b. 16/06/1894 Calcutta, India. d. 12/08/1918 Genoa, Italy.
Eric Archibald McNair (1894-1918) was born at 5 Harrington Street, Calcutta, India on 16th June 1894. He was known to his friends as “Fuzzy”. His father was George Burgh McNair, born in Bengal in 1852. He was a senior partner in a firm of solicitors in Calcutta. His mother was Isabella Frederica nee Gow-Smith, and his parents married in 1882 in Kensington, London. Eric had three siblings: George Douglas (born 1887), Frederica Annie Lilian (born 1884) and Violet Isabelle (born 1885, died 1886).
Eric was educated at Mr Sylvester’s School, Branksome Hall, Godalming and then at Charterhouse 1907-1913, where he was a member of the OTC and head of school. In 1913 he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, intending to take an Indian Civil Service post on graduation.
While at Oxford, he became a Freemason, being initiated into Apollo University Lodge in November 1913. Two other VCs, John Norwood and John Collings-Wells were also members of the Lodge. Eric was commissioned into the 10th Royal Sussex on 8th October 1914 and promoted Lieutenant on 22nd December. He transferred to the 9th Battalion in August 1915, and arrived in France on 8th October. He was promoted to Captain on 14th October.
On 14th February 1916 near Hooge, Belgium, when the enemy exploded a mine, Lieutenant McNair and a number of men were flung into the air and many were buried. Although much shaken, the lieutenant at once organised a party with a machine-gun to man the near edge of the crater and opened rapid fire on the enemy who were advancing. They were driven back with many dead. Lieutenant McNair then ran back for reinforcements, but the communication trench being blocked he went across the open under heavy fire and held up the reinforcements the same way. His prompt and plucky action undoubtedly saved a critical situation.
He was gazetted for the VC on 30th March 1916, and was presented with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 20th May 1916. Eric was severely wounded at Guillemont on the Somme on 18th August with gun shot wounds to shoulder and back. He attended a staff course in early 1917 and was appointed GSO3 on 20th August.
He returned to active duty in Italy early in 1918, and was appointed GSO3 on 18th April, and held the position until 17th July. He was evacuated to Genoa Base Hospital with chronic dysentery and died there on 12th August 1918. He was buried in Staglieno War Cemetery, Genoa, Italy. He never married.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His brother, Sir George Douglas McNair, left the VC to the Royal Sussex Regiment when he died in 1967. It is held by the Royal Sussex Regiment Museum, Eastbourne, East Sussex.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: EASTBOURNE REDOUBT MUSEUM, EASTBOURNE, SUSSEX.
BURIAL PLACE: STAGLIENO WAR CEMETERY, GENOA, ITALY.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT I, ROW B, GRAVE 32
Chichester Cathedral Sussex Regimental Museum
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)