole weight of the British Empire was brought to South Africa and the Boers were defeated.

Above is a photo of a chocolate box that Queen Victoria sent to the troops in South Africa in 1900 wishing them a Happy New Year. I bought this one separately a few years ago but my grandfather's chocolate box is still in the family.


Blogger danielmcnay said...

hello. My name is
daniel mcnay 1993-, son of-
kevan mcnay 1965-, '' ''
thomas mcnay 1924-2005 '' ''
thomas mcnay ?-? '' ''
thomas mcnay ?-1914,5,6,7,8 '' ''
who was his father? the relevence of this blog is important, coincidental. not only the name, thomas, but the time period seems to make it possable that we are linked. you are from lancashire, and i am from the north east, but my ancestors came over from ireland, into lancashire, in the 1800s. however, perhaps because of illigitimacy, a brick wall was put up in my family, pre ww1, because of the 'shame', in having an illigitimate child, so, this old fashioed style has resulted in me losing my family line at the sixth generatio. can you tell me about thomas?your thomas?

3:16 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hello Daniel,

If you can email me at, I'd be glad to exchange more information with you. We also believe that the McNays immigrated to Wigan in Lancashire from Ireland, probably in the 1880s. It is an interesting coincidence. Were there relatives in the Dublin area?


3:23 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home