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Mackenzie, Roderick (1891–1961)

by Ian McNeill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Roderick Mackenzie (1891-1961), sailor and soldier, was born on 28 January 1891 at Applecross, Ross, Scotland, son of Roderick Mackenzie, merchant seaman, and his wife Catherine, née Kennedy. After serving in the British Army (Territorials) he migrated to Australia and enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force at Liverpool, New South Wales, on 22 June 1915 with reinforcements for the 18th Battalion; he was a sailor at the time of enlistment. He joined his unit at Gallipoli on 11 October and served there until the evacuation.

On 23 March 1916 Mackenzie was promoted lance corporal and two days later his unit reached France; he was wounded at Pozières on 1 August. After a period with the 5th Training Battalion he rejoined the 18th Battalion on 5 August 1917 with the rank of corporal. Chosen as a leading battalion in the battle of Menin Road, the first of a series of heavy assaults towards Passchendaele, the 18th commenced the advance at dawn on 20 September. During the assault Mackenzie dashed forward to keep his men close to the creeping barrage. He captured several shell-hole outposts before the battalion reached its final objective, and during the period of consolidation 'showed absolute disregard for his personal safety' as he helped in the laying out and construction of defences. He took out several patrols, gaining information and bringing in wounded, often under heavy machine-gun and sniper fire. For outstanding bravery and leadership which did much to maintain the morale of his men under heavy shell-fire, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He was promoted sergeant on 30 September.

The 18th Battalion fought in the battles of Amiens and Mont St Quentin before the battle of the Hindenburg line in October 1918, the action in which Mackenzie, promoted to company sergeant major on 4 April, was to win a Bar to his D.C.M. The 18th was on the right of the 2nd Division in a major assault planned to capture German positions on 3 October. The wire of the Beaurevoir line across the battalion's front was found to be extremely thick, averaging six belts in depth: the whole was raked with machine-gun fire. Mackenzie's company commander and two officers were early casualties. Under heavy fire Mackenzie cut a path through the wire and led his platoon through the gap. With other companies unable to advance, he was the first to reach the objective where he personally directed the mopping-up and consolidation. When all the battalion objectives were taken he organized a small party and rushed a pill-box where he bayoneted two enemy and captured the remaining four. His exemplary performance earned him his Bar.

Mackenzie embarked for return to Australia on 3 April 1919 and was discharged in Sydney on 25 July. On 4 February 1928, describing himself as a sailor, he married Jemima Wilson, a tailoress, at Randwick. Survived by his wife, a son and a daughter, he died on 2 December 1961 at the Repatriation Hospital, Concord, and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1918, 5, 6 (Syd, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 16 Nov 1917, 11 Mar 1919
  • war diary, 18th Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Ian McNeill, 'Mackenzie, Roderick (1891–1961)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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