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John Alexander MacGregor (1876-1931)

Born in Bishopwearmouth son of a master basketweaver served in France with the AIF

When war broke out in 1914, John Alexander MacGregor was serving as a merchant seaman, sailing out of Sydney, New South Wales (NSW). Logically he should have joined the Australian Navy when he enlisted but, despite no background in mining, he was assigned to the Australian Mining Companies.

John was born in Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland on 11 November 1876. His parents, John Colquhoun MacGregor and Jessie Sutherland, both came from Scotland but had moved south to County Durham before the birth of their first child, Jessie Jane, in 1875. But by 1881, the family had moved back up to Wick in Caithness where John senior is recorded as a master basket weaver, employing one apprentice.

As a young man, John may have moved to Canada for a while, as on his attestation papers, he claimed to have been a bugler in the Canadian military for three years.

However, by 1909, he was back in Scotland, where he married Agnes Stark in West Calder, Lanarkshire, on 30 December of that year. Agnes was working as a domestic servant there; John was classed as a shipping goods clerk. In November of the following year, a son, James, was born, but the marriage appears to have been in difficulty for by 1913, John was living and working in Australia. He was serving on the merchant ship “Indarra” as a quarter master, then on the “Moeraki” as an able seaman in 1915. Agnes and James remained in Scotland.

On 26 November 1915, John enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in Sydney, joining the Australian Mining Companies as a private. He embarked from Sydney on 20 February of the following year and after a period of training in Egypt, finally arrived in Marseilles on 5 May 1916, as allied armies started to mass for the forthcoming Battle of the Somme. On 22 July, an incident occurred which resulted in John being confined to barracks for seven days: he refused to get out of bed when ordered to do so by a senior officer, then compounded his “crimeā€¯, by letting loose a string of obscenities.

John transferred to the Electrical, Mechanical and Boring Unit of the Mining Companies as a sapper on 12 April 1917, and remained with them until the end of the war, primarily carrying out repair work on the tunnels previously dug by the other mining companies. He finally left England to return to Australia on 13 March 1919, to be discharged from the army on 30 June.

John settled in the Surrey Hills area of Sydney where his brother, Charles, was also living.

Back in Scotland, Agnes was finding life difficult and was in desperate need of financial help. She had lost contact with John and, in desperation, tried to contact her brother-in-law, Charles, but she received no reply from him. In 1933, she finally tried contacting the Australian Army Records Office, saying that she had received no help from John since the war and was unsure if he was even still alive. She asked for their help in either obtaining an allowance from him or, if he had indeed died, in receiving a widow’s pension. The Army did what they could to help, contacting both John and Charles at their last known addresses, but their letters were returned unopened.

In fact, John was already dead; he died on 1 October 1931, in Australia.

Civil Parish: Sunderland

Birth date: 11-Nov-1876

Death date: 01-Oct-1931

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: 24 Washington Street, Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland (ecclesiastical parish of St Luke’s 1881 English census)
407 St Vincent Street, Glasgow Barony, Lanarkshire (1891 Scottish census)
35 McKinley Street, Glasgow (1909 marriage licence)
20 Parkham Street, Moore Park, Sydney, NSW (1926 correspondence)

Employment: Shipping Clerk, Merchant Seaman

Family: Parents: John Colquhoun MacGregor (1849-1895), Jessie Sutherland MacGregor (b 1854)
Siblings: Jessie Jane MacGregor (b 1875) Margaretann MacGregor (b 1879), Charles MacGregor (b 1883)
Wife: Agnes MacGregor (nee Spark 1874-1966)
Son: James MacGregor (1910-1973)

Military service:

Service Number 1871
Electrical, Mechanical & Boring unit of the Australian Mining Companies
Enlisted 26-Nov-1915 in Sydney
Discharged 30-Jun-1919
Served 3 years 132 days overseas, 3 years 214 days in total

Medal(s): British War Medal
Victory Medal

Gender: Male

Contributed by Kelloe Visitor, Trimdon Station

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