Monday, April 15, 2013

Amanuensis Monday - Letter from Major McCall to Dennis McDonald re death of Alexander McDonald-Anzac Landing WWI

 I have just completed my first blog in the  2013 Trans Tasman ANZAC Day Blog Challenge on my Great Uncle Alexander Joseph McDonald and thought I should also share with you the letter that was sent to his brothr Dennis McDonald from his commander Major J.F. McCall, 1st Field Company, Australian Engineers.

Received 27/12/15

Mr D. McDonald

Dear Sir,

Your letter dated May 21st, has only just reached me now, November 7th, I don't know where the fault is at any rate, here it is though, really until the last few weeks it was quite out of the question to sit down and write letters.  I will try and tell you now all I know of your brothers death.

I left with the first party before dawn, your brother was to follow with the second party directly after we landed.  He was on the T.B.Destroyer and was in the act of stepping off her deck on to the ladder leading to the store boat, when he was hit.  At first it was thought he would pull around, but I think though of this, I am not certain that peritonitis set in and he died as far as I could ascertain about ten days after being hit.  All this was not made known to me till weeks later.  In fact it was not then authenticated until June 6th.  When the roo called on the evening of the 25th, of April.  Prior to the company moving up to General Walkers position and your brothers name was called the reply 'wounded on landing" was given four days later when we came down to the beach again, at Anzac I made the most diligent inquiries and then found that the poor chap had been hit on the Torpedo Boat whilst actually supervising the disembarking of his men and watching that they did not expose themselves when stepping from the deck on to the ladder. 

The enemy was pouring in a heavy shrapnel and machine gun fire on to the boats, they had to get ashore, and someone with a big heart had to superintend, a man with a cool head and a brave heart only was of any use and Corporal A.J. McDonald was the man.  It was almost certain death for the man doing the job yet he took it on, stepped onto the breach and calmly and cooly directed operations until he received his wound. Even while lying on the deck of the Destroyer waiting medical attention he gave some directions just as cool as ever.  

 He was a big loss to the Company and personally I regarded his loss as I would the loss of one nearer to me.  I have proved his worth and his sterling good qualities over and over again in Egypt and Lemmos.  In the strenuous time Lemmos, prior to moving up to the Dardanelles he was one of my right hand men, he personally supervised the making of the rafts that were of such unmeasurable value later on at Anzac.  Then he was always so genial quiet but one of those men that impress people by very nature of their quietness.  And I am sure it will comfort you to know that as regards his religious duties he was most consistent.  He made his Easter Communion on the Transport Suffolk with about 1,000 of us so he went to his Maker prepared. 

 If I can get further particulars of his death, where he is buried I shall send them to you.  Some of our poor boys are on their way to Australia.  Maybe one or more of them were with your brother when he was hit and could tell you everything about it.  I hope to be spared to return to Sydney when I may be permitted to call on you and fill in some blanks that are missing.  Meanwhile if there are any further inquiries your desire made, let me know and I'll do my best concerning them.

Very sincerely yours,

J.F. McCall Major,
1st Field Cop., Aus. Engrs.


  1. Thanks Diane, what a fabulous letter to have in your possession!

    Kind regards SEONAID

  2. What a family treasure Diane. The notion of honour that resounds throughout the letter is compelling. Despite being at such risk themselves, these men thought of the grieving family back home. I wonder how much of it was impacted by how they hoped their own family would be cared for if they also died. Very sad.

  3. Yes, After writing this story, (previous blog), I couldn't stop thinking about Alexander today, as I watched the Anzac ceremonies at Gallipoli on TV. They showed a old film clip of the soldiers landing on the beach in the early hours of the morning. He didn't even make it that far.