Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland
Johnstone Soldier was Winston Churchill's Batman
February 9, 2018
Private 6817 John McGuire from Johnstone was serving in the 6th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers when his new commanding officer Lt. Col. Winston Spencer Churchill, the future Prime Minister, arrived on 5th January 1916 to take command of the battalion, located near Ploegsteert Wood on the Western Front. John had been chosen to be his batman.
A native of Johnstone, John McGuire lived for a time in Dimity St., before the war and attended St Margaret's School with the rest of his family. As a young pupil he began his lifelong appreciation of Robert Burns, which stood him in good stead with Winston Churchill, also a devotee, of which they had many a discussion.
John was a veteran soldier. When war was declared on 4th August 1914 he walked from Johnstone to Paisley to enlist as a Regular soldier in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, since it was the quickest way to get to France. After training in the 3rd (Special Reserve) Btn., RSF , on 3rd December 1914 he arrived in France to join the 1st Btn., RSF seeing active service at the Front. He was later posted to the 6th Btn. RSF.
John remembered 'Winnie' with great affection and respect, especially their brushes with danger as he led the great man on personal forays into No Mans Land, so he could see what was happening in the trenches of the enemy. 'We were so near the Germans sometimes' said John, 'we could hear them talking.' He reckoned they risked their lives more than 30 times on these forays together.
On 7th May 1916 Winston Churchill handed over command of the battalion and returned to London. On that date the Btn. was amalgamated with the 7th Btn. to form the 6/7th Btn. RSF and John continued to serve in this Btn., which eventually became a Pioneer Btn. and reduced to a Training Cadre, returning to England on 20 June 1918 to be absorbed by the 18th Scottish Rifles.
John remained a Fusilier, being posted to the 2nd Btn. RSF. in France. Promoted to Corporal he was presented with a parchment certificate from his Div. Commander, Gen. H.H. Tudor, 9th (Scottish) Div. for bringing down a German aircraft single handed by rifle fire on 29 July 1918, possibly the only soldier to achieve this feat.
John went on to win the Military Medal for taking out and capturing a German machine gun and then turning it on the enemy allowing his unit to take the position. After it was over he calmly made tea with boiling water, used as coolant from the same gun.
John recounted that while in France he won a 'Smart Soldier' competition out of 1000 entries and was amazed to find himself on the cover of 55,000 Army Chistmas cards sent all over the world.
After the war was over John, who had achieved the rank of Sergeant, was demobbed on 19 February 1919.
When John eventually got home to Johnstone he was treated as a Local Hero receiving a gold watch from the Johnstone people to commemorate his feats. John also received a written reference from Winston Churchill recommending him for a job in 'civvy' street. After the war John settled in Lanarkshire. He never forgot his Johnstone roots and in 1989 , at the age of 94, he gave a story regarding his exploits to the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette. At the time he was staying in an old peoples home in Bellshill. Coincidentally the BBC were looking for any veterans of the 6th RSF still alive, for a televised series about Churchill, by Marisa Appugliese. My husband contacted her regarding John and he appeared on the programme the same year.
John is believed to have died the following year , 1990 in Bellshill. A grand old man, just like his hero Winston Churchill.
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