Donald (Don) MCKENZIE



Service Number: 846
Enlisted: 14 September 1914, Cadets 4 years
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 12th Infantry Battalion
Born: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, September 1893
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Egerton & Sebastopol State Schools, Victoria
Occupation: Swamper
Died: Killed in Action, Pozieres, France, 25 July 1916
Cemetery: Pozières British Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Ballarat Golden Point State School
Show Relationships

World War 1 Service

14 Sep 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 846, 12th Infantry Battalion, Cadets 4 years
2 Nov 1914: Involvement Private, SN 846, 12th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières
2 Nov 1914: Embarked Private, SN 846, 12th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Medic, Fremantle
25 Apr 1915: Wounded AIF WW1, Private, SN 846, 12th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli, GSW to left buttock
18 Mar 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 12th Infantry Battalion, 26/5/1916 Temp Cpl. confirmed after KIA upon standing orders
25 Jul 1916: Involvement Corporal, SN 846, 12th Infantry Battalion, Battle for Pozières

Help us honour Donald McKenzie's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

The McKenzie boys, Donald, Percy and Edward
The McKenzie family of Egerton was fairly typical of emerging Victorian families of the 1880’s and 1890’s. First generation-born children of the goldrush were then reaching an age where they were having families of their own – both Samuel Thomas McKenzie and Mary Jane Gidlow were born at Buninyong. Their ancestral background was also characteristic of that generation with its Anglo-Scots origins: Samuel’s branch of the McKenzie Clan came from the village of Plockton, one of the most beautiful places in the Scottish Highlands. Whilst Mary’s father came from the industrial English city of Manchester.

After their marriage in 1882, they had continued to live in the town of Mount Egerton, where the extended McKenzie family had settled around 1878, and where Samuel worked in the local Black Horse Gold Mine. Their large family, which eventually numbered eleven children, was also representative of this period.
The three sons who would eventually serve with the AIF, were all born at Mount Egerton: Edward in 1886, Donald in 1893 and finally, Percy, in 1895.

All three boys began their education at the Egerton State School. Following a move into Ballarat in the late 1890’s it was not clear where they all completed their formal schooling. It was obviously a very unsettled time for the entire family – the youngest of the siblings, Albert Arnold, was born in Sebastopol in early 1901; then, just a few months later on 29 August, Samuel McKenzie died. He was just 42-years-old.

The family had initially lived in Rubicon Street, but moved to 165 Skipton Street, after Samuel’s death. It appears likely that the boys attended the Sebastopol State School (the honour board for this school is unavailable) even though the Redan State School was physically closer, their names were not recorded there. Whilst this is frustrating, the omissions may have had a logical reason which will become clearer as we move along.

On leaving school, the older boys found employment at the Sunnyside Woollen Mills in nearby Hill Street. The family suffered further grief when 14-year-old George, the third eldest of the McKenzie sons, died at the Ballarat Base Hospital on 8 March 1907. He had been admitted on 13 February from his job at the mills.

Percy eventually joined Edward and Don at Sunnyside, but they only spent a short time working together. The lure of newly opened goldfield in Western Australia saw a large number of able-bodied young men leave Victoria in search of good employment. Edward and Don, along with the eldest of the McKenzie boys, Samuel, were soon on their way west. The pair quickly found work as “swampers” (those employed to clear swamps) at East Mornington (Mornington Mills) on the Darling Downs.
By the outbreak of war, Mary McKenzie and her younger children had moved to a new home in Anderson Street in the centre of Ballarat. She would have heard by letter that her two sons had left their jobs at Mornington and enlisted in the AIF.
Edward and Don chose to volunteer together – they travelled over 100-miles to the recruiting depot at Blackboy Hill on the outskirts of Perth and presented themselves on 14 September 1914.

Passing the stringent early physical requirements for the AIF proved to be the downfall for many an aspiring soldier, but neither Edward nor Don had any such problems. Both were 5-feet 6-inches tall and weighed 126-pounds, and could expand their chest to an acceptable 36 and 34-inches respectively. All the McKenzie boys had similar colouring – fair complexion, blue eyes and brown hair, although Don’s was slightly lighter than his brothers. He also had tattoos on both arms, including a dagger on the front of his right arm. Edward had a distinctive birthmark underneath his right eye and another on his chest. Both had been raised as Wesleyan Methodists and chose to name their mother as their next-of-kin.

With their paperwork completed, Edward and Don were posted to the 12th Infantry Battalion with the regimental numbers of 843 and 846. They joined G-Company at the Blackboy Hill Camp on 6 October. As neither had any prior experience in the military, the training they were to receive before embarkation became vital.

Things moved quickly, however, and they were soon onboard the troopship Medic, which left Fremantle on 31 October. Anchoring off the coast for two days, they finally sailed on 2 November.

The 12th Battalion was one of the first units to leave Egypt for the Dardanelles, sailing from Alexandria on 2 March 1915. Following an extended time at Lemnos – eight weeks – Edward and Don left for Gallipoli late on 24 April. They were amongst the first troops to land at ANZAC Cove – launching their assault at about 4:10am the following day. While loading from destroyers to boats, the men came under heavy shellfire from Kaba Tepe, and on reaching the beach they were met by severe machine gun and rifle fire from the direction of Fisherman’s Hut. There were a large number of casualties as the boats made their way in and during the landing. Sections of the 12th then pushed forward to first ridge, where the enemy was encountered for the first time – and the men took part in their first bayonet charge, which apparently made the Turks retire from their trenches.

Casualties continued to mount during the initial days at ANZAC as the troops dug in and adapted to the conditions. Don was one of those early casualties: he suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his left hip around 28 April. He was evacuated onboard the Hospital Ship Goorkha, before eventually being admitted to the No2 Western General Hospital in Manchester on 16 May.

Writing to his mother, Don attempted to allay her fears, telling her the wound was not serious and he would ‘soon be right again.’ He also described the landing in a few brief, telling words. ‘…It was a hot time landing under fire as close as 50 yards. We lost a lot of lads…’

Don returned to Egypt on 3 August. A week later he was on his way back to Gallipoli and rejoined his unit on 15 August. He just missed his brother – Edward had been wounded at Lone Pine on 7 August and had been evacuated to Malta for treatment to bomb wounds in his right buttock and left calf.

The brothers were reunited at ANZAC when Edward returned on 6 November. Their time on the peninsula was soon over with the 12th Battalion evacuated to Sarpi Camp at Mudros at 0600 on 26 November. They were still on Lemnos when Edward was admitted to hospital on 9 December; he was diagnosed with influenza with a real a concern the illness was actually diphtheria. Fortunately, he quickly recovered and he and Don were able to board the Lake Michigan for the trip to Alexandria in January 1916.

Interestingly, Don had only been back in Egypt a week when, on 15 January, he created a disturbance after lights out. Clearly it wasn’t seen a particularly punishable offence and he was awarded just an extra half-hour drill. He was also appointed to the rank of lance-corporal, whilst the 12th Battalion was at Serapeum, on 16 March, indicating that he was showing a degree of leadership potential.

Mary Jane McKenzie died in Ballarat on 7 February after a long illness. Although it is to be assumed that members of the family would have communicated the sad intelligence to the brothers by mail, letters were often delayed or lost as the troops were constantly on the move. This makes it difficult to know when or if Edward and Don heard of their mother’s death.

(As I mentioned earlier, this may have been the reason why the brothers’ names were not recorded on available school honour rolls: the death of their mother and the apparent fracturing of communication between the McKenzie siblings logically may have led to the boys being missed).

In preparation for the move to the Western Front, the 12th Battalion arrived at Alexandria at 9:45am on 29 March. Waiting at the wharf was HMT Corsican – this was the ship that would carry Edward and Don McKenzie to France. The trip to Marseilles took a week and passed without incident.

After a three-day train journey north, the 12th Battalion settled into billets at Strazeele. They were still there when Don was promoted to the temporary rank of corporal on 13 April. A move to Sailly-sur-la-Lys followed, edging them ever closer to the frontline. However, the unit’s first major action was to come at Pozières.

Edward and Don reached Albert on the 19 July, the same day that thousands of their countrymen attacked German positions at Fromelles.

The next day, the men arrived in the reserve trenches at Sausage Valley. Orders were received on 22 July for the coming action at Pozières. Alongside the 9th, 10th and 11th Battalions, the 12th was given its objectives for attack on 23 July. The men “hopped over” at 0030, pushing through heavy artillery, gas and machine-gun fire, to successfully take their objectives.

Unfortunately, despite the battlefield successes, the casualties were high and continued to mount as the battle continued. Edward McKenzie was the first of the brothers to fall – he was wounded in the face and thigh on 24 July and immediately evacuated to the 26th General Hospital at Étaples via the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station.

Days bled into one another and accounts became blurred as the troops fell in ever-increasing numbers. Often the men were not aware of the actual date when later asked to recount events. Don McKenzie was one of 41 men of the 12th Battalion recorded as killed in action on 25 July 1916. On reading the few available witness accounts for the 12th on that day, it became apparent that they had faced tremendous odds – death came in many forms: concussion from high explosive shells, the devastating effects of a direct hit that shattered bodies beyond recognition or snipers who were deadly in their accuracy.

Unfortunately, nobody was able to give an account of what had happened to Don McKenzie. His body was known to have been buried in the Sunken Road Cemetery, just southeast of Pozières.

After a month’s treatment at the Huddersfield War Hospital, Edward was able to resume light duties in camp, but it would be three months before he returned to France. The 12th Battalion had just been relieved from the line at Flers and were resting in Perth Camp when Edward reached them on 8 January 1917.

On 24 January, the men were passing through Albert on their way to “A Camp” at Fricourt, when an enemy aeroplane dropped a bomb. There was only one casualty – Edward McKenzie. He suffered a wound to his right leg that required hospital treatment and he was out of action for a further six weeks.

Back in Ballarat, the third of the McKenzie soldier brother, Percy, had set his sights on enlisting. As it became more desperate to replace casualties with new recruits, the physical requirements were noticeably reduced. Percy had attempted to enlist previously, but he was rejected due to his height. When he presented himself at the Ballarat Depot on 12 February 1917, his height was no longer an issue. Captain Roscoe Steele conducted the examination and his notes showed that the 22-year-old was a very slight young man: he was just 5-feet 2-inches tall and weighed only 110-pounds. His chest measurement was also an issue – he measured a mere 29-inches with a further three-inch expansion. There were no issues with his teeth and his vision was normal.

Recording any discernible identifying marks, Steele noted that Percy had two vaccination marks on his left arm, a birthmark on the upper part of his right forearm and several scars – on his left foot, right forearm and on his left breast. Now, I have mentioned previously that I experience a degree of curiosity around the origins of scars and, on this occasion at least, I was able to identify the cause of at least one of Percy’s marks. When he was 12, he suffered what was described as ‘a curious but painful accident.’ A needle that (for some inexplicable reason) was in his coat, was driven into his chest ‘a considerable distance’ whilst he was out playing. At the hospital it was found necessary to admit him for an operation to remove the offending needle – hence the scar on his left breast!

Unlike his brothers, Percy had a nominal amount of military training with six months spent in the Senior Cadets. He gave his home address as 311 Errard Street, although he had been living with his sister, Hilda, at 1204 Sturt Street; he named her as his next-of-kin.

After a period with the Recruits Battalion at the Royal Park Camp, Percy was assigned to the 19th reinforcements for the 22nd Battalion (with the regimental number 6862) on 12 March.

Intriguingly, there was an entry for Percy McKenzie in the Police Gazette, stating that he had deserted from the Broadmeadows Camp on 23 April. However, there was no mention of this apparent abscondment mentioned in his own papers, which is unusual given the serious nature of the charge.

Percy underwent a final physical examination at Broadmeadows Camp, and, without further incident, embarked from Melbourne on 11 May onboard HMAT Ascanius.

Edward McKenzie, who had rejoined the 12th Battalion on 10 March, was soon detached for duty with the 4th Australian Army Service Corps. He was to continue on this detachment for the remainder of the war.

For Percy McKenzie, the voyage to England was his first trip away from home. It took a long ten weeks before the Ascanius reached Devonport on 20 July. The 19th reinforcements immediately joined the 6th Training Battalion and wasted no time in securing a British bulldog as their mascot.

Clearly Percy struggled with the restrictions imposed by military life. He was found guilty on several occasions of being absent without leave – twice in England that resulted in the loss of over two-weeks pay and 14-days spent in close confinement at Rollestone. On the second occasion, he was due to leave for France the following day, which probably saved him from further punishment. He reached the 2nd Australian Divisional Base Depot at Le Havre on 5 December. When he joined the 22nd Battalion on 16 December, he did so under escort – once again he had gone missing without leave – this time for several days. By this time the 22nd was in Belgium at Kortepyp Huts near Neuve Eglise, where the men were enjoying a well-earned rest following a torrid time at Broodseinde Ridge. The Commanding Officer of the 22nd, Lieutenant-Colonel Aubrey Wiltshire, was not going to tolerate such behaviour – he was one of the youngest battalion commanders in the AIF with a reputation for being 'cool and resolute in a crisis,’ someone who was prepared to be ruthless if necessary to achieve the unit’s objectives. Percy expected no quarter – nor was he given any: he was found guilty of being absent without leave and being improperly dressed and received a total loss of 13-days pay.

However, Percy soon showed that he had all the grit and determination that made the AIF respected up and down the Western Font. On the night of 25-26 March 1918, he was a member of a fighting patrol near the village of La Bassée that encountered a large enemy raiding party. Accompanying a corporal, Percy helped to bring up a Lewis gun, firing on the enemy and causing a number of casualties. Under very heavy fire, Percy then returned to the nearest post to retrieve enough ammunition to keep the gun in action until the patrol was safely withdrawn. Throughout the episode, Percy’s great coolness and complete ‘disregard of personal safety,’ proved he was turning into an excellent soldier. Major-General Nevill Smyth signed off on a recommendation for Percy to received the Military Medal.

The 22nd Battalion returned to the Somme in early April 1918, where they played an important role in halting the German Spring Offensive.

They were at Querrieu on 4 May, when Percy once again went missing. He was absent from 8:30pm on until 12-noon on 5 May. This time, Lieutenant-Colonel Wiltshire appears to have been more lenient – he admonished the younger man and fined him two-days pay. It seems that, despite the many blemishes, Percy had impressed his officers as generally being of ‘good character.’

The 22nd Battalion sustained a number of casualties in the "hop-over" at Ville-sur-Ancre on 19 May. According to Sergeant Harry Swift, the majority of the early casualties were caused by machine-gun fire as the artillery was not very heavy that morning. Some casualties were also caused by their own artillery later in the day when they were digging in. At some point during that time, Percy McKenzie was killed. Whilst the battalion pioneers took as many as 10 bodies back behind the line for burial, none were identified as Percy. His body was never recovered.

A month later, on 18 June 1918, Percy was posthumously awarded the Military Medal. The medal was later sent to his sister, Hilda.

Edward McKenzie survived the war and returned to Australia on 12 October 1918 as part of the Special 1914 Leave.

Cleaning up the loose ends following the war proved to be a complicated process for the McKenzie family. The Graves Registration Unit erected a cross at the Pozières British Cemetery to represent a Special Collective of five men under the heading “Believed to be buried in this Cemetery Actual graves unknown” – all were 12th Battalion men. Along with Don McKenzie, were Private G. P. J. McGillis (2634 KIA 25/7/1916); Sergeant A. W. Mundy (470 KIA 23/7/1916); Private W. H. Pearson (2665 KIA 25/7/1916); and Private H. Pedersen (3045 KIA 23/7/1916). William Pearson, George McGillis, Harry Pedersen and Don McKenzie were all exhumed from the Sunken Road and had reportedly been reburied at Pozieres British Cemetery. Unfortunately, the graves were either not marked or the identification was later lost.

Complications over Percy’s Will and the distribution of medals were exacerbated by a lack of communication between the remaining siblings. Hilda stated that, ‘…[Percy] told me that he had left it [his Will] in favour of me, but had lodged it at your office. Neither Mother or Father are living and the eldest brother and sister’s whereabouts are unknown. All the others are quite willing for me to have it. Should my eldest sister or brother come back at any time I am quite willing to forfeit their share…’

Following an advertisement in major Australian newspapers, Base Records was contacted by Percy’s sister Mary Jane (then Mrs Mary Jane Wright), and his youngest brothers, Arthur Herbert and Albert Arnold, who all claimed a share in Percy’s Will.

In order to receive the medals owed to his brothers, Arthur McKenzie submitted a Statutory Declaration (dated 27 May 1921) in which he also stated that both his parents were dead. He believed his eldest brother, Samuel Thomas, to be in Western Australia, but ‘he hadn’t heard from him for 10 years. Although his second eldest brother, Edward, was known to be in Western Australia, Arthur had not heard from him since he returned from the war.

Attempts were then made to locate the older brothers. No trace could be found of Samuel (the letters were addressed to Mornington Mills), and several communications were despatched to Edward, who was living at Mornington Bush, Western Australia, but he ‘persistently refused to reply.’

As a result, the service medals, memorial plaques and scrolls were eventually handed into the care of Arthur McKenzie. Percy’s personal effects – his wallet, cards, photos, a letter and a plume – were sent to Hilda. She also received Don’s belt and wallet.

Edward McKenzie continued to live in Western Australia for the remainder of his life. He eventually settled at Nannup, maintaining a close bond to his older brother, Samuel. He never married, and died at Blackwood River in 1973.