Captain Douglas Kinnier (1859 – 1916), Saltcoats-born seaman who fought in the First World War.
On the 20th of October 1859, Captain Douglas Reid Kinnier – famous for a daring escape from the German cruiser Dresden in WW1 – was born in Saltcoats.
His father was Doctor Robert Snodgrass Kinnier, a surgeon and his mother was Agnes Corse Stirling – a relation of the famous American Auchinloss family.
Douglas grew up in Saltcoats and from an early age showed a love for the sea. His father didn’t approve of this interest but sent him out to sea on various occasions in the hope of discouraging his passion. This didn’t work and Douglas spent his summer holidays on a fishing boat and later a brig owned by his fathers’ friend on which he stayed on board for 12 months. For the next 7 years he was apprentice to the Loch Line sailing ships before joining the Allan Line and eventually becoming a mate and second mate on the ships Mysore and Deanfield. It was on a voyage to Demerara on the Deanfield where Douglas’ skills were put to the test. There was a cyclone and the captain had taken ill and it was Douglas who took over and navigated the ship to safety despite being washed overboard at one point (he was saved when one of his braces became entangled and he was hauled on board!)
On 18 September 1914 the now Captain Kinnier was in command of the Belfast built cargo ship The Ortega. The ship was travelling to Montevideo in Uruguay carrying 300 French reservists, confidential mail from the Admiralty and a cargo worth £117,000. It intended to pass through the Straits of Magellan when it sighted the German cruiser Dresden approaching. The cruiser came within range of the Ortega and shot at the ship but missed it. Instead of retreating Captain Kinnear continued driving the ship, navigating through unchartered waters whilst the Dresden continued to fire. He eventually reached waters where the Dresden could not follow and he then lowered some boats and followed slowly in their wake and for the next 100 miles he navigated the Ortega through narrow channels before emerging into the Straits of Magellan “without a scratch on his plates.”
In the 1927 book, Sea Escapes and Adventures by Commander Taprell Dorling, he writes of Kinnier’s escapades -“……Captain Kinnier had taken a huge risk, but came through with flying colours. His behaviour affords a shining example of the splendid spirit which animated the officers and men throughout those stormy and nerve-wracking days of the worldwide war.” Captain Frank Shaw writes of him “…men like Captain Kinnier of the Ortega may not have monuments erected to their memory in Westminster Abbey, but they live enshrined in the hearts of patriots.”
Captain Kinnier was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross by King George V who also bestowed on him an honourary lieutenancy in the Royal Naval Reserve. He was presented with a gold chronometer by the French Government and a silver commerative plate by the Admiralty. He aslo received congratulations from the Saltcoats Town Council for all the honours he received.
He was married to Minnie Martin and they had 5 children together. Their youngest son Keith was also a Captain who was awarded an O.B.E after he showed great courage and determination for fighting off a Japanese submarine when it torpedoed his ship the Tornus on New Year’s Eve 1943 off the coast of Karachi.
Douglas died on Christmas Eve 1916 aged 57 following complications from surgery. He is buried in Bebington Cemetery in Merseyside. The Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald included his obituary in their December 1916 edition. Kinnier Road in Saltcoats is named after him.