Mackenzie Macdonald was born in Carnoustie (near Dundee), in Forfarshire, Scotland. At some stage he migrated to Australia and by 1914 was working as a labourer on a property named ‘Runnymede’, near Stockinbingal, NSW. When war broke out, Mack as he was commonly known, enlisted on 29 August 1914 in Sydney. He was 28 years old, with a strongly built 5’ 9” tall, 13 stone frame.
An original member of 4th Battalion, he was a private in E Company and would likely have felt quite at home, given the high proportion of Scotsmen in that battalion. He was promoted Lance Corporal just prior to the Gallipoli landing, and to Corporal the day after, no doubt due to high losses. Mack’s luck held out and he survived, later taking part in the attack at Lone Pine in early August. During his time on the peninsula, his efforts did not go unnoticed;
‘[He] performed many acts of bravery at the Landing and also at Lone Pine, where he did excellent bombing work … [and] worked extremely hard, not only in defence construction but also at patrol work. He was at all times cheerful, and was thus largely instrumental in keeping up the men’s spirits. Just after the Lone Pine engagement, Private Macdonald went out into no-man’s-land and helped to obtain identification discs and bury the dead, the whole time under very heavy machine gun and rifle fire…’
Mack fell ill in late September and was evacuated to Mudros. He was later sent to hospital in England for treatment, apparently also suffering from a hernia.
Upon his recovery early in the new year (1916) he was first placed on the 4th Battalion’s supernumerary list of NCOs, then with the creation of the 56th Battalion in February, Mack transferred to that unit in April. With his new battalion he went to France shortly afterwards and was soon made sergeant.
In the 56th’s first action at Fromelles on 19-20 July, Macdonald ‘displayed splendid courage and coolness’ under fire. No doubt his experience being under pressure and heavy fire at Gallipoli would have helped steady the nerves of the men experiencing their very first action. After Fromelles, Mack spent the month of August attending the General School of Instruction, then a six-week course at the infantry school of instruction in November and December. He had clearly been identified as a leader and was earmarked as a future officer for the battalion.
According to records he was with the battalion for the fighting at Louverval and Bullecourt in April and May 1917. Then with the battalion going in to an extended period of rest and training, came a good opportunity to send up-and-comers for further training. Along with many other prospective officers, Mack attended Officer Training School at Pembroke College, in Cambridge (UK) from June to September 1917 after which he emerged, commissioned a second lieutenant.
But Mack’s career as an officer was not destined to progress in the field of battle. Plagued by chronic knee trouble (Synovitis) which had been troubling him since early 1917, his war ended early; he was returned home to Australia in March 1918 and his appointment terminated. And so the AIF and the 56th Battalion lost a promising junior officer they might have had for their biggest battles at Polygon Wood and those throughout 1918.
For his services, Mack did not go unrewarded. He was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig’s Despatch of 7 November 1917, and was also awarded the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour. Apart from his deeds in action at the Gallipoli Landing, Lone Pine and Fromelles, his ‘devotion to duty’ in training men in the battalion was also noted.
Mack settled in Lithgow, New South Wales after the war where he remained until his death in 1966.