Alexander MCKINNON


MCKINNON, Alexander

Service Number: 2230
Enlisted: 3 May 1916, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Private
Last Unit: 43rd Infantry Battalion
Born: Charlotte Waters, Northern Territory, 1 September 1890
Home Town: Charlotte Waters, MacDonnell, Northern Territory
Schooling: Clare Primary School
Occupation: Station hand/Drover
Died: Killed In Action, Belgium, 4 October 1917, aged 27 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Flanders, Belgium
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Copley Leigh Creek District Honour Roll, Menin Gate Memorial (Commonwealth Memorial to the Missing of the Ypres Salient)
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World War 1 Service

3 May 1916: Enlisted Adelaide, South Australia
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2230, 50th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
12 Aug 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2230, 50th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ballarat, Adelaide
4 Oct 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 2230, 43rd Infantry Battalion, Broodseinde Ridge

Alexander McKinnon - from Mackinnon family history

Alexander McKinnon Junior, was born in September 1890 at Charlotte Waters N.T. His Mother was Alice Cobb (an aboriginal from the Aranda tribe). She received extra rations from the property and special attention. When Alexander was of school age, his father took him to Clare Primary School to be educated.

Alexander was an excellent horseman, who drove cattle with his father through the NT. His father (Alexander Senior) married Mary Walsh and raised a family but his wife Mary Walsh did not know anything of Alexander Junior until the Alexander Senior received notification from the War Department that his son Alexander Jnr. had been killed in actiion, in France.

Alexander Snr. had been boarding the train from Oodnadatta to go to Adelaide for treatment for face cancer when he received the telegram saying that his son had been killed. He asked his eldest white son Bill, "What will I tell Mary, she doesn't know of Alexander"?

Alexander Snr. never returned, dying in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. It was noted on his death certificate that he had 8 children, with 1 male deceased. When in fact it should have documented 8 children plus 2 children deceased (being Alexander Jnr. and John)

Alexander Junior - the son of Alexander James McKinnon and an Aranda tribeswomen named Alice Cobb.

Educated in Clare, it is possible that young Alexander boarded with his Uncle (brother of his father Alexander) who had property in that place.

Alexander Jnr. enlisted in the AIF on 3rd May 1915 and was sent to Ballarat for training. He embarked from Adelaide on 12 Aug 1916, disembarking at Devonport, England on 30 Sep 1916. He marched at Codford on 30 Sep 1916 at 6 pm. Proceeded to France on 25th Nov 1916 & was ultimately killed in action, in Belgium on 04 Oct 1917.

Alexander was described on his Attestation Paper as 5ft 4in. in height, weighing 130lbs with a chest measurement of 33.36in., His complexion noted as Aboriginal Half Casts dark brown with black hair. Religion Methodist.

He was in the 43rd infantry battalion. Listed as AWL on several occasions in his war records and was admitted to hospital on several occasions during his war service. He was skilled with horses, having mustered up North with his father.

Alexander is listed in the S.A. War Memorial on North Terrace as killed in action.

Mary made inquiries in July 1921 from Kadina. The 1914/15 STAR, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Memorial Scroll, "Where the Australians Rest" pamphlet and other personal effects were sent to Mary on 4th October 1922. Personnel effects included Letters, Cards, Photos, Testament and Wallet, 2 books, a Pipe, 2 Bag Handles, 2 Handkerchiefs, an Inkwell, Purse, and 2 straps.

These items were sent to Mr. Kinnear, Surveyor General's Office, Govt. Buildings, Adelaide S.A., with next of kin listed as - Mother Mrs. A. (Alice) McKinnon, Charlotte Waters, Northern Territory, S.A.

We assume that Mary received them, but can find no trace of them having been kept. They were not returned to the War Office. Gratuities accumulated during the war by Alexander Jnr were awarded to "Cobb" but were instead sent to the "Protector of Aborigines" in Adelaide.

Mr. Harold Sydney Bayly of Quorn, Inspector of Stock Roads was the Executor of his Will. Alexander was listed as 1 deceased male child on his father's death certificate. - Marcelle Edwards

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Biography contributed by Arianna Baldieri


2230 Private Alexander McKinnon


Before enlisting in the Great War, Alexander McKinnon was a station hand in the Northern Territory. On the 3rd of May 1916, McKinnon enlisted at Charlotte Waters, NT. At the time, he was 26 years and 11 months old.

As part of the 50th Battalion he embarked from Adelaide, aboard the HMAT A70 “Ballarat.” Over a month later he disembarked the vessel at Devonport, England, on September, the 30th. He was transferred to the 43rd Battalion on the 25th of October 1916 and proceeded to France on the 25th of November 1916.

Although not specifying, McKinnon was admitted to hospital in sickness for most of January 1917. Then finally he rejoined his battalion on the 29th of January.

1917 was a good year for the allies’ advancement on the Germans, however it took its toll on many soldiers. Alex McKinnon was no different. For most of the year his battalion was “bogged in bloody trench warfare in Flanders” (Memorial, T. 2017). 

The conditions were rough and McKinnon was absent from duty, without leave, on two separate occasions. First on the 22nd of March and then on the 9th of August, absented from tattoo roll call.

In June 1917, the 43rd Battalion took part in the Battle of Messines. Although the battle only lasted a week, the Germans held the Messines-Wytschaete Ridge since late 1914. The area was a strategic position on the Western Front and because of this, it was important that the allies should take it. Working together with the British and New Zealand Infantry, the assault began with “the detonation of 19 mines under the German front line” (Memorial, T. 2017). 

With failed counterattacks the allies finally took over the area, on the 14th of June. 

“Messines represented a preliminary to the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres” (Memorial, T. 2017). This may make sense as to why McKinnon was absented from duty on the 9th of August.

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) started on the 31 July 1917 and its goal was to “drive the Germans from the surrounding dominant ridges” (Memorial, T. 2017) maybe even to the Belgian coast. With terrible weather and many losses, it wasn’t until October that the 43rd Battalion joined the battle. Unfortunately, Alexander McKinnon lost his life fighting, in this battle, on the 4th of October. At the time his battalion was moving from their last bivouac, on the 3rd of October, at Hellfire Corner and took part in the Battle of Broodseinde, on the 4th of October.

After his death, a great confusion began when carrying out his Will and awarding gratuity and his 2 war medals (British and Victory Medal). In his Will, McKinnon declares that “‘Cobb’ of Mount Dare via Charlotte Waters Northern Territory Aboriginal my mother all my goods and Chattels real and personal to and for her own use and benefit absolutely.”

“Cobb,” whose name is also Alice, was listed on Alexander’s records as his “next of Kin” although some websites may have it different.

In New Town Kadina, in South Australia, McKinnon’s 8 brothers and sisters were being looked after by his step mum, Mary McKinnon. After hearing the news of his death in 1921, Mary wrote a letter to the Officer in Charge of Base Records asking for more information about his death and also mentioning that Alexander’s mother and father is dead. The thing that is strange about this letter is that Mary signs off with “A. McKinnon.”

From then on, an investigation deciding which mother would rightfully claim the late McKinnon’s items, began. Why did Mary say that “Cobb” was dead when she applied for Gratuity? On the 24th of April 1922, a letter was written saying that if the gratuity was awarded to “Cobb” the amount would more likely be paid to the Protector of Aborigines, leaving “Cobb” with nothing. The letter also mentions that “the WAR MEDALS would not be valued by ‘Cobb,’ and would suggest that they be awarded [to the stepmother].”

On the 17th of May 1922, it was decided that the medals would go to Mary and the gratuity to “Cobb.” Of course, though the gratuity went to the state. The only thing that Alice “Cobb” McKinnon received from her son was 2 books, pipe, 2 bag handles, 2 handkerchiefs, inkwell, purse, 2 straps, letters, cards, photos, testament and a wallet.

At around 28 years of age, Private Alexander McKinnon “was the only indigenous serviceman from the Territory to die in combat in the Great War” (McKinnon, A. 2017). 

A memorial for McKinnon “is located at panel 137 in the Commemorative Area at the Australia War Memorial” (Memorial, T. 2017). (AS PICTURED LEFT)

Alexander McKinnon is also remembered at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium.


Contributed by Arianna Baldieri as part of the 2018 Northern Territory Chief Minister's Anzac Spirit Study Tour. 




Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017]. (2017). Battle of Flanders. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

McKinnon, A. (2017). Alexander McKinnon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

Memorial, T. (2017). Alexander McKinnon. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

Memorial, T. (2017). Battle of Messines. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

Memorial, T. (2017). Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres) | The Australian War Memorial. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].

Memorial, T. (2017). 43rd Australian Infantry Battalion. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Dec. 2017].