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Robert (Bob) Mactier (1890–1918)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published:

Robert Mactier, c1918

Robert Mactier, c1918

Australian War Memorial, H06787

Robert (Bob) Mactier (1890-1918), soldier and farmer, was born on 17 May 1890 at Tatura, Victoria, son of Scottish-born Robert Mactier, farmer, and his Victorian wife Christina, née Ross. Seventh child in a close-knit Presbyterian family of ten, he was educated at Tatura State School and later worked on his father's properties at Tatura and Caniambo. Stocky and athletic, he excelled at football and shooting; his 'irrepressible sense of humour' and 'gentlemanly disposition' made him popular among the locals.

Mactier enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 March 1917 and embarked for England with the 19th Reinforcements for the 23rd Battalion. After training he joined the battalion in France on 23 November. Allotted to 'B' Company, in April 1918 he was in heavy fighting around Albert on the Somme and was gassed. In May he was a scout at company headquarters. He fought in the battle of Hamel in July and in the August offensive and on 22 August wrote his last letter home. Victory was in sight: 'if our side only keep going I think the war [will] be over by next spring'.

On 1 September, north of Péronne, Mactier won his battalion's only Victoria Cross. The 23rd was moving into position for the early morning assault on Mont St Quentin. With only twenty minutes left until zero hour, it was stopped by an enemy machine-gun behind a barbed-wire barricade. Two similar posts could be seen further on. An attack on the first position failed and Private Mactier, his company's runner, was sent to investigate. Armed with bombs and a revolver, he ran forward, sized up the situation and dashed to the barricade. He threw a bomb, climbed over the wire and toppled the machine-gun out of the trench. His comrades then advanced, found the eight-man gun-crew dead and saw Mactier capturing all occupants of the next post. He charged the third post, bombing and killing the garrison and discovered yet another obstacle. To avoid wire in the trench he ran into the open and was rushing in for his fourth attack when shot by a gunner on his flank, though one of his friends said that he was 'killed by concussion from a hand grenade'. Through his actions the assaulting companies filed into position just as the barrage fell on Mont St Quentin.

Mactier was buried nearby but was reinterred in the Hem Farm cemetery, Hem-Monacu. In noting his posthumous award the London Times praised his 'exceptional valour and determination', describing him as 'a fine type of the wiry Colonial'. His mates, in their battalion newspaper, remembered him as 'only one of the boys' while his letters home are those of a genial unpretentious man. A radio series on V.C. winners, broadcast in 1936-37, ably summed him up: 'Bob Mactier was typical of his kind, the countryman who became a soldier … a healthy man … well-behaved … quiet and unassuming; he had nothing spectacular in his make-up'. In 1983 his family donated his V.C. to the Australian War Memorial. His name is commemorated in a soldier's club at Watsonia Barracks, Melbourne, which also holds a bronze bust by Wallace Anderson. Mactier was unmarried. His brother David served in the 37th Battalion, A.I.F.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1918
  • The 23rd (France), 15 Sept 1918, 1 Jan 1919
  • Herald (Melbourne), 14 May 1935
  • Canberra Times, 26 Sept 1983
  • Mactier collection (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 23rd Battalion, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • diary and letters of R. Mactier, 1917-18 (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Mactier, Robert (Bob) (1890–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Mactier, c1918

Robert Mactier, c1918

Australian War Memorial, H06787

Life Summary [details]


17 May, 1890
Tatura, Victoria, Australia


1 September, 1918 (aged 28)
Péronne, France

Cultural Heritage

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Military Service