Courtesy of Lynne MacDonald
Driver John MacDonald
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 1887 - Beazley’s Bridge, near St Arnaud Victoria Enlisted: 1 February 1915 aged 26
Unit: 6th Australian Field Ambulance Brigade (SERN: 3138) Served: Egypt, Gallipoli & Western Front.
Died: 24 July 1964 - Pakenham, Victoria
Also known as “Jack”, John was born in 1887 at Beasley’s Bridge, near St Arnaud Victoria. He was a son of Malcolm MacDonald (also spelt “McDonald”) and his wife Christina. Malcolm was from the Isle of Skye in Scotland and had migrated to the Victorian goldfields as a 14 year old. Over time, the McDonalds lived near Warrnambool, Creswick and St Arnaud. When Jack was five years old, the family moved to “Carbost” at Mount Eccles near Leongatha, where they went into dairy farming. He grew up to be a farmer and had a mail run between Mount Eccles and Leongatha (1). Jack was aged 26 when he enlisted at Leongatha on 1 February 1915. He was assigned to the “C Section” 6th Australian Field Ambulance (AFA) Brigade (2), which was a mobile medical unit, and embarked for Egypt on 15 May 1915. In late August 1915, Jack proceeded to Gallipoli where he served with the 6th AFA until the Anzacs were evacuated in December 1915. As a private, he would most likely have been a stretcher bearer. Back in Egypt, Jack was assigned to the role of driver with the 6th AFA (3). In March 1916 he was sent with his unit to the Western Front. There, Jack was dogged by several episodes of ill health, including contracting the mumps and influenza. In March 1917, he was invalided back to the UK suffering from appendicitis. Jack rejoined his unit in July 1917. During 1918, he was gassed at Corbie and while he was not hospitalised, suffered from a cough and frequent colds afterwards (4). Jack had a period of leave in the UK between August and October 1918, by which time the War was almost over. In January 1919, he was sent to England preliminary to his return to Australia. Jack left England in February 1919, and was discharged from the Army in Melbourne on 6 June 1919 (5).
While he had been away, Jack’s parents sold up their property at Mount Eccles and retired to a small holding in the Toomuc Valley which they named “Carbost” (6). So it was to Pakenham, rather than Mount Eccles, that Jack initially returned home to. In October 1919, both he and his brother Murdoch were presented with gold medallions at a special soldiers’ welcome home held at Pakenham (7). Jack subsequently went into share farming with another brother on a dairy farm at Fish Creek in South Gippsland (8). before taking up a soldier settler property in Huxtable Rd Pakenham Upper. He pioneered “Avalone” with a horse and plow, but suffered from ill-health which he attributed to the gassing back in 1918 (9). In 1927, Jack married Elizabeth Ritchie, a member of a well-known local Pakenham family, and the couple raised two sons. Despite his ill-health, Jack was a very active, community-minded citizen. As the Pakenham Gazette noted, “It would be difficult to find many public institutions in the district which Mr MacDonald was not actively associated with during his long residence in the District” (10). These included the Mechanics’ Hall committee, the Recreation Reserve Committee, the Pakenham Agricultural Society (of which he became a life member). the Presbyterian Church (of which he was an elder), the Pakenham Masonic Lodge (of which he was a past master) and the Pakenham Upper Sunday School. He was also well known as an expert horseman and even worked out a treatment for fistulas in horses. This was so successful that some of the racing people in Pakenham would get Jack to treat their horses, because he was cheaper than a vet! (11). While he “knew horses inside out” and was used to telling them what to do, Jack was apparently not as good with mechanics. According to one family story, after Jack acquired a truck, the trailer he was supposed to be towing beat him down Huxtable Rd! (12). After he died in Pakenham on 24 July 1964, the Pakenham Gazette paid its tribute in the following terms: “John McDonald will long be remembered for his public service to the community, but even more for the integrity and kindness of character which made him a man one was proud to call friend” (13).
Aside from the Pakenham & District Soldiers’ Memorial, Jack’s service was also commemorated on the Mount Eccles Honour Roll and with a tree in the Leongatha Avenue of Honour (14).
The assistance of Jack’s daughter-in-law Lynne MacDonald; relatives Helen Teakle and Mary Schoorman; and Lyn Skillern of the Leongatha Historical Society is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) (10) & (13) Pakenham Gazette 31/7/1964, p. 1
(2) AWM8 26/49/1 - 6th Field Ambulance (June 1915) Embarkation Roll
(3) & (5) NAA B2455 MCDONALD J
(4) (8) & (9) NAA B73 M54733 - McDonald John SERN 3138
(6) Great Southern Star 3/4/1917, p. 2 & Pakenham Gazette 8/6/1923 p. 3
(7) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 3
(11) & (12) Information provided by Lynne MacDonald
(14) Information provided by the Leongatha Historical Society