Courtesy of Anne Matthews
Gunner Charles William Douglas McRae
Pakenham State School Roll of Honour
Born: 6 December 1897 - Pakenham, Victoria
Enlisted: 1 March 1916 aged 19
Unit: Heavy Artillery Group 36, Reinforcement 6 (SERN: 699)
Served: Western Front
Died: 3 January 1983 - Ipswich, Queensland
Known to his family as “Doug” and listed on the Pakenham State School Roll of Honour as “D. McRae”, Charles William Douglas McRae was the only son of Donald and Mary Jane McRae. Doug’s father held down various jobs in Pakenham, including as a teamster (1), which in those days involved carting goods in a horse-drawn wagon. Doug’s mother Mary Jane had been a school teacher prior to marriage. Doug and his sisters attended Pakenham State School where they were taught by Miss Hagens. At the time, the students still used slates to do their school work (2). His elder sister Doris later became a well known teacher, pacifist and Communist. Doris could remember shopkeepers and farmers in Pakenham still struggling to make ends meet after the 1890s “Great Depression” (3). As a child, Doug also attended St James‘ Sunday School, winning first prize in 1907 for the Third Class. In his class were other boys who would also eventually enlist in WWI, including Andy Webster and Charles Greenfield (4). Doris, who was a junior teacher at Pakenham State School, won a scholarship in 1912 to advance her teaching studies in Melbourne. As a result, Mary Jane McRae moved with her children to South Yarra, while their father remained in Pakenham (5). Apparently the McRae family had to sell a cow to raise £2.10.0 to help pay for Doris’s books and examination fees (6).
After leaving school, Doug became a clerk. He enlisted on 1 March 1916 at Queenscliff (near Geelong) where he was already serving with the Royal Australian Garrison Artillery (RAGA), which helped to guard Port Phillip Bay. Doug’s medical examination indicated that his chest measurement was up to the standard of the AIF but not the RAGA. Nonetheless, he was assigned as a gunner with “O” Siege Brigade, RAGA (7). As he was only 19 years old, Douglas’s parents had to consent to him going on active duty outside of Australia. Doug left for England in May 1916. After a few months further training there, he was taken on strength with the 55th Siege Battery, 36th Australian Heavy Artillery Group on the Western Front in February 1917 (8). The 55th Battery was equipped with powerful 9.2 inch long-range Howitzers, which could fire a 132 kg high explosive shell almost ten kilometres (9). During 1917, the unit supported British and Canadian forces when they attacked the Germans at Vimy Ridge near Arras. The 55th Siege Battery also participated the Battles of Messines, Cambrai and Broodseinde near Ypres. In the latter, the unit came under sustained shelling from German artillery and a number of men were killed or injured. During 1918, the unit supported British operations in the Ypres area (10).
During the bitter conscription referendum campaign of 1917, Doug wrote home to his family from France advising them: “Don't vote "YES*. None of the men want to be called conscripts, we are all volunteers!” The family subsequently voted “no” at the referendum (11). Interestingly, his sister Doris had become a pacifist whilst at Melbourne University and was opposed to the War, something which her family thought “verged on disloyalty” (12). From April 1918, Doug was detached to the Headquarters of the 36th Brigade RAGA and remained there until after the Armistice in November 1918. He spent Christmas and New Year 1918/19 in England on leave before leaving in April 1919 for demobilisation in Australia. Doug was discharged in Melbourne on 31 July 1919 (13).
Doug was living in South Melbourne in 1923 when he claimed his war medals (14). The following year, he was listed on the electoral roll as a motor driver in Auburn (15) In 1935 he married Beatrice Dudley and the couple had one child. In the 1940s and 1950s, Doug was a storeman living in South Yarra (16). He later married Constance Williams. In old age Doug moved to Queensland, where he spent his final years at the War Veterans’ Home in Caboolture, north of Brisbane (17).
The assistance of Douglas’s great-niece, Anne Matthews is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) Griffin (2012) ADB Entry for Doris Mary McRae - http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcrae-doris-mary-25052/text26250
(2) (3) & (6) Crow (1988) pp. 1, 3 & 4.
(4) South Bourke & Mornington JournalJ 10/7/1907, p. 2
(5) Griffin (2005) pp.31
(7) (8) (13) & (14) NAA B2455 MCRAE CWD
(9) & (10) Burness (2004) https://www.awm.gov.au/about/our-work/publications/wartime/26/big-guns
(11) & (12) Crow (1988) p. 6
(15) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Kooyong - Auburn 1924 p. 9
(16) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Fawkner - South Yarra 1954 p.122
(17) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Fisher - Caboolture - 1977 p. 26