Lady Madeleine Frances Mackinnon CBE

Lady Madeleine Frances Mackinnon (1854-1926) was the wife of General Sir William Henry Mackinnon KCB, KCVO (1852-1929). The Cheshire connection came about because he was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Western Command from 1910 to 1916 when the headquarters were at Watergate House in Chester. The official residence was Government House in Dee Hills Park, which was where they were recorded as living in the 1911 Census. Their daughter Nora Mary Fynvola Mackinnon (1882-1953) married Lieutenant Colonel Egerton in 1905 and Major Bruce in 1918.


    Lady Mackinnon’s VAD Card









Lady Mackinnon's actual offices are cited differently in various publications, but as the Vice-President or Commandant of the Cheshire Red Cross she played far more than just a titular role, and various documents show her active engagement in many of its activities e.g. the organisation of an event on Chester Roodee involving the Duke of Westminster in 1913 when Lord Methuen inspected the Voluntary Aid Detachments of the Chester Division of the Red Cross Society; addressing a conference at the Imperial Services Exhibition, also in 1913, on the need for finance to be made available to support the VAD's; in the last week of July 1914 she is reported as overseeing a four day training exercise on the Roodee. The Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith had been expected to visit but was confined to London on account of the international crisis, World War 1 being declared on the 4th of August.

On the 15th of August 1914, the Mayor of Chester received the offer from Mr. George Hayes at Hoole Bank House for the house to be used as a hospital; the Mayor replied “A thousand thanks. After consulting Lady Mackinnon consider Hoole Bank would be most acceptable as convalescent home upon being fitted up.”

Newspaper Article 15th August 1914

In August 1915 at the opening of Hoole House as a Red Cross Hospital, Lady Mackinnon thanked Mrs. Wardle Yerburgh for the magnificent present of that beautiful home, the remodelling of the drainage and installation for electric lighting. She also thanked Mr. J.S. Welford, who had recently lived there, for equipping the Hospital “to the utmost farthing”. She announced that her health had broken down completely and that she had received orders not to live in Chester. “She used to be so happy with all of them (the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment)”.

The oral history of John Faulkner {see Footnote 1}, a civilian volunteer with the Red Cross Chester Division from 1912, suggests that when earlier her husband was appointed to head the City of London Imperial Volunteers in 1900 and subsequently the (national) Territorial Force in 1905, it was realised that while the regular army had medical units, volunteer units did not. That is how Lady Mackinnon became involved with Voluntary Aid Detachments of the Red Cross from 1900 onwards.

She copied what had been done in London in Cheshire. Following her death in October 1926, The Times reported "Sir Ernest E Wild K.C. Recorder of London writes:- She was the apostle of patriotism. It was owing to her initiative that, when her husband was Commander-in-Chief of the Western Command in 1911, the Red Cross came into existence in that district".

Strangely a history of the Great War in Chester written in 1920 by F.W. Longbottom {see Footnote 2} does not mention Lady Mackinnon in its section about the Red Cross, although it does say that she was President of the Girl Guides; neither Western Command nor her husband are mentioned. The diaries of the Atcherley family who lived at Poole House in Flookersbrook from 1910 to c1917 state that two daughters, Hope and Hester were with the Girl Guides of Hoole and went on to do voluntary work as VAD workers, their pink cards recording “pantry work and nursing at Hoole House hospital” together contributing over 11,000 hours between December 1914 and January 1919. The 2015 book “Chester in the Great War” by Susan Chambers records that Lady Mackinnon was Vice-President of the Soldiers and Sailors Families Association.

John Faulkner also recalled that volunteers were regularly invited to tea with the Mackinnons at Government House. He was involved in the transport of the wounded from the railway station to various hospitals in the area, mentioning The Infirmary (Matron Mrs Walmsley), Hoole House, Hoole Bank House, Eaton Hall and Richmond House. He also carried out nursing duties.

Although General Mackinnon moved to become Colonel of the King's (Liverpool) Regiment from 1916 to 1923, it appears that Lady Mackinnon continued to be President of the Cheshire Red Cross and also President of the City of London Branch - recognised when she was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1920. Even when they were living in Chester, they continued to play a large part in the social life of London, being frequently mentioned in Court Circulars as attending functions, state, royal and civic.

At the start of World War 1, Lady Mackinnon’s brother-in-law the Reverend David Whincup, the British chaplain at Hanover, was detained by the German authorities at Bentheim, arrested and placed in prison. Her sister was allowed to proceed to the frontier and reached England in a distressed and penniless condition. She complained of having been very brutally treated by German soldiers, and that she was stoned and spat upon and subjected to other indignations. Mrs. Whincup arrived in Chester where she stayed with her sister at Government House.

Lady Mackinnon’s ill health continued, and she died during a cruise off Athens in 1926.


General Sir Henry Mackinnon

There are numerous references to the General on the world wide web, including pictures of him: photographs, a cartoon and he was even featured on a cigarette card. He was a very distinguished soldier, recognised for his service in the Boer War. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that his father was the son of William Alexander Mackinnon (1784-1870), the 34th Chief of the Mackinnon Clan.

Footnote 1: John Faulkner's oral history (four reels approx. 1 hour) is available from the Imperial War Museum.

Footnote 2: F.W. Longbottom's book contains sections on a number of organisations in Chester and their role in WW1 and ends with a list of Chester citizens who lost their lives.

Article researched and written by Ralph Earlam, January 2019, Hoole History & Heritage Society

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