McMath, John

McMath, John (Jack)

Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)


SS Manitou, Mercantile Marine

Died on Tuesday 16 July 1918 following an operation (aged 46)


Port Said War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt (Grave D. 2)


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Ballyphilip Parish Church of Ireland Church (St James) Portaferry


John (known as Jack) McMath was born in Portaferry on 8 June 1872 and he was a son of John and Mary McMath (nee Kirkpatrick) who were married on 25 July 1867 in Belfast.

According to family information, John and Mary McMath had three children including:

John (born 8 June 1872 in Portaferry)

Edward (date and place of birth not known)

Jack McMath’s father was a mariner and he was lost at sea in 1875 when the Liverpool ship Rathfern foundered in the China Sea.

Jack’s mother Mary and his brother Edward both died in 1916. Mary was 86 when she died on 8 January 1916 in Portaferry.  Edward died in Australia.

Jack McMath went to sea at an early age and he attained the rank of Captain.

Jack McMath and Sara Elliott Hill were married on 3 June 1907 in Edinburgh and they had two children:

John Charles McMath (born 14 March 1908 in Edinburgh; died 2 October 1954 in Madagascar)

Mary Moray McMath (born 11 July 1910 in Goodmayes, Essex; died 17 March 1995 in Otley, Yorkshire)

John Charles McMath became a geologist and he served in the Second World War during which he attained the rank of Major.  He was a member of the War Crimes Commission in Norway and the War Crimes Commission in Singapore for the Burma to Siam Railway.

During the Great War Jack McMath served as Captain aboard the SS Manitou.  This ship was built originally for the Wilson and Furness-Leyland Line and had accommodation for 120 first class passengers.  After conversion in Liverpool the SS Manitou served as a British Military Transport ship and had capacity for 1,100 people.  In October 1914 the ship left Gaspe Bay in Quebec bound for Devonport and the story goes that the bear cub in London Zoo which inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories travelled from Canada to England on this crossing.

The SS Manitou was attacked by enemy submarines on a number of occasions during the Great War and on one voyage to Egypt Captain McMath’s gallant actions aboard the lead ship in the convoy led to him being awarded the OBE – Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.  This was awarded posthumously on 14 September 1918 because Captain Jack McMath died on 16 July 1918 following an operation to remove his appendix.  He was recovering well after the operation but developed peritonitis.

Captain Jack McMath was 46 when he died and he is commemorated on the Memorial Plaque in Ballyphilip Parish Church of Ireland Church (St James) Portaferry.