b. 06/1826 Paisley, Scotland. d. 05/07/1886 Glasgow, Scotland.
James McKechnie (1826-1886) was born in June 1826 in the town of High Church, near to the town of Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland. His parents were Colin McKechnie and his wife Jane (nee McGregor). Following a little schooling, James became a tinsmith by trade, before at the age of 19, he decided a career in the Army would be more beneficial.
On the 11th February 1845, he enlisted with the Scots Fusiliers of Foot Guards and attested to the Regiment at Edinburgh. He was promoted to Corporal in September 1847 and Sergeant in January 1853, just before the Crimean War broke out. McKechnie was described as being 5ft 9in tall with fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
McKechnie was then posted to the Crimea following the outbreak of War in 1854. On the 20th September 1854, McKechnie’s Regiment was heavily involved in the fighting at the Battle of Alma. The Allies had decided to launch a pincer movement on the Russians. The French were to advance along the sea shore on the right flank before scaling the cliffs and capture the heights. The British were to advance on the centre and left flank. The British encountered heavy fire as they crossed the Alma and then found steep rocky ground leading up to the heights held by the Russians.
Later in the Battle, the Russians captured the Great Redoubt, and began advancing down the slope encountering a thin line of the remnants of the 23rd Royal Welsh and 7th Royal Fusiliers, and other assorted men who were involved in the initial attack. The Grenadier and Coldstream Guards were emerging from the river with the Scots Fusiliers who moved forward up the slope first. There was then a shout to retire, but in the confusion, the Queen’s Colour went down, its pole smashed and silk shot through.
It was at this point that Sergeant James McKechnie would earn his VC. Brandishing his revolver, he dashed forward to retrieve the Colours, rallying his men around it despite receiving a wound to the abdomen in the process. Calling out “by the centre, Scots, by the centre, look to the colours and march by them”, he thereby kept order in the regiment.
His VC was gazetted on 24th February 1857, and later that year, on 26th June 1857, he was in Hyde Park with 61 other recipients to receive his medal from Queen Victoria. Following the award of the medal, he married Elizabeth McLean, and served in Canada from December 1861 to September 1864. On 4th September 1865, he was discharged at his own request to pension at the age of 39, having served for over 21 years. He has a holder of four Good Conduct badges as well as his VC. He then retired back to Paisley to be with his wife.
Little is known of the last 20 years of his life following his army career, and he passed away on 5th July 1886 in Glasgow and was buried in a pauper’s grave in the Eastern Necropolis. His grave laid unmarked for over 120 years until 11th April 2007, when McKechnie had a plaque laid to mark his grave.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SCOTS GUARDS RHQ, WELLINGTON BARRACKS, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: EASTERN NECROPOLIS, GLASGOW, SCOTLAND. COMMON GROUND.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the McKechnie VC Medal Group at the Guards Museum, London.