Bryden McKinnell was reperesentative of a very specific type of local Great War casualty – an Anglo-Scot from a privileged upper middle class family, who had acquired its wealth through business both in Scotland and on Merseyside, and a proud, brave and committed Territorial Soldier who died leading his men on the Western Front.
Bryden’s birth was registered in the July quarter of 1889 in Birkenhead. His parents were James McKinnell (1862-1910), who was born in Liverpool and was a tailor and Margaret Brydon (1864-1924), who was born in Scotland. In 1891 the family were living at 31 Green Bank Road in Tranmere. Bryden was the only child and the family were tended by two servants – a nurse, aged 20 called Edith Wild…? from Birkenhead and a cook called Mary E. Kendal, aged 30 from Workington in Cumberland.
The family’s wealth seems to have come from Margaret’s father: he had managed the Troqueer Tweed Mills in Dumfries. The mills had been founded in 1866 by Walter Scott and Sons. The buildings still stand and are listed by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments in Scotland as being “A large block of single-storey weaving sheds with an ornate 12-bay river frontage. Now in multiple occupation”. Here is an aerial view of the site:
The Mackinnell family cannot be found on the 1901 and 1911 censuses. Perhaps they were living abroad at the time. Bryden himself attended a school in Copenhagen and Dumfries Academy. By 1911 he was lodging in the household of Mrs Rebecca Furness at 19 Merton Place, Maxwellbridge, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland and employed as a corn broker. Bryden’s father was dead by this time and his mother cannot be traced. By the time of his death, however, she was living at Nithsdale, Valentia Road, Hoylake, which is why Bryden is acknowledged in Hoylake and at Grange Hill.
Whilst resident in his ancestral homeland, Bryden joined his local territorial unit as a lieutenant – the 5th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers or Galloway Rifles Volunteers.
At some point before the beginning of the war, Bryden returned to Liverpool to pursue his career as a corn broker, was employed by Shipton Anderson and Co. and joined the 10th Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) or Liverpool Scottish.
Being a middle class, Anglo-Scottish businessman, he was a typical member of the battalion. He was an energetic and sporty young man, being a member of Birkenhead Park Rugby Club. Bryden’s medal card tells us that he arrived in France on 1st November 1914:
Bryden’s story is particularly interesting for local and military historians, mainly because he kept a diary which is now held by the Liverpool Scottish Museum. In it, he talks about many of his everyday experiences as an officer in a territorial battalion as it tried to get used to the worsening conditions on the Western Front. He is quite frank about his personal worries and concerns. Touchingly, he said this on 15th June 1915, the day before he died in his battalion’s famous charge at Hooge: “We are going to justify our existence as Terriers and men – we middle class business men.” (quoted by Helen B. McCartney on page 205 of her Citizen Soldiers). Clearly, he was worried on two counts – one that his battalion would perform as well as neighbouring regular battalions and two that he and his men would earn the respect of their friends, family and neighbours back home on Merseyside.
In fact, the Liverpool Scots and Bryden himself earned the respect and affection of all the regular battalions alongside whom they served during the winter of 1914-15. The Lincolnshire Regiment nicknamed them “the Lincolnshire Scots” and they were also praised by the Northumberland Fusiliers. Bryden was in charge of the machine gun section. He performed conspicuous acts of brave and intelligent leadership on two occasions. The first was on 12th March 1915 – the Liverpool Scots were stationed next to Hill 60 in the Ypres Salient when the Germans detonated a huge underground mine which buried an entire platoon of the neighbouring Royal Scots Fusiliers. A.M. McGilchrist tells the story as follows:
The destruction of the Royal Scots Fusilier Platoon left a dangerous gap in the line, and it was largely due to the energy and ability of Captain B. McKinnel, the Liverpool Scottish machine-gun officer, that the situation was quickly got in hand. He at once ran to the scene of the explosion and posted a machine-gun to cover the gap. He took command of the remnant of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and himself helped, under heavy fire, to dig out those men who could not be got at. Later he superintended the digging of a new trench behind the crater. (From page 34 of The Liverpool Scottish 1900-1919).
The second incident was very similar to the first and occurred on 14th April. The Liverpool Scots were in Q1 trench which was near St. Eloi in the Ypres Salient. The Germans detonated another underground mine at 23.00. Captain McKinnell immediately led Y Company up to the ruined trench under heavy fire and set about repairing it as quickly as possible. By the time that the Northumberland Fusiliers arrived to relieve the Liverpool Scots, “Q1 was again in a fit state for defence”. A special Order was printed in Battalion Orders on 17th April:
Lieutenant Colonel A.S. Ainslie, Commanding 1st Battalion 5th Northumberland Fusiliers (sic) has expressed his high appreciation of the prompt action taken by the Officer commanding trench Q2… on the occasion of the mine exploding in Q1, and of the excellent work done by Captain Mckinnell and his N.C.O.s and men … (from page 39 op.cit.).
The battle in which Bryden fell occurred on 16th June 1915 at Hooge. It actually claimed the lives of seven men who appear on the Grange Hill War Memorial. In addition to Bryden McKinnell, they were:
Thomas Dawson of West Kirby
John Graham of Hoylake
James C Evans of West Kirby
Geoffrey L. Higgins of Hoylake
Thomas F. Jones of Hoylake
Frank Monteath of West Kirby
All of them were members of the Liverpool Scottish and all of them have no known graves and are, therefore, recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres. More people from West Kirby and Hoylake died in the battle than did on the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916 (when six local men died), on 15th August 1915 (when five local soldiers of the 1/st/4th Cheshire Regiment perished in Gallipolli), and 30th July 1916 (when five local Liverpool Pals were killed on the Somme). It was much talked about in the local press, including in this item from the Birkenhead News:
The Scotsman newspaper reported that the battalion suffered 400 casualties in the charge at Hooge – four officers and 75 other ranks killed; 11 officers and 201 other ranks wounded; and six officers and 103 other ranks missing. Company-Quartermaster Sergeant, R.A. Scott Macfie, described the aftermath at camp in a letter to his father: “…after a while there passed through our gate a handful of men in tattered uniforms, their faces blackened and unshaved, their clothes stained red with blood, or yellow with the fumes of lyddite. I shouted for Y Company. One man came forward! It was heart breaking. Gradually others tottered in; some wounded, in various stages of exhaustion..”
Bryden was seen to be leading his men when he was shot through the head. He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. He had already been mentioned in Dispatches.
Bryden’s grave (if he ever had one) must have been destroyed in later fighting and so he is recorded, along with 54,403 others, on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres:
Bryden’s estate, worth £273 9s, was bequeathed to his widowed mother in Chester on 4th January 1916.
Bryden’s is one of those stories of an energetic, intelligent and sensitive young man who might have gone on to achieve wonderful things in life if it had not been for that terrible war in which he so enthusiastically and selflessly took part.
Birth: June 1889
Death: 16th June 1915, killed in action age 25
Addresses: 31 Green Bank Road Tranmere (91), 19 Merton Place, Maxwellbridge, Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland (11), Nithsdale, Valentia Road, Hoylake (15)
Occupation: Corn Broker
Units: 5th Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers, 10th Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) or “Liverpool Scottish”
Number and Rank: Captain
Medals: Mentioned in Dispatches, Military Cross, 1914 Star, British War and Victory
Commeorated and Buried: GH, H, Belgium: Ypres, Menin Gate Memorial , Panel 4 and 6
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, DA, BA, The Scotsman, The Dumfries and Galloway Standard, A.M. McGilchrist The Liverpool Scottish 1909-1919, Helen B. McCartney Citizen Soldiers, Census: 91 11