No.3559 Private John Duncan McDonald
John McDonald was born in Geelong in 1896 to Duncan McDonald and Alice Sutherland. They married in Geelong in 1895, and had one child.
In the years leading up to World War One, John's father was a blacksmith in the Bulban area at Werribee. Their address was via the Little River Post office.
The McDonald family are recorded in the electoral polls as living at Bulban, Werribee, from 1912, where father and son worked as blacksmiths.
At the age of 19 years, John Duncan McDonald swore his oath and enlisted in the A.I.F. at Melbourne on 14 July 1915. He first went to "A" Coy at the 1st Depot Battalion at Seymour, and after five months of training he was transferred to the Broadmeadows Camp. On arrival, he was appointed to the 8th Reinforcements for the 24th Infantry Battalion on 9 December 1915, and prepared to sail for Egypt.
John McDonald embarked from Melbourne on 5 January 1916 per HMAT Afric A19, with the 8th Reinforcements for the 24th Infantry Battalion, and sailed to Egypt. They were part of the 6th Infantry Brigade.
After arriving at Zeitoun in Egypt, Private McDonald was transferred to the 8th Infantry Battalion at Serapeum on 24 February 1916. Just two days later, on 26 February 1916, he was admitted to the 2nd Field Ambulance at Serapeum, suffering with a venereal infection. After 77 days of treatment he was discharged back to duty on 12 May 1916 from the 1st Auxiliary Permanent Hospital at Abbassia.
On 24 May 1916, Private McDonald was reallotted from the 2nd Training Battalion (8th Battalion Reinforcements) to the 15th Training Battalion, as reinforcements for the 60th Battalion.
On 21 June 1916, Private McDonald embarked at Alexandria per HT Ivernia and sailed direct to France. One week later, on 30 June 1916, he disembarked at Marseilles, and travelled to the Western Front.
After travelling by train and overland, he was taken on strength with his new unit, the 59th Battalion,* on 8 August 1916. They were in the line at Rue de Bois,** where they were recovering from heavy losses, incurred in the Battle of Fromelles (19 July 1916).
Despite the heavy casualties, the 59th Battalion rotated in and out of the front line throughout the winter of 1916. Private McDonald had a break from the action in late September 1916, when he attended a Lewis Machine Gun School of Instruction at Le Touquet (near the Etaples Base).
During October and November of 1916, the 59th Battalion were in the line at various positions, including the Cellar Farm Dugouts, Montauban, and Needle Trench.
On 2 December 1916, the Battalion were resting at “D” Camp. The unit War Diary records that this was the day when strict measures were put in place to ensure that whale oil was applied to the men’s feet twice daily, and that they had a fresh change of socks each day. Drying rooms for clothing were also constructed. These measures came too late for Private McDonald, as he was admitted to hospital that day, suffering with Trench Feet*** and pleurisy.
After initial treatment in France, Private McDonald was evacuated to England for treatment. He embarked from Calais on 17 December 1916 per HMHS Newhaven, and then was admitted to the Edmonton Military Hospital for treatment on his feet.
He was well enough to be discharged from hospital by 20 February 1917. After a short period of leave, he then marched in to the No.1 Commonwealth Depot at Perham Downs. It was during this period of leave in London that he altered figures in his pay book, and he subsequently faced a Court Martial for this offence.
On 13 April 1917, Private McDonald was transferred to the 3rd Auxiliary Hospital at Dartford, and it was while he was stationed there, that his trial was held.
A District Court Martial (D.C.M.) was held at Chelsea Barracks on 1 May 1917, where Private McDonald was charged with “[k]nowingly and with intent to defraud, altering a document which it was his duty to preserve, in that he in London, between 5/2/1917 and 14/4/1917, with intent to defraud, altered figures entered in his pay book (A.B.64) as follows. Under date 5/2/17, alteration from £14 to £4”. Under interrogation, he later admitted to rubbing out the number “1” from an entry in his pay book, while under the influence of alcohol. After pleading guilty, he was imprisoned with hard labour for 84 days.
After completing his sentence, Private McDonald was released from Wandsworth Detention Barracks, and then marched in to the 13th Training Barracks at Hurdcott on 13 July 1917. From there, he was sent to the 15th Training Battalion at Codford, on the Salisbury Plains, where he remained until the end of November 1917.
On 20 November 1917, Private McDonald proceeded overseas to France via Southampton, to re-join his unit. He was taken back on strength with the 59th Battalion on 14 December 1917, when they were at Messines–Wytschaete.
At the end of December 1917, the Battalion were resting at Enquin-sur-Baillons. It was during this time that Private McDonald went absent without leave over the Christmas period. After surrendering himself, he was charged on 29 December 1917. His crime was: “When on Active Service, absenting himself without leave in that he overstayed his leave to Bologne, from 8-30 pm on the 23rd December 1917, and remained absent until he reported to his Company at 9-30 am on the 28th December 1917". He was found guilty, and awarded 28 days Field Punishment No.2., by the C.O. of 59th Battalion. He also incurred a total forfeiture of 34 days’ pay.
On the same day as he was charged, the Battalion attended a bathing parade at Doudeauville. This was the first opportunity that the men had for a bath and a change of underclothing in the last six weeks.
At the end of February 1918, the 59th Battalion were in the front line, near Lumm Farm on the Messines Ridge. Working parties of men were sent out on the night of the 26 February 1918, and Private McDonald failed to return. He was subsequently declared to be missing.
On 13 March 1918, he was reported as being a prisoner of war, and in German hands. A German document in his service file states that on 3 April 1918 he was at the Dulmen P.O.W. Camp in Germany, and that he had been captured at Ypres on 26 February 1918. He remained in captivity until after the Armistice, when he was repatriated to England, arriving on 3 December 1918.
He then spent three months at the No.2 Commonwealth Depot at Weymouth, while waiting for a passage home, and was able to embark on 5 March 1919 per HMT Nevasa.
After sailing via Capetown, he disembarked at Melbourne on 25 April 1919.
On 9 June 1919, Private McDonald was discharged from the 3rd Military District.
His activities during the years immediately after returning to civilian life are not recorded.
In January 1926, John McDonald wrote to the Defence Department, asking that his war service medals be sent to him at 101 Barkly Street, North Fitzroy. He stated that he had been out of Victoria for some time.
John Duncan McDonald appeared in the Victorian Electoral Roll of 1934, where he was recorded as a Railway Employee, living at 103 Barkly Street, Fitzroy.
In 1942, John Duncan McDonald married Alice Sutherland in Victoria, and in 1949 they are both recorded as living at 35 Taylor St, Blyth, N. 7 (Fitzroy or Merri) where John was still working with the Victorian Railways.
Between 1954 and 1963, John and Alice resided at 4 Ashley Street in Footscray North, and he remained with the Victorian Railways.
John Duncan McDonald died at Heidelberg, Victoria on 19 January 1970, and was cremated at the Altona Memorial Park on 22 January 1970.
Alice McDonald (widow) registered with Melbourne Legacy. Her address was Flat 10, 9 Greenham Street, Maidstone, Victoria.
His wife Alice McDonald died at Footscray in 1974, and was also cremated at the Altona Memorial Park.
Medals and Entitlements:
- British War Medal - 10 May 1923
- Victory Medal - 10 May 1923
Name on the Werribee Shire Oak Board: McDONALD, J.
Name on the Little River wooden Roll of Honor "Private J. McDONALD".
The name “M’Donald, J. - Little River” first appeared in the Roll of Honor, Werribee Shire Banner, 27 July 1916, p.1.
* 59th Battalion War Diary - https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1339120
*** Trench Feet – Medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to cold and wet conditions. The feet go cold, swollen, white, and painful.
Unit War Diary
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Federation Index 1889-1901 CD
Edwardian Index 1902-1913 CD
Great War Index 1914-1920 CD
Marriage Index 1921-1942 CD