Edinburgh City Police - PC 233B John William McKinlay

Edinburgh City Police

PC 233B John William McKinlay


The British War Medal

The Victory Medal with Mention in Despatches Oak Leaf (16 March 1919)



John William McKinlay was born on 17 May 1892 at Blackhall, Kirkwall, Orkney. His father was Alexander McKinlay, a Farm Servant and his mother, Mary Ann Turfus or McKinlay. They were married on 11 November 1890 at St Andrews.


John was a Butcher before he joined Edinburgh City Police in 1912. He enlisted in the Lothian & Border Horse in 1915 and served in France and Belgium. He later served in the Military Mounted Police and rejoined Edinburgh City Police in 1919.


He was a piper in the Police Pipe Band, eventually becoming Pipe-Sergeant and took part in many of the parades and ceremonial occasions during his service, in Edinburgh and in France and Belgium. 


John McKinlay retired on pension in 1945. He died in Edinburgh in 1960.

PC 233B John William McKinlay, probably between 1912 - 1915.

The Early Years

In the Census of Scotland 1901, the following were living at 15 North Constitution Street, Aberdeen on the night of the Census.


Name & Age


Place & County of Birth

Alexander McKinlay, (28)

Labourer, Gas Works

Kirkwall, Orkney

Mary Ann McKinlay, (31)


Kirkwall, Orkney

John W McKinlay, (8)

Son, Scholar

Kirkwall, Orkney

Maggie A McKinlay, (5)

Daughter, Scholar

Kirkwall, Orkney

Alexander McKinlay, (4)

Son, Scholar

Fettercairn, Kincardineshire

Mary McKinlay, (under 1 month)


Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire


The Census of Scotland 1911

In the Census of Scotland 1911, the following were living at 5 Raeden Place, Aberdeen on the night of the Census.


Name & Age


Place & County of Birth

Alexander McKinlay, (38)

Storeman, Grain Merchants

Kirkwall, Orkney

Mary Ann McKinlay, (41)


Kirkwall, Orkney

John W McKinlay, (18)

Son, Butcher’s Carter

Kirkwall, Orkney

Maggie A McKinlay, (16)

Daughter, Grocer’s Shop Assistant

Kirkwall, Orkney

Alexander McKinlay, (14)

Son, Butcher’s Assistant

Fettercairn, Kincardineshire

Mary McKinlay, (10)

Daughter, Scholar

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire

Elizabeth McKinlay, (7)

Daughter, Scholar

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire

Barbara McKinlay, (5)

Daughter, Scholar

Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire

Edith McKinlay, (3)


Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire


Between 1911 and 1912, John moved to Edinburgh and certainly by the time he joined the Army in 1915, his father was living in Balfour Street, Leith.

Edinburgh City Police Records 1912

Edinburgh Police records show that John William McKinlay, (20), born 17 May 1892 at Kirkwall, Orkney, joined the force on 1 October 1912.


He was 5’ 10.5”, with dark hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion. His previous occupation was ‘Butcher’.


John was posted to B Division at Gayfield Square with the collar number 233 B. He can be seen in his early years wearing that collar number above.


PC John McKinlay resigned from Edinburgh City Police on 31 May 1915 ‘for the purpose of joining the Army’.

British Army Records 1915

John McKinlay, (23), a Police Officer of 31 Balfour Street, Leith enlisted in the 3/1st Lothian & Border Horse, part of the Territorial Force,  as Trooper No. 2246 at Edinburgh on 1 June 1915. His next of kin was listed as ‘Alexander McKinlay (Father), 31 Balfour Street, Leith.’


On 20 May 1915, he signed an Agreement, (Army Form E. 624), as an ‘Officer or man of the Territorial Force’, making him subject to a liability to serve ‘in any place outside the United Kingdom in the event of National Emergency.’ This Agreement was meant to ensure that the man served abroad with his own unit or as part of his own unit only. John was entitled to the award of a special badge signifying his liability to serve abroad.


His army record shows that he served in the United Kingdom from 1 June 1915 to 25 September 1916. During this time, he was qualified as a ‘Bomber and Instructor’ and promoted to substantive Corporal on 21 September 1916.


Army Council Instruction No. 1733 of 1916

The Army Council Instruction No. 1733 of 1916 gave authority to transfer men of the Territorial Force to other units despite the undertaking in Form E. 624. 


Service with the British Expeditionary Force in France & Belgium

From 26 September 1916, apart from brief periods of home leave, John McKinlay served in the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France and Belgium until 23 July 1919.


Transfer to the Military Mounted Police

In Order C. R. 870/4/1777/A of 19 May 1917, Colonel C. B. Vyvyan, the Provost Marshall of the 5th Army, authorised the temporary transfer of Corporal No. 2246 J. McKinlay of the Lothian & Border Horse to the Military Mounted Police, No. P/11020 for the duration of the war. It may have rankled that he reverted to the rank of Private with the unpaid rank of Lance-Corporal. He was posted to Headquarters, 5th Corps. 


Register of Marriages in the District of North Leith in the Burgh of Leith 1918

On 3 January 1918, at 13 Hawthornvale, Newhaven, Leith, after Banns according to the Forms of the United Free Church, John William McKinlay, (25), Policeman (Corporal 11020 Military Mounted Police), Bachelor, of 31 Balfour Street, Leith, married Mary Allan Wilson, (26), Spinster, of 14 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh. 


John’s parents were Alexander McKinlay, a Dock Labourer and Mary Ann Turfus or McKinlay. Mary’s parents were James Wilson, a Farm Servant and Helen Barclay or Wilson.


The witnesses were James Armstrong and Barbara Wilson, and the ceremony was performed by the Reverend George Macauley, Minister of Pilrig Church.


From this date, John’s next of kin on his army records is shown as Mary McKinlay of 14 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh.


Mention in Despatches 16 March 1919

Whilst still stationed in France, on 16 March 1919, ‘P.11020 Lance-Corporal J. McKinlay was Mentioned in a Despatch by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig for gallant and distinguished services in the Field…’


A copy of the notification can be seen below.


Transfer to the United Kingdom

On 24 July 1919 John McKinlay was transferred back to the UK and served there until 21 August 1919. He was officially ‘Disembodied from the Army’ on 22 August 1919. His address on the documentation is then 7 Iona Street, Leith.


John McKinlay was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He was also awarded an Oak Leaf signifying his Mention in Despatches (MID) in March 1919. He can be seen wearing either the ribbons or medals in several of the pictures of him in in police and pipe band uniform. The MID Oak Leaf can be seen on the Victory Medal ribbon.

The notice of the Mention in Despatches awarded to John McKinlay on 16 March 1919.

Edinburgh City Police Records 1919

On 26 August 1919, PC 233 B John William McKinlay was “Re-appointed with 4 years and 83 days Army Service and former police service counting towards pension and placed in 1st Grade, 2nd Class Constable @49/- per week. Army service 1 June 1915 – 22 August 1919.”


John continued working in B Division and playing in the Edinburgh City Police pipe band. He was a Piper, Pipe-Corporal and eventually Pipe-Sergeant and he can be seen in these roles in the pictures below.


In the picture immediately below, the front row from Left to right is Pipe-Major Alexander Henry, Unknown, William McNair and  Pipe-Sergeant William Sutherland. John McKinlay is in the second row, immediately behind P/M Henry. 


The Piper to the extreme right in the third row is David Anderson, formerly the Pipe-Major in the 15th Battalion Royal Scots. He played his pipes during a charge by his battalion on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. He was decorated with the French Croix de Guerre and it can be seen on his chest in this picture.


Piper Angus McKinnon, (after whom P/M Donald Shaw Ramsay of Edinburgh City Police named the 6/8 March), is between P/Sgt Sutherland and David Anderson.


The next picture shows the police pipe band leading the force on a formal parade which could be for the Annual Inspection by His Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary for Scotland, a parade for a Royal Visit to Edinburgh or a Church Parade.


Front row, from left to right, the Pipe-Major is William Sutherland, the Pipe-Corporal is John McKinlay, ? and Pipe-Sergeant Hance Gates.


Also in the picture just visible through the rear rank of the band is the Chief Constable of Edinburgh, Roderick Ross in a bicorn hat.


The Edinburgh City Police were trained in drill and gymnstics during this period by an ex-Scots Guard Instructor, Francis James Dow who retired as an Inspector.

Edinburgh City Police pipe band at the head of a force parade outside the Headquarters, 1 Parliament Square, Edinburgh.
Edinburgh City Police on parade, possibly for an Annual Inspection or a Church Parade.

Three of the pictures show John in the company of French or Belgian people and I believe it is highly likely the band attended commemorations after the war in those countries as many of its members had served in the Army there.

It is possible this image was taken after the war in a battlefield in France or Belgium. John McKinlay is wearing the British War and Victory Medals.
John McKinlay shaking hands with members of the audience somewhere in France or Belgium.
Pipe-Corporal John McKinlay taking part in a toast, possibly in France or Belgium.
This crop shows the ECP Pipe Band glengarry badge of that time.

On 2 June 1936, John transferred from B Division to Headquarters in Parliament Square. He was posted to the Central Charge Office with the collar number 61 HQ. He can be seen wearing that collar number in the picture below.

PC 61 HQ John McKinlay outside the Central Charge Office in the High Street at Parliament Square, Edinburgh.
John McKinlay, by now a Pipe-Segeant, entertaining schoolchildren at Edinburgh Castle.
Pipe-sergeant John McKinlay at a formal occasion.

On 20 August 1945 John William McKinlay retired on pension from Edinburgh City Police at the age of 53. He was also entitled to the award of the Defence Medal, having served for more thant three years during World War 2.


The End of the Story

John William McKinlay, (68), Police Constable (Retired), married to Mary Allan Wilson, of 30 Alderbank Terrace, Edinburgh, died in the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh on 4 August 1960.


His son, Alexander McKinlay, registered his death.


This article has been made possible by the kindness of John McKinlay’s Grand-daughter, Heather Johansson and all of the pictures are courtesy of her.

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