McGreechan, Robert James (James)
No. 7605, 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles
Killed in action on Friday 7 July 1916 (aged 30)
No known grave
Thiepval Memorial, France (Pier and Face 15 A and 15 B
Newtownards and District War Memorial (as Magreechan)
Robert James McGreechan was born on 14 November 1885 in Ballycullen, Newtownards and he was a son of Robert James and Mary McGreechan (nee Johnston) who were married on 5 December 1883 in Regent Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards.
The McGreechan family lived in Church Street, Newtownards and later in Forde Street, Newtownards.
Robert James McGreechan Senior worked as a labourer and he and Mary had at least ten children:
Margaret (Maggie, born 5 May 1884)
Robert James (born 14 November 1885 in Ballycullen)
John Todd (born 30 July 1887)
Agnes (born 3 January 1891)
Henry Edmunds (Harry, born 4 May 1893)
Daniel (born 6 August 1895)
Hugh Todd (born 7 March 1898)
Mary (born 19 June 1900, died 25 June 1900)
William (born 12 August 1901)
Minnie (born around 1906)
Margaret, Robert James, John Todd and Henry Edmunds were baptised in Regent Street Presbyterian Church Newtownards; Daniel, Hugh Todd and William were baptised in First Newtownards Presbyterian Church and the spelling of the surname in church records was Magrehan, Magreehan, McGreehin and McGreehan.
Robert James McGreechan Junior worked as a labourer in Alex Dickson’s Nurseries, Newtownards and on 11 October 1915 he and Catherine Mawhinney were married in First Newtownards Presbyterian Church. Catherine Mawhinney, a servant from Ballycarry, Co Antrim was a daughter of Francis Mawhinnuy, a labourer.
James McGreechan enlisted in Newtownards in 1915, he served with the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Rifles and was killed in action on 7 July 1916 during the Battle of the Somme. James McGreechan and his wife Catherine had lived for a time at Sullatober, Carrickfergus and, when James died, Catherine was living in the townland of Dunadry in County Antrim. One of James’s brothers was also on active service.
Lance Corporal Robert James McGreechan (No. 7605) penned his last letter to his mother and father on 5 July 1916, just two days before he was killed in action. In the letter he apologised for not writing sooner and he said, ‘I was so busy I had not much time to write’. He expressed the hope that everyone at home was well and he asked specifically about his mother’s headaches. He asked her to write to Catherine from time to time, if she was well enough to do so and, if she wasn’t, to get wee Willie to write to Catherine.
James told his parents about the very heavy showers of rain they’d been having and he said that he had been suffering from very bad blisters on his feet. They were a bit better and he went on, ‘I hope by God’s Help pulling me through that I will be spared to see the old town again’. He sent his love to all the family and he drew two rows of kisses ‘for wee Minnie and wee Ellen and all the rest’. By the time his family received the letter Lance Corporal Robert James McGreechan was dead. He was 30 when he died, and he has no known grave.
Lance Corporal Robert James McGreechan (No. 7605) is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France and on the Newtownards and District War Memorial (as Magreechan). In the Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919 database his surname is spelt McGreeghan and in the CWGC Debt of Honour his age is recorded as 32.
In 2003, after reading in his letter about how soldiers’ feet were affected in the trenches, Margaret Graham was inspired to pen the following lines in alliterative style:
Flowers flutter freely
Fierce frenzied fighting
Frozen frost-bitten feet
Friendships formed fraternities
Frayed flags flying
Fanaticism finally felled
Flowers fallen for freedom