Gracie, John (Johnnie)
No. 6573, 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on 26 October 1916 (aged 35)
Lonsdale Cemetery, France (Grave II. D. 20)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
In some records his surname is spelt Gracey (in his civil birth registration; on Newtownards and District War Memorial and in some newspaper reports) and in others it is spelt Gracie (in the CWGC Debt of Honour and in some newspaper reports).
John Gracie was born on 2 February 1882 in Greenwell Street, Newtownards and he was a son of John and Margaret Gracie (nee Keenan, sometimes Keenin) who were married on 30 May 1874 in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Mark’s). John Gracey from Ballymacarrett was a son of Andrew Gracey, a labourer. Margaret Keenan from Greenwell Street, Newtownards was a daughter of James Keenan, a weaver.
The Gracie family lived in Greenwell Street, Newtownards before they moved to Bridgeton, Glasgow, Scotland.
John Gracie worked as a labourer and he and Margaret had at least six children:
Unnamed male child (born 6 July 1878 in Greenwell Street, Newtownards)
John (born 2 February 1882 in Greenwell Street, Newtownards)
Joseph (born 23 February 1886 in Greenwell Street, Newtownards; married Rachel Houston on 19 July 1911 in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church)
Before he enlisted, John Gracie Junior worked as a collier in Scotland and when he died on 26 October 1916 it was reported in the Newtownards Chronicle that he left a widow and five children living in Glasgow. He first went to the Front on 26 December 1914.
Each year after Sergeant John Gracie died, and close to the anniversary of his death, various family members placed Our Heroes – In Memoriam notices in the Newtownards Chronicle. These included his brother Andrew and his brother Joseph and sister-in-law Rachel who lived at 31 Movilla Street, Newtownards. So too did his mother and his sisters, Mary McNeilly and Maggie Davidson, who lived at 33 Mill Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow.
The notice placed by his mother (surname Gracie) in the 27 October 1917 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
Often in the night time, when I hear the autumn breeze,
I think upon the bairn that played around my knees;
My bonnie brown-eyed laddie, who fought against the foe,
And died in France so gallantly, where now he lieth low;
But soon will come the happy time, when Jesus will unite,
And I shall see for evermore the boy who died for right.
Where no tears of a mother can drop on your grave;
In the red fields of France you are laid far away,
Still our tribute of love to your memory we pay.
Mourn not for me, my life is past,
You all loved me to the last;
Then haste to Christ, make no delay,
For no one knows their dying day.
Like ivy on the withered oak,
When all things else decay,
Your memory is as dear today
As at the hour you passed away.
We oft-times think of days gone by,
A shadow o’er our life is cast,
A dear one gone for ever.
The notice placed by his brother Joseph and sister-in-law Rachel (surname Gracey) of 31 Movilla Street, Newtownards in the 27 October 1917 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
Deep down in our hearts his fond memory is cherished,
He often fills our thoughts as in silence we sit;
But we’re proud when we think of the way that he perished,
He died for his country doing his bit.
The notice placed by his mother (surname Gracie) in the 26 October 1918 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
Ah! Johnnie my son, it makes my heart sore,
When I think in this life I shall meet you no more.
It was thy sad fate to be killed by the huns,
Midst the splinter of shell and the roar of the guns.
While I am allowed to remain here behind,
Dear Johnnie my son I shall bear you in mind.
The bugle may sound and the cannon may roar,
But you shall be found in the conflict no more.
I pictured his safe returning,
I longed to clasp his hand:
But God has postponed the meeting
Till we meet in a better land.
The notice placed by his sister Maggie and her husband Robert Davidson in the 26 October 1918 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
The midnight stars are gleaming
On a grave I cannot see,
Where sleeping without dreaming
Lies one so dear to me.
When last we saw his smiling face:
He looked so strong and brave:
We little thought how soon he would
Be laid in a soldier’s grave.
Sleep on dear brother, and take thy rest,
For God has called when He thought best,
The loss is great that we sustain,
But in Heaven we hope to meet again.
The notice placed by his sister, Mary McNeilly, in the 26 October 1918 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
Could I, his sister, have clasped his hand,
The brother I loved so well
Or kissed his brow, when death was nigh,
And whispered: ‘Dear Johnnie, farewell!’
No space of time, no lapse of years,
Can dim my brother’s past:
A loving memory holds it dear
Affliction holds it fast.
In the land where the bright ones are gathered,
In the far-away home where they dwell,
Does he know that my sad heart is breaking?
Does he know that I loved him so well?
In the 25 October 1919 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle, his daughter Mollie placed an Our Heroes – In Memoriam notice (surname Gracie) in which she also commemorated her mother Mary who died on 5 December 1909. Mollie lived at 33 Mill Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow and her notice contained the verse:
My grief the world can never know,
The thoughts of sadness that are mine;
As with the years I older grow
My heart for them will ever pine.
The notice placed by his mother (surname Gracie) in the 25 October 1919 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
Three sad and lonely years have passed
Since that great sorrow fell;
The shock which I received that day
I will remember well.
His comrades have come home day by day
But he is sleeping far away;
His fight is over; his sun has set;
But I who loved him can’t forget.
May he wear a crown of victory,
May he proudly take his stand,
With the other British heroes
In that far off Better Land.
The notice placed by his sister Maggie and her husband Robert Davidson in the 25 October 1919 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
We loved him, ah! no word can tell
How much we loved him and how well;
God loved him too, and thought it best
To take him to His heavenly rest.
He died at his post like a soldier brave,
He has answered his Captain’s call;
He sleeps far away in a hero’s grave:
For his country’s cause he did fall.
Oh, Johnnie dear, we think of you,
And brother we often call,
But there is nothing left to answer us
But your photo on the wall.
The notice placed by his sister Mary and her husband Robert McNeilly in the 25 October 1919 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle contained the verse:
He is not dead who lies at rest,
Where pity casts a glance;
He follows with the brave and best
In God’s own great advance.
Relentless death amongst us comes,
And bitter grief imparts:
It takes our loved ones from our home
But never from our hearts
Good-bye, dear brother, we will never forget thee,
The bonds which unite us for ever to thee;
In weal or in woe we will cling to your memory,
Like the ivy that clings round the old elm tree.
Sergeant John Gracie was 35 when he died and he was buried in Lonsdale Cemetery, France.
His brother-in-law, Robert McNeilly, served as a Lance Corporal in the Royal Irish Rifles (No. 9207). He was born in Newtownards, he worked as a labourer and he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion on 1 December 1908 (aged 18 years 7 months). He was 5 foot 5 inches tall with blue eyes and brown hair, Wesleyan. He went to the 1st Battalion on 7 December 1910 and served in Burma. He went with the British Expeditionary Force on 5 November 1914. He sustained gunshot wounds to the head and arm on 13 March 1915 and was admitted to the 1st Stationary Hospital. He resumed duty on 24 March 1915 and on 9 May 1915 sustained a shrapnel wound in his hand. He went to the Front on 20 May 1915. He was granted leave to marry Mary Jane Gracie in the Church of Scotland, Bridgeton, Glasgow on 20 December 1916 and they had three children – John Gracie (named after his uncle who died), Gretta and Isa. During the Second World War John Gracie McNeilly served with the 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders and he was 21 when he died sometime between 6 and 8 June 1940; he was buried in Blangy-sur-Bresle Communal Cemetery.
Lance Corporal Robert McNeilly was discharged from the Army on 30 November 1920.
Sergeant John Gracie is commemorated on Newtownards and District War Memorial (as John Gracey).