Engine Room Artificer William West McGhie of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, was the second child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth McGhie (née West). He was born and grew up in Hutchesontown, in Glasgow’s Southside.
Like most working class families in Glasgow at the time, the McGhie’s lived in a four story tenement building in which they occupied a small flat. They shared a common entrance, as well as a shared toilet and wash-house. People washed, cooked, slept, and lived in one or two rooms. However these tenement homes should not be equated with slum conditions. Although living space was limited these were as clean and well run as wealthier homes.
Hutchesontown circa 1890
Nathaniel and Elizabeth married in 1890 in Hutchesontown. In 1891 they were living at 30 Gilmour Street, Hutchesontown. Nathaniel, age 25, was working as a Steamship Stoker. His job involved shoveling coal into furnaces to fuel the engines. It would have been stifling hot, back-breaking, claustrophobic work.
Nathaniel and Elizabeth had two children. Their daughter Mary was born on June 11th 1891 and William on Jan 12th 1893.
One of their neighbours at 30 Gilmour street was Jane Cullen who lived with her husband Robert and children Jane, William and Roderick.
In 1894 tragedy struck both families. William was only 1 year old when his mother Elizabeth died, age 24 and Jane Cullen lost her youngest child Roderick, age 3, and her husband Robert age 37 that same year.
Nathaniel married Jane Cullen the following year. The couple went on to have two further children; Nathaniel, born 1898, and Margaret born 1899.
In 1901 Nathaniel and Jane were still at 30 Gilmour street with their 6 children. Nathaniel was now employed as a Stationary Engine Driver.
Nelson Battalion Royal Naval Division, cap badge
On February 17th 1911, at 18 years of age, William West McGhie enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He joined the Royal Naval Division, Nelson Battalion in August 1914, participating in the defence of Antwerp September – October 1914. He was discharged from the RND on October 27th 1914 and spent the rest of his service at sea.
As an Engine Room Artificer (ERA) on the Laurentic, William would have been a skilled mechanic or engineer. ERAs were able to read and write, were competent in the workings of engines and boilers, and were trained in the maintenance, operation and uses of all parts of marine engines. Perhaps William developed an aptitude for this type of work from his father. (ERAs were the senior maintainers and operators of all warship mechanical plant).
The 1914 Star was issued to his father on July 24th 1919.
William West McGhie’s body was never recovered. He is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk – births, deaths and marriages registers
1891 and 1901 Scotland Census. General Register Office for Scotland.
The Jack Clegg Memorial Database of Royal Naval Division Casualties of The Great War compiled by Jack Marshall.
We are grateful to Peter Threlfall, WW1 historian, who kindly contributed the photograph of William West McGhie, on behalf of the McGhie family.