Remembering those who fought in the Great War.

John McNicol


My Great Grandfather John McNicol was born 24 July 1859 in Gourock, Renfrewshire, the son of Duncan McNicol, Master Mariner. John was the oldest of six children but only John and his brother Duncan survived childhood. John followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Merchant Navy in 1876. John became a Master Mariner and served as a Clyde Pilot and Captain for the Gem Line Shipping Company.John married ‘the girl next door’ Mary Virginia Jones at the Queen’s Hotel, Gourock on 16 September 1891 and they had 2 daughters, Elizabeth McGregor (Dolly) and Mary Virginia Jones (Ginia).

Just after the outbreak of WW1, even though he was then aged 55, John joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a Lieutenant, and in July 1915, as Master of the coaster Turquoise set sail for the Dardanelles. However, disaster struck off the Isles of Scilly, as detailed in this newspaper report:

‘Scilly, Monday – At an inquest held at Scilly today on the body of the chief engineer of the s.s. Turquoise, of Glasgow, the evidence showed that a submarine was sighted which proved to be  German. The submarine was flying a signal which they could not distinguish, as it was end on, but afterwards found was, “Abandon ship immediately” The submarine opened fire on the ship at a range of about 1000 yards, and the third shot wounded the engineer. While they were in the act of getting out two other men were wounded. They were in the boats for 14 hours before being picked up by a Dutch vessel. The engineer died on board the Dutch vessel, where they remained two hours before being taken off by a patrol boat.'

On 2nd August from Penzance, John wrote to his daughter:

‘Dear Dolly,

Only a line confirming my wire today, Tuquoise was sunk by shell fire from a German submarine on Saturday afternoon. I lost the Chief Engineer killed & three men wounded only for a chance shot from the sub. The result might have been different, but your old father did not disgrace you anyway.

I am joining another steamer the Silverfield here on the same job. Of course I lost everything. Don’t talk about this outside to any one. Give my love to Grannie & Baby.

I escaped without a scratch myself & although I was 14 hours in an open boat in bad weather & wet through I am all right.

Now my dear I will close with best love & kisses, Your loving Father’

The Silverfied sailed from Penzance on 7th August.

On 12 October John’s family received this telegram:

‘Deeply regret inform you Lieut John McNicol R.N.R. died on 29th September from dysentery. Please report name and relationship of his nearest relatives. Admiralty’

Some time later John’s wife received this letter, written by Major Upjohn 3rd Australian General Hospital, Lemnos on 27 September 1915.

‘My Dear wife,

As you are doubtless aware by now I have been very ill in hospital for eleven days or so. It came to a head last night, it came to a crisis and I believe I will get better slowly now. I am in good heart myself and apparently getting a little stronger all the time. I have had the best medical and nursing attention or I would not be here now.

I will write you again as soon as possible. Love to the girls, yourself and Grandma.

Your loving husband, John’



Cathy Jewell

Had worked with the Gem Line for many years then for the war was with the Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary. First with the Torqoise which had been torpedoed. He was in boats for 14 hours before rescue. He died of dysentery, in charge of the MFA Silverfield. SILVERFIELD, fleet messenger, Y4.43. Built 1915, 426grt. In commissioned service 4.8.15-7.6.20, flew white ensign.

Saturday 31 July

Atlantic off SW England

Two Admiralty fleet messengers sailing in company from Glasgow under sealed orders, bound for Dardanelles, heavy seas with SW force 8 gale blowing, sunk by U.28 (Georg-Günther Freiherr von Forstner) off the Scillies:

TURQUOISE, ex-coaster, 486/c1892, Glasgow-reg, W Robertson, hired 2/7/15, Pennant No.Y4.30, 15 crew, Lt John McNicol RNR, sailing for Bizerta in ballast. In the afternoon sighted surfaced submarine on starboard bow which rapidly approached, ordered to stop but attempted to ram, U.28 opened fire around 1600 making several hits, ship immediately abandoned and sank at 1615, 60 miles SW of Scillies (wi - attacked in 49N, 07.08W, sank 40 miles SW of, in 49.00N 07.00W); one life lost, probably Merchant Navy (He/wi - chief engineer killed by gunfire, two crew wounded), survivors picked up by patrol trawler, landed at St Mary’s next day (+L/Lr/C/Cn/D/He/dk/wi; ADM.137/1130)

Newspaper Clippings relating to John McNicol

John McNicol