b. 07/05/1953 Wortley, Yorkshire. d. 12/06/1982 Mount Longdon, Falkland Islands.
Ian John McKay (1953-1982) was born on 7th May 1953 in Wortley, near Barnsley, Yorkshire. He was the son of Ken and Freda McKay. He was the eldest of three sons, with both of his two younger brothers, Graham and Neal, both being born with cystic fibrosis, and not expected to survive childhood. As adults, they both had heart and lung transplants which prolonged their lives, but sadly, Neal died in 1989, aged 32, and Graham died in 1995, aged 39. His parents didn’t want Ian to join the Army after he left school, and he made his first tour of Northern Ireland at the age of 17.
In 1976, he married Marica, who already had a son, Don, from a previous relationship. Ian and Marica had a daughter, Melanie. By the time of the Falklands War in May 1982, he was an instructor at Aldershot with 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment. Ian arrived in the Falklands, and soon showed in his letters home, that he was not a fan of the islands. On 8th June 1982, he wrote “Some clown has put one of our artillery batteries just behind our position and as the Argentinian guns try to range in on them, they sometimes drop one around our positions, so life isn't dull all the time." But he couldn't sustain the light sarcasm and continued: "I have never known a more bleak, windswept and wet place. We spend our life with wet feet. You cannot walk 50 paces anywhere without walking into a bog.”
Later, in his last letter home, just prior to his death, he wrote "to be quite honest, once we have given them a hammering... the Argentinians can have the place. It really is fit for nothing."
During the night of 11th/12th June 1982, 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment mounted a silent night attack on an enemy battalion position on Mount Longdon, an important objective in the battle for Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. Sergeant McKay was Platoon Sergeant of 4 Platoon, B Company, which, after the initial objective had been secured, was ordered to clear the Northern side of the long East/West ridge feature, held by the enemy in depth, with strong, mutually-supporting positions. By now the enemy were fully alert, and resisting fiercely. As 4 Platoon's advance continued it came under increasingly heavy fire from a number of well-sited enemy machine gun positions on the ridge, and received casualties. Realising that no further advance was possible the Platoon Commander ordered the Platoon to move from its exposed position to seek shelter among the rocks of the ridge itself. Here it met up with part of 5 Platoon. The enemy fire was still both heavy and accurate, and the position of the platoons was becoming increasingly hazardous. Taking Sergeant McKay, a Corporal and a few others, and covered by supporting machine gun fire, the Platoon Commander moved forward to reconnoitre the enemy positions but was hit by a bullet in the leg, and command devolved upon Sergeant McKay.
It was clear that instant action was needed if the advance was not to falter and increasing casualties to ensue. Sergeant McKay decided to convert his reconnaissance into attack in order to eliminate enemy positions. He was in no doubt of the enemy's strength and deployment as he undertook his attack. He issued orders, and taking three men with him, broke cover and charged the enemy position.
The assault was met with a hail of fire. The Corporal was seriously wounded, a Private killed and another wounded. Despite these losses Sergeant McKay, with complete disregard of his own safety, continued to charge the position alone. On reaching it he despatched it with grenades, thereby relieving the position of beleaguered 4 and 5 Platoons, who were now able to redeploy with relative safety. Sergeant McKay, however, was killed at the moment of victory, his body falling into the bunker.
Ian's body was eventually flown home from the Falklands and reburied at Aldershot Military Cemetery along with 15 comrades. The last two men to see him alive helped to carry his coffin - Corporal Ian Bailey, who was shot minutes before McKay was killed, and Colour Sergeant Brian Faulkner, who said of him: "Mac was the bravest of the brave." Marica McKay received her husband's VC at Buckingham Palace on November 9th, 1982. In 1989, she decided to sell his medals privately to Michael Ashcroft, and they are now on display in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
In a fitting tribute to her son, Freda McKay, went as a VIP to the Falklands in 1999 and saw where her son had died. "It was so peaceful, so rugged, so unbelievable. Yet the remnants of war were still lying about. I found it very emotional. Everyone wanted to say 'Thank you for what your boy did' and I found that very hard to take." As for the VC, she says it didn't make her son's death any easier to bear. "You can't be any prouder than you already were. But it was gratifying that other people knew he was as brave as we did. It is important that people remember. I want to think that what Ian and his comrades did has made a difference to a lot of people and that they didn't die in vain."
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ALDERSHOT MILITARY CEMETERY, ALDERSHOT, HAMPSHIRE.
Ian McKay's medals including VC on display at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
ROW A GRAVE 101
McKay VC Building, Brecon
Falklands War Memorial, Cardiff
Parachute Regiment Memorial,
Aldershot Military Cemetery
Ian McKay VC with wife Marica in the 1970s
National Memorial Arboretum