Remembrance Day

McDonald family dealing with long-lasting effects of war

By Liz Mellino

After returning from World War 1 in 1918, Bunbartha man Alexander McDonald spent the remainder of his life dealing with the effects of war.

Suffering through numerous gassed trenches and spending time in and out of hospital while in Gallipoli, the veteran soldier’s health began to deteriorate upon his return.

Ray McDonald has had this photo of his father Alexander McDonald hanging on a wall in his home for many years.

‘‘They gassed the trenches where our soldiers were and tried to kill them that way, and he suffered lung damage,’’ Alexander’s son Ray said.

‘‘He was in hospital every year; they sent him down, cleaned his lungs out and sent him back to work ... after 13 years it just caught up with him and he died.’’

Alexander McDonald enlisted for World War I on May 20, 1915 aged 31.

He enlisted only a few weeks after the first landing at Gallipoli and on July 16 he boarded the SS Demosthenes in Melbourne, bound for Egypt.

On October 31 he joined the 6th Battalion on the island of Lemnos near Turkey, where the battalion was resting away from Gallipoli after fighting in the Battle of Lone Pine.

On November 16 the 6th Battalion returned to Gallipoli and Alexander set foot on Anzac Cove for the first time.

This set the scene for the next three years, as Alexander moved between battalions and fought in a number of battles.

‘‘Dad started on Gallipoli and was wounded twice; he was taken to Malta for one cure and Scotland for another one,’’ Ray said.

‘‘When he went back they moved from Gallipoli to the Western Front in France and he fought there, then they moved to Belgium to fight.’’

On November 29 in a trench just south of Lone Pine, Alexander was injured by shrapnel.

Suffering wounds to his mouth and right knee, he was evacuated from Gallipoli and spent a number of months recovering from his injuries.

He was released to active duty in Egypt, however this was short-lived; he suffered an infected knee and spent time in hospitals in Cairo and Egypt.

For the next couple of years Alexander spent time in and out of hospital dealing with pyrexia (a type of fever) and inflammation to connective tissue in his toe.

After returning to active service he joined the 57th Battalion, which was involved in a counter-attack at Villers-Bretonneux and the Battle of the Amiens.

During this battle he was a runner who transferred messages between the front line and his commanders, which earned him a mention in dispatches for his bravery.

Replica models of Alexander McDonald’s war medals, which Ray had custom made. During WW1 Alexander received the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, two oak leaves for his mentions in dispatches and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.

The recommendation for an award in August 1918 read: ‘‘During the operations East of Villers-Bretonneux 8th and 9th of August, Private A. McDonald’s work as a runner stood out above the average. Amidst storms of machine gun fire and under heavy shell fire he repeatedly carried messages and was always ready to volunteer. So eager was he that he had at last to be ordered not to go out again without permission. He was almost dropping with exhaustion but still wished to carry on.’’

At the end of August, Alexander was given a well-deserved break from the war to travel to England for a holiday.

Upon his return he spent the remainder of the war as the company cook, another role that earned him a mention in the dispatches.

He continued to work in this role until the final gunshots ceased on November 11, 1918, signifying the end of World War I.

‘‘Dad survived the war; when he came home he took up share farming in Numurkah and then he was commissioned to build Loch Garry and that’s where he was when he died,’’ Ray said.

‘‘I was only eight months old when he died ... I never heard Mum talk about the war; she never mentioned it at all to us and I often wonder whether Dad did talk to her about it either.’’

Ray McDonald spent many years researching the life of his late father.

He managed to gather small bits of information, however he said he only recently found out significant amounts after being sent a research project on Alexander McDonald completed by his niece.

‘‘This information I got told me more about him than I ever knew in all my life ... I always wanted to find out about him, I think everyone wants to know their parents,’’ Ray said.

‘‘Some of it was very traumatic, he was punished for working in the army because he had serious injuries and was sent to different countries to get cured and was then put straight back into service again; it was quite an interesting story.’’

Ray recently took the research project to the Shepparton RSL after he heard it was creating a commemorative display to mark the centenary of the signing of the Armistice.

While he only recently uncovered this history on his father, Ray said he hoped the legacy of his father and the thousands of other Australian soldiers who served in World War I was never forgotten.

‘‘I was too young to learn anything about Dad, and Mum never talked about it, so this is a new education for me.’’

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