William Stewart MCKAY

MCKAY, William Stewart

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 16 September 1915, Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: 50th Infantry Battalion
Born: Croydon, City of Charles Sturt, Australia, 6 January 1891
Home Town: Croydon Park, Port Adelaide Enfield, South Australia
Schooling: Hindmarsh Public School
Occupation: Tailor
Died: Killed In Action , Villers Brettoneaux, France, 24 April 1918, aged 27 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Memorials: Adelaide National War Memorial, Adelaide The 50th Battalion Commemorative Cross, Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Croydon War Memorial, Hindmarsh Baptist Church WW1 Roll of Honour, Villers-Bretonneux Memorial (Australian National Memorial - France)
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World War 1 Service

16 Sep 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Officer, Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
21 Sep 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 50th Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '19' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Commonwealth embarkation_ship_number: A73 public_note: ''
21 Sep 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 50th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Commonwealth, Adelaide

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The ‘natural born’ son of Mr Joseph and Mrs Elizabeth Mary McKay of Croydon Park, William McKay was schooled at Hindmarsh Public School before becoming an apprentice (for 5 years) to E.H. Sothby (?) training to become a tailor.

In the meantime he had undertaken four years volunteer training in the Senior Cadets following 4 years under the Universal Training system. He applied for a commission in the course of the enlistment process in September 1915, and was duly appointed

Following graduation as a Second Lieutenant, he was assigned to the 5th Reinforcements of the 50th Battalion and embarked with them on 21 September 1916.  By this time the final phase of the Pozieres  / Mouquet Farm campaign was drawing to close, and the 50th Battalion was licking its wounds.  It had not suffered as heavily as some other units because it had been in Reserve in the first phase.  Nevertheless, reinforcement were sorely needed.

However the 5th Reinforcements would need to undergo training to prepare them for the realities of the Western Front, and a host of new lessons would need to be taught in the aftermath of the costliest campaign in the history of Australia’s Army.  This they did in the UK.  William McKay undertook a range of officer t raining courses at Tidworth in late 1916.  He was eventually taken on strength of the 50th Battalion on the 15th February 1917.

Shortly thereafter he was transferred to the 70th Battalion which was a training establishment.  William spent 6 months as an instructor at Sutton Veny was followed by a further detachment for duty this time with the 13th Battalion.

He finally crossed the Channel to join the 50th Battalion in late 1917,  by which stage the Battalion was recovering from the Third Ypres campaign in Belgium albeit in a miserable winter.  William joined the Battalion on Christmas Day 1917.

Early in 1918, the German Spring Offensive broke over the Allied Front and the 50th Battalion was heavily involved at Dernancourt alongside their comrades in the 48th Battalion where they fought for their lives against the biggest offensive mounted by the Germans in the war.

With the German offensive halted, an Allied counter attack was inevitable.  The 4th Division and been split and the 13th Brigade of which the 50th  was a part, found itself paired with the 15th Brigade for what was to become the famed counter attack at Villers-Brettoneaux on the eve of ANZAC Day 1918.

During the course of this battle the 50th Battalion was involved in a broad sweep to the south of the town of Villers Brettoneaux at night.  The fighting was torrid and confused.  During the course of the evening, William McKay was killed.  His body like those of many of his colleagues, was not recovered  / identified conclusively. 

A grave in the Adelaide cemetery is marked “Unknown Lieutenant 50th Battalion” – there were a number of Lieutenants of the 50th Battalion who were killed in the action (including a Lt H Kay) and it was not positively concluded which of the two is in the grave.

There is an unsubstantiated reference to his being killed by a German Prisoner. No Red Cross record.

William McKay had a number of family connections.  His brother: 377 Pte Thomas Symington McKAY, 27th Battalion, died of disease on 29 September 1915 a bare fortnight after William enlisted. He had two cousins; the first, 2014 Sapper James Haining SINCLAIR, 5th Divisional Signal Company, was killed in action on 31 July 1917 at the start of the Third Ypres campaign.  Another,. 2225 Pte John Archibald Halliday SINCLAIR, served in the 13th Field Artillery Brigade before returning to Australia in early 1917.

William McKay was awarded

British War Medal                  48268

Victory Medal                         47691

Commemorative Plaque.         357808


Post script.  I found the enclosed photograph of William Stewart McKay in the museum of the the Villers-Brettoneaux school while visiting with the SA Premiers ANZAC Spirit Prize  group in April 1918.