McNeilly, John Gracie (Johnnie)
No. 2979791, 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders
Killed in action between Thursday 6 June and Saturday 8 June 1940 (aged 21)
Blangy-sur-Bresle Communal Cemetery, Seine-Maritime, France (Grave 1)
John Gracie (in some records Gracey) McNeilly was a son of Robert and Mary Jane McNeilly (nee Gracie) and in the 31 October 1942 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle there was a Killed on Active Service notice announcing that, some 16 months after he had been reported missing in action in June 1940, Private John Gracie McNeilly must now be presumed dead. It contained the verse:
There the buds from earth transplanted,
For our coming watch and wait,
In that Upper Garden growing
Just within the Golden Gate.
Though our hearts may break with sorrow
By the grief so hard to bear,
We shall meet them some glad morning
In the Upper Garden there.
At the rising and the setting of the sun we will remember
In 1942 Johnnie McNeilly’s father and mother (Robert and Mary Jane McNeilly), his sisters (Gretta and Isa) and his brothers were living at 201 Earl Street, Scotstoun, Glasgow and each year thereafter – in the month of June – they placed an Our Heroes – In Memoriam notice in the Newtownards Chronicle.
1943, parents and brothers:
Again the month of June is here,
For us the saddest of the year,
These words are written with sad regret,
For you, dear Johnnie, we’ll never forget.
Years are swiftly passing,
Still we don’t forget,
For deep within our aching hearts
His memory is fondly kept.
His face is ever before me,
His voice I can never forget,
His smile will linger forever,
In memory I see him yet.
He never shunned his country’s call,
He gladly gave his life, his all;
He died the helpless to defend,
A British soldier’s noble end.
1944, parents, sisters, and brothers:
A soldier’s grave in an unknown land,
Holds one we loved so dear,
A smiling face that won’t come home
When they sound the last ‘All clear’.
I often sit and think of him,
And think of how he died,
With not a loved one near him
To say a last good-bye.
1945, parents, sisters, and brothers:
A token of love and remembrance
Of a dear one we’ll never forget,
His memory to us is a treasure,
His loss, a lifetime regret.
Dear brother, as you lie in peaceful sleep,
The memory of you I will forever keep.
In 1947 there was notice from the whole family which commemorated both Private John Gracie McNeilly and his uncle, Sergeant John Gracie (No. 6573), who was his mother’s brother. Sergeant John Gracie was killed in action on 26 October 1916 during the First World War and is commemorated on Newtownards and District War Memorial.
Within our store of memories,
They hold a place apart,
For no one else could ever be
More cherished in our hearts.
To us they have not passed away,
Nor have they travelled far,
But entered Heaven’s most lovely room,
And left the door ajar.
Born in 1882, Sergeant John Gracie was a son of John and Margaret Mary Gracie (nee Keenan) who were married on 30 May 1874 in Newtownards Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Mark’s). They lived in Greenwell Street, Newtownards before moving in the 1880s to Barony in Lanarkshire. John Gracie Senior worked as a dock labourer and he and Mary had at least six children including Samuel (born in 1877); Andrew (born in 1879); John (born in 1882); Joseph (born in 1886); Maggie (born in 1890) and Mary Jane (born in 1893).
Sergeant John Gracie (born in 1882) and his wife Mary had five children including Maggie, Annie, Isabella, and Mollie. Sergeant John Gracie’s brother Samuel married Margaret Hughes and they moved back to Newtownards with their son John, as did John Junior’s brother Joseph and his wife Rachel.
Mary Jane Gracie (Sergeant John Gracie’s sister) worked as a sewing machine needle straightener and, on 20 December 1916, she and Robert McNeilly from Newtownards (a son of Alexander and Isabella McNeilly) were married in the Church of Scotland, Bridgeton, Glasgow. At the time, Robert McNeilly was a Bugler in the Royal Irish Rifles and before the outbreak of the First World War he served in Burma. Robert and Mary Jane McNeilly had at least five children including John Gracie (Johnnie), Gretta and Isa.
John Gracie (Johnnie) McNeilly joined up before the outbreak of the Second World War and during 1939/40 he served with the Seaforth Highlanders (Ross-shire Buffs, Duke of Albany’s) in the France and Belgium Campaign. The 2nd Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders was part of 51st (Highland) Division in the British Expeditionary Force and Private John Gracie McNeilly was 21 when he was killed in action in France sometime between Thursday 6 June and Saturday 8 June 1940. This was just a few days after the Dunkirk evacuation when the 51st Division suffered heavy casualties trying to hold their line along the River Somme; (the 51st Division was forced to surrender to German Forces on 12 June 1940).