Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 14, 1885
Place of BirthClonmel, Tipperary
Marital StatusSingle
Trade / CallingShip's Officer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number772
BattalionRoyal Navy Volunteer Reserve
ForceRoyal Navy
BranchRoyal Navy
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentGalway, Ireland
Date of EnlistmentAugust 13, 1915
Age at Enlistment30
Theatre of ServiceGreat Britain
Prisoner of WarNot Specified
Survived WarYes
Death Details

McCutchan, Donald

Donald Robert McCutchan was born in Ireland, on Jan. 14, 1885, the youngest son and fourth of five children of Susan Harriet Head and British Army surgeon Lt. Col. James Shaw McCutchan.

In 1900 Susan, who was separated from her husband, emigrated  to Canada to join her second husband The Hon. JEP Vereker who’d established a business, the Rat Portage Cold Storage Company, in what is now Kenora.

With her, Susan McCutchan brought young Donald and his younger sister Gladys Rose (born in 1888) and Jeffrey (1896) who was JEP Vereker’s son.

Susan and JEP were wed in 1902 after her divorce was finalized.

Donald McCutchan worked in his step father’s business for several years before deciding to try a career at sea. Military service, both in the navy and army, were a family tradition. His mother’s father had been a Captain in the army, and along with his father’s military service, one of Donald’s older brothers, Philip, had died in the South African War, while another brother, Edward, had taken midshipman’s training, and was serving with the Natal Police in South Africa.

Donald left Kenora around 1906 for Cork, Ireland where he earned his 2nd and 1st mates, then masters tickets in 1907/1909/1911 and embarked on a career as a ship’s officer with the Pacific Steam Navigation Company.

When war broke out he was serving as 2nd officer aboard the passenger ship Ortega and in December 1914 wrote home to his mother about a close encounter his ship had had with the German navy in late September.

Enroute from Valparaiso, Chile with 300 French army reservists aboard, the Ortega was spotted by a German cruiser which gave chase and began firing with its bow guns. According to the newspaper account the ship’s captain, not wishing to be taken as a prize of war by the faster navy vessel, made the bold decision to enter Nelson’s Strait at the western edge of the Straits of Magellan. Nelson’s Strait is a shoal strewn, unchartered inland channel along the west coast of South America and is avoided even today by ocean going vessels.

The German commander was unwilling to risk his vessel in the shallow, dangerous waters, and after waiting him out, the Ortega proceeded on its way to Rio de Janeiro where both the British Consul General and the French Government praised the ship’s officers for their coolness under fire and for saving the French troops from capture.

In August 1915 Donald McCutchan transferred from the merchant marine to the Royal Navy Reserve where he was made a temporary Sub-Lieutenant and after gunnery training assigned to the HMS Cymont, in 1917 he was promoted to temporary Lieutenant and assigned to the mine layer HMS Angora.

In his service file his two commanders describe him as a zealous and capable officer, and a trustworthy watch officer.

Discharged from the navy in January 1920, Donald McCutchan moved to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary service – a civil company engaged by the British Ministry of Defence to provide fuel and supplies to Royal Navy ships.

McCutchan served as master of a variety of fueling vessels for the next two decades, retiring with the rank of Captain.

In 1937, having helped organize the fleet review for King George VI’s coronation, he was awarded a George VI coronation medal and accorded the honour of being one of several hundred non-ship’s officers and ratings aboard the royal yacht Victoria and Albert for the sail past.

Donald McCutchan married Margaret Gardner in 1919 and they settled in Portsmouth where they raised three children. Their eldest son, Philip Donald McCutchan, followed his father’s footsteps to the sea and served in the Royal Navy Reserve during the Second World War, after which he became a well-known author of historical navy fiction books writing dozens of novels under his name and under the  pseudonyms Robert Conington Galway and Duncan MacNeil.

Donald Robert McCutchan passed in 1953 at his home in Portsmouth.

by Bob Stewart

photograph  courtesy of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Historical Society

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