McCluskie James (real name Robert Hay)

Robert Hay served as James McCluskie. He was born in 1870 in Chirnside, Berwick, Scotland. His gravestone in St Margaret’s churchyard in Bodelwyddan bears both names. The main inscription includes the name James McCluskie and at the foot of the grave it says ‘Robert Hay, Chemist Duns’

The 1871 census for Scotland on shows that the Hay family was living at Edington Mill Masters House, Berwick, Scotland.  Head of the household was Robert Hay aged 44 a Master Miller  employing 3 men.  His wife  was Mary Hay (nee Hunter)  age 39.  They had four children, Jesse aged 13, William  5, George 3 and Robert age 1. 

Robert’s father died in the fourth quarter of 1871 age 45.

Ten years on in 1881 we find Robert living with his uncle William Hunter and his wife Jessie Hunter in Abbey St. Bathans. He was attending school.

I have not been able to trace Robert after 1881. His mother Mary is shown to own a Boarding House on the 1901 census and was living in Duns, Berwickshire with her daughter Eliza, born in 1872 and son William age 35.

Robert’s mother died in 1910.

Robert Hay’s army records tell us that he enlisted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the 20th December 1914 at Swift Current, Saskatchewan. He enlisted   under the name James Mcluskie.  He gave a false date of birth which  made him appear  5  years younger than he actually was. (The date of birth he gave was 3rd February 1875 when in fact he’d been born on the 3rd of February 1870). He named his next of kin as G Hay of Cockburn Path Berwickshire, Scotland and said he was his brother in law, when he  was  actually his brother. He was described on his medical form as being 5ft 8in tall with a fair complexion , grey eyes and brown hair turning grey.  His occupation was ‘Labourer’.

Why so many lies and half truths?  The inscription at the foot of his grave says he was a Chemist. He said he was a Labourer. He lied about his name and his age . He said his own brother was his brother in law. There’s a fascinating story hidden somewhere in this man’s past but we have been unable to fathom it.  He began his time in the army with a new identity.

After basic training in Canada, James embarked for Britain on 21st November 1915 arriving on 1st December. He was posted to Shorncliffe Army Camp and served throughout the war as a clerical assistant at Shorncliffe, Bordon and London. On 23rd November 1917 he was posted to France to assist with the Dominion Elections and returned to U.K. on 3rd December 1917. On 27th September while posted at Bordon Army Camp he was promoted to Acting Sergeant without pay but was allowed to draw pay and allowances of rank from 1st December 1918.

The records reveal that there were concerns about this man’s health. A medical report in June 1917, says he had sclerosis of the arteries. He was categorised as C11 and it was noted that “He will not at any time be fit for a higher category”.

On 27th March 1919, James was posted to Kinmel Park Army Camp in Rhyl to await repatriation to Canada. Tragically he suffered a fatal heart attack in his hut on that day and died of heart failure.

The army records note about three times that his real name was Robert Hay. Perhaps the brother George as next of kin, put the record straight after he’d been informed of his brother’s death.

(Source Library of Canada Archives).

Robert Hay a.k.a. James McCluskie was buried in St. Margaret’s Cemetery, Bodelwyddan.

Robert is commemorated on the Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

Additional Information.

The Dominion Elections, September 1917.

The franchise for women in federal elections was achieved, on the other hand, by the end of the Great War. The first step in legislating the federal franchise to women was reached in September 1917, when the Military Voters Act and the War-time Elections Act were given Royal Assent. The Military Voters Act, gave women on active military service, such as Nursing Sisters, the right to vote in federal elections. The War-time Elections Act, further extended the federal franchise to all women who were British subjects, over the age of 21 who were the, “wife, widow, mother, sister or daughter of any persons, male or female, living or dead” who was serving, or had served with the military forces. While the legislation gave the vote to more women in Canada than ever before, some believed that the Unionist government of Robert Borden only expanded the franchise so that new potential Unionist voters could be gained. On January 1, 1919, the franchise was further expanded to all non-Native Canadian women being British subjects and 21 years of age.

Learn more about the other soldiers on the Bodelwyddan Memorial

Back to top