When the 1901 Census was taken, the MacDonald family was living at 12 Burlington Street, Altrincham. 59 year old Alexander MacDonald was described as “living on own means” suggesting he was financially “comfortable” but perhaps he was simply being supported by his large family. He was married to Anne and they had nine children living at home, ranging from 26 year old John to 7 year old James. The three oldest children had been born in the Chorlton area of Manchester but the family had moved to Cheadle in about 1880. They are understood to have lived on Long Lane (now the part of the A34 which runs through Heald Green). Colin was born on 27 March 1888.
He had been a pre-War sailor, but had completed his term and returned to the local area where he lived with one of his sisters at Moorside Road, Heaton Moor. He worked in Manchester for Morris & Jones Ltd, 8 Long Millgate. He was fine all-round athlete playing for the both the Heaton Moor Football and Tennis Clubs. He was also reputed to be a good boxer.
Colin was still on the naval reserve and was recalled as soon as War was declared in August 1914. HMS Mersey was a newly built river monitor which was to be sold to Brazil for use on the Amazon, but was procured by the Admiralty. Monitors were heavily armed and designed to fire on shore positions from just off the coast. However, they were not very manoeuvrable or particularly sea-worthy in high winds. Colin’s first engagement will have been at the Battle of Yser in October 1914 when Mersey and two other monitors shelled the advancing German army near Nieuwpoort.
Around the same time, British naval vessels had engaged the German cruiser Konigsberg off German East Africa. They had forced her to take refuge in the Rufigi river delta. A further attempt to sink her in November failed, but she pushed further back up the river. She was now safe in the relatively shallow waters but, in the summer of 1915, HMS Mersey and another monitor, HMS Severn, were towed from Britain. Their heavy guns and shallow draft allowed them to sail up the 6 miles of river and fire on the German vessel.
6 July was the first time the monitors engaged Konigsberg and quickly found their range. Unfortunately, the German gunners were equally quick. They knocked out Mersey’s six inch gun and holed her below the waterline. Colin was one of four men killed by a single shell.