Driver James McKee


Driver McKee in 1919 - note medal ribbons and two wound stripes.


James McKee was born on 3 October 1889 at Kilkeel, County Down, the sixth of seven children of labourer James McKee and his wife Ellen (nee Galbraith). By the time of the 1911 Census he was living with his parents and two siblings at Harbour Road, Kilkeel, and working as a labourer.

McKee enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 26 and 28 January 1916 (No.2090).

At the end of December 1916 McKee was one of forty North Irish Horsemen who volunteered to transfer to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The transfer took place on 9 January 1917, the same day they embarked for France, where they were posted to the 10th Battalion, joining it at Ploegsteert Wood on the Ypres front. He was issued regimental number 40652 and posted to B Company.

McKee was reported to have been wounded in the first half of 1917, probably in March or April. The wound, however, was not severe, and he was able to rejoin his battalion soon after.

At the end of June 1917 the 10th Battalion was on the Ypres front, taking its turn in the front line on the Spanbroek sector from the 25th to the 29th. They sustained twelve casualties during this time – 2 killed and 10 wounded – from enemy shelling. One of these was Private McKee, seriously wounded around his upper arm/shoulder blade and on both thighs, and suffering abrasions to his head. He was evacuated to Bailleul and then via the 31st Ambulance Train to a hospital at Boulogne, and was later shipped to England for further treatment. According to family recollections, while in hospital in England he met and shook hands with Queen Mary (wife of King George V) who was visiting the injured troops.

Later that year a medical board found McKee was not fit for front-line service, and on 15 January 1918 he was transferred to the Army Service Corps (No. T/382813) with the rank of driver. He remained with the ASC until demobilised on 23 October 1919, when he was granted a pension due to his wounds and bronchitis.

McKee returned to Kilkeel and was later employed as a clerk of works. By 1962 he was living with his wife Mary Jane at Newry Road, Kilkeel. He died there on 21 September that year.


I am grateful to David Hawthorne from Lisburn, Northern Ireland, for agreeing that I reproduce this wonderful set of pictures of his Grandfather.


A photograph owned by McKee of a group of North Irish Horsemen on inspection parade at Antrim in 1916. Note the bugle and 1908-pattern cavalry swords. The photograph was taken by George Kennedy, photographer, 135 Donegall Street, Belfast. (Another picture by the same photographer can be seen here.)


A mounted image of Private McKee. (Another image of a North Irish Horseman, here, shows a different rider on the same horse with the same background.)


Driver McKee in 1919.


James McKee's dogtags - North Irish Horse and 10th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.