Lieutenant John McKinstry, MC



John McKinstry was born on 20 October 1890 at Tandragee, County Armagh, son of flax spinning mill manager Robert McKinstry and his wife Annie (nee Smith).

By 1911 he was living at Cloughurivan, Camlough, County Armagh, with his widowed mother, four brothers and a sister, and employed as an apprentice manager (weaving). Of his brothers, William was a divinity student, Thomas Stanley a mill manager (spinning), Robert Noel a medical student, and James McNeill a linen trade apprentice. Just prior to the outbreak of war John was manager of the Ivy Weaving Company's factory at Dollingstown, Lurgan. He was a member of the Bessbrook Cricket Club.

McKinstry enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast on 8 August 1914 (No.971), just four days after war was declared. Twelve days later he embarked for France as part of C Squadron, seeing action in the Retreat from Mons and Advance to the Aisne.

A newspaper report from September 1914 stated:

We are informed that Mr. Jack McKinstry (late of Bessbrook) is at the present time on General French's headquarter staff at the front. Jack joined the North Irish Horse in Belfast after the declaration of war. He is one of the best of good fellows, and we have no doubt he will distinguish himself during the war. He has many friends in Bessbrook, where he spent so many happy years, and his safe return is the wish of all.

The Newry Reporter of 8 June 1915 reported that:

Last week Trooper Jack McKinstry, of the North Irish Horse, was home on a few days' leave from France. He is in the pink of condition, and evidently enjoys a soldier's life. He is gone again to the front, and his many friends wish him a safe return home. His brother Noel, who is a surgeon in the Navy, also visited his home at the week-end, and is in the best of health. Both were very popular in Bessbrook and district.

On 6 January 1916 he was posted to the 1st Gordon Highlanders on probation for a commission, but it appears the posting did not proceed. Just over five months later he was sent to the Officer Cadet School at Arque, France.

On 31 July 1916 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant and posted to the 11th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. He was promoted to lieutenant eighteen months later. McKinstry was mentioned on a number of occasions in the battalion's diary. In relation to a raid on enemy lines in the Wulverghem-Messines sector of the Ypres front on the night of 31 October 1916:

2nd Lieut McKinstry carried a wounded man back from the enemy trenches to our lines. His conduct throughout was very cool and collected, and he was of the greatest assistance to 2nd Lieut Waring.

On 7 December 1916:

McKinstry made satisfactory reconnaissance of Sap on Messines-Wulverghem Road. ...

12 noon. 2 Lt McKinstry wounded in the thumb of left hand whilst returning from H.Q. to the trenches over the top mist having suddenly lifted. Went to Hospital in afternoon.

Before long he was back with the battalion. The diary for 20 December reported:

Patrol under 2nd Lieut McKinstry & 2nd Lieut McCullough went out and bombed German Sap at U.C.40.50.

On the night of 2/3 September 1917, while the 11th Battalion was in the line at Havrincourt, near Cambrai, a raid was attempted on the German trenches. According to the battalion war diary:

A patrol of 1 Officer and 10 men, with covering party of 1 Officer & 10 men attempted to rush enemy post at K.33.d.7.2. The wire was blown up by Bangalore Torpedo but the enemy was about and opened hot fire with rifles and grenades, and our party could not get in. Casualties 1 Off. 6 O.R. Wounded.

McKinstry was the officer casualty, sustaining a grenade wound to his shoulder. Twenty days later he was evacuated to England, where he was sent to the 2nd Southern General Hospital at Bristol. The wound was not severe, and by 2 October he was found fit for home service, joining the 18th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles at Clandeboye, Belfast, later that month. By 22 December he had completely recovered and was pronounced fit for general service.

McKinstry was posted to the 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, in April 1918, joining it in the field in Belgium (his old battalion the 11th had been disbanded). He saw action with the battalion during the Adance to Victory Offensive from August to November 1918. On 16 October while attempting to establish a bridgehead across the Lys at Courtrai, he earned a Military Cross. His citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and good leadership in action on October 16th, 1918, at Courtrai. When in command of a company he rushed forward with a platoon along a street swept by machine-gun fire, and seized the bank of the Lys. It was entirely due to his personal example that the bank of the river was secured and an enemy machine gun knocked out. He showed marked courage and determined leadership.

McKinstry was released from service on 31 January 1919.

After the war he returned to work as a factory manager. On 26 April 1921 he married Mabel Georgina McConnell in the Parish Church of Drumcondra, Dublin. He died on 11 February 1973.


Two of Lieutenant McKinstry's brothers also served in the war. Second Lieutenant James McNeill McKinstry of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, died in France on 2 December 1916. Noel McKinstry served in the Royal Navy as a surgeon.


Lieutenant McKinstry(in uniform) at the wedding of his brother Stanley to Edna Slipper on 16 April 1919.


McKinstry (centre) in the office of William Walker Ltd, linen manufacturers, County Down.


Images and first newspaper report sourced from robertshields901 on Clipping from the Newry Reporter kindly provided by Joe Center.