Frank MacDonald

Anzac veteran who won the MM at Passchendaele
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Frank MacDonald, clerk and soldier: born Ulverstone, Tasmania 26 June 1896; MM 1918; married Lilian Payne (died 1978); died Burnie, Tasmania 23 August 2003.

Frank MacDonald, a Tasmanian, was the last surviving decorated Anzac soldier of the First World War. He joined the 40th Infantry Battalion, which was the only Tasmanian battalion raised in the war.

At the Battle of Messines in June 1917, the 40th Battalion, part of the 3rd Australian Division under the redoubtable General John Monash, resolutely advanced on the Messines Ridge and captured the strongly defended ridge line. The cost of that advance was high, for his battalion lost one fifth of its men killed or wounded.

The reinforced 40th Battalion was next in action on 12 October at the third Battle of Ypres, better known as Passchendaele. In the dawn attack on a major German position MacDonald showed conspicuous gallantry in maintaining the communication lines between his vulnerable place in the battalion's forward position and their headquarters. The citation for his Military Medal reads:

The conditions were exceedingly trying owing to the station being in an area which was almost continually under fire. Nevertheless he personally saw to the maintenance of the lines until the battalion was relieved.

The 40th lost 248 men killed, wounded or gassed. MacDonald always reckoned he was lucky to have survived. Interviewed many years later he spoke of his good fortune. "I should have been killed a dozen times, but I wasn't. I had 10 times as much luck as any man is entitled to." However he was gassed three times and suffered impaired hearing as a result of constant shellfire.

MacDonald fought throughout Passchendaele, where the quagmire conditions saw many of his chums drowned in the mud. He was one of many thousands of Allied troops waiting with considerable trepidation for the major German offensives on 21 March 1918. At Morlancourt the 3rd Division held against a number of fierce attacks. In August that year, in the final Allied offences, MacDonald was with his battalion at Amiens and in the final push saw the Germans driven back to the Hindenberg Line.

Frank MacDonald was brought up in Ulverstone, Tasmania, where he worked as a clerk telegraphist with the railways before enlisting in March 1916, three months after the evacuation of Gallipoli in which so many Anzac troops had lost their lives in the ill-fated Dardenelles Campaign. Thousands of men, MacDonald included, had enlisted to avenge that defeat. These new volunteers were not sent to fight the Turks but joined the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front. Unlike the recruits of the early days of the war, MacDonald had a clear picture of the situation he had volunteered for.

He had first been rejected, in 1914, because he had bad teeth. He had his teeth removed, but on re-examination he was told he would not be accepted because he could not grind food with his new teeth. He went off to Queensland to cut sugar for a season. However, with casualties mounting, he reapplied and "they didn't argue after that", he recalled. "I didn't even have to take my coat off."

He was posted to the newly raised 40th Battalion and was immensely proud of his regimental number, 53. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916, the 40th Battalion embarked for England where, after completing training, it set off for France in November. They arrived in the trenches and suffered a number of casualties in the severe winter.

After such a harsh war it was another year after the armistice before MacDonald came home to Tasmania. There he worked in a number of clerical positions and in the retail industry between the wars. He lived some of the time in Australia and served with their army in an administrative role during the Second World War, being considered too old for active duty.

Max Arthur

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