Thomas MacDonald

by Flora Chisnall

Thomas MacDonald was born on 11 September 1887, at Blinkbonny, Abdie, Fife to Robert and Mary (nee Harris) MacDonald. He was the fourth child of Robert and Mary -- in all they had 14 children. Nothing is known of his childhood. Eight siblings of Thomas came to New Zealand between 1908 and 1920.

He enlisted with The Black Watch on July 2, 1906 aged 18 years and 10 months and served in India at Murree Hills (which is now part of Pakistan) and is known to have been there in 1909 and was still there toward the end of 1911. Thomas was a piper. When he left The Black Watch he was on reserve. He had served with the 2nd Battalion Black Watch. The Battalion was in India from 1902 to 1916.

On his return from India he left The Black Watch and married Clara Ogilvie Ewing on August 29, 1913 at Ward's Farm, Fife, Scotland. They then immigrated to New Zealand leaving London on 13 November 1913 aboard the ship MAMARI. Clara gave birth to a daughter at Marton on June 1914. Thomas enlisted with the NZEF Canterbury Regiment on 9 December, 1914 and was on his way to war just a few days later on 15 December.

Thomas was aboard the troop ship WILLOCHRA (No 14) which left New Zealand 14 December 1914 bound for Suez, Egypt where it arrived on 28 January 1915. Two other ships left New Zealand that day with a total of 1,752 troops on board.

Officer Commanding, Major CHARTERS
Ship's Master, R NEVILLE

The other ships were
VERDALA: (No 12) Officer Commanding, (OC) Troops, Major MITCHELL,

KNIGHT of the GARTER: (No 15) Officer Commanding, Capt FALLA
Ship's Master D STEPHENS
(This information supplied to me by The Ministry of Defence)

Thomas's Platoon Commander was Raymond Alexander Reid LAWRY (he died in 1938 aged 46 years) and he is buried in Sydenham Cemetery Christchurch.

After receiving the names of the ships I searched the Internet and found references to them and details of their involvement in carrying troops to Egypt. These troops went on to Gallipoli (April 1915).Several ships were involved in carrying them from Alexandria to Gallipoli.

One of these ships was the "ITONUS" which carried the Wellington Infantry Battalion (less 2 companies) and Canterbury Infantry Battalion (2 companies). My great uncle would have been aboard. Of interest to Taranaki (New Zealand) people is that Lt. - Col. W.G Malone was the Officer Commanding.

(Source of information, New Zealand Electronic Text Centre from a book "The New Zealanders at Gallipoli by Colonel Fred Waite)."

The "ITONUS" was torpedoed and sunk in the Mediterranean Sea, 20 December 1916.

Thomas spent several months in Egypt before being sent to Gallipoli. He landed at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915 an historic day in New Zealand and Australian History. Thousands of young men died at Gallipoli in what was a campaign that was doomed from the start. Thirteen days later Thomas was killed in action. His death was instantaneous and his wrist watch and other possessions were taken from his body for safekeeping by his Platoon Commander.

Thomas had been made a corporal just the day before his death. A letter of condolence was written to Clara his wife by the Platoon Commander, a few months after his death. The precious letter praised him as a "first class man". His granddaughter has the letter in her possession.

Thomas's memorial is in Twelve Tree Copse cemetery on the Gallipoli Peninsula. His name is on the War Memorial in Bulls Township, New Zealand. It is spelt as T McDonald.

The bagpipes that belonged to Thomas were given to his nephew Robert MacDonald (son of George, a brother to Thomas) a few years later, along with his music manuscripts. The manuscripts have samples of his handwriting -- very neat and tidy. These manuscripts have now been given to Maurice Chisnall grandson of Robert MacDonald. The bagpipes are in the possession of Maurice courtesy of my brother Ian MacDonald.

Some of the following details have been obtained from Thomas's army files:

Name of last employer - Allen
Last New Zealand address - Wanganui
Joined Canterbury Infantry 9/12/1914
Field Artillery 6/3/1915
Transferred to Canterbury Infantry 3/4/1915

At sea 15/12/1914 to 28/1/1915. Egypt 29/1/1915.

Promoted to Corporal the day before his death.
Killed in action at Gallipoli on May 8, 1915. Service Medal 1914 - 1915 Star. Army no: 6/1351 Buried at Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli Pensinsula. Plot 16, row 2, grave 1. Obtained from army files --
Short Form of Will:

In the event of my death I give to :
(a) (Wife) Mrs T Macdonald, C/- Mrs Cation, Westward Ho, Bulls, Rangitikei.
(b) Everything
Signed by Thomas Macdonald on 1st May, 1915.
Clara was granted an annual pension of £65 after the death of Thomas.

Thomas signed his name as Macdonald and there is variation of the spelling in his army files.

Clara returned to Cupar in Scotland after being seven years in New Zealand. She had to save enough money before being able to return to Scotland with her daughter.. Her Fife address was given as c/- Mr Ewings, Drybriggs, Cupar.

For several years Clara worked as a housekeeper for Mrs Levett who lived in the township of Bulls. After her return to Fife with her daughter Isabella Clara rarely spoke of her time in New Zealand, according to her granddaughter Clara Brunton, nee Hope. The family in Fife knew little of the family in New Zealand especially in later years. Clara did not remarry and died in 1974. Her daughter Isabella married and had two children. She died in 1993.

Footnote: I knew little of my grandfather's siblings and parents when I started researching about 1994. I sent a letter to an address in Fife asking if an enclosed letter to a Fife newspaper be forwarded. The letter was published in the Fife Herald and a few weeks later I received a letter from Thomas and Clara's granddaughter now Clara Brunton (formerly Hope). It was wonderful to make contact.