Iven Giffard Mackay

Staged portrait of Iven Mackay in full uniform

Rank

Major (later temporary brigadier general)

Roll title

4th Battalion, AIF

Convoy ship

HMAT Berrima

Iven Mackay’s application for a commission in the AIF, dated 2 September 1914

Courtesy of the National Archives of Australia: B883 MACKAY I G

Born in Grafton, New South Wales in 1882, Iven Mackay grew up in an austere, religious home. He was academically adept and excelled at cricket, rugby and shooting. He attended university, doing well in physics and mathematics and became a teacher. Mackay prepared himself for war by studying military science and undertaking infantry training. He was serious, diligent and above all thorough. He was a 32-year-old Sydney University science lecturer and a captain in the Citizen Military Forces at the outbreak of war and was appointed adjutant of 4th Battalion.  

Major (later Temporary Brigadier General) Iven Mackay, pictured here as a Captain

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial DA13051

HMAT Berrima departed from Albany in the Second Convoy, 31 December 1914.

Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia B3293532

In early October 1914 a horse riding accident during parade saw Mackay crushed when his horse fell on him, breaking several ribs and puncturing his lung. His injuries prevented him embarking on the First Convoy. After several weeks of convalescence, and still experiencing pain, he departed Melbourne on 22 December on HMAT Berrima headed to Albany to join the Second Convoy.

Despite promises that he would be attached to 4th Battalion, Mackay was appointed captain in command of the 1st reinforcements of 13th Battalion. He did not go ashore during the four days anchored off Albany; his time spent going through his men’s paperwork and trying to sort out equipment and clothing shortages. He was already displaying the characteristic attention to detail that would mark him out for future leadership roles.

A former P&O vessel, armed merchant ship Berrima was converted to transport 1,500 officers and other ranks. Departing for Egypt with the Second Convoy on 31 December, the vessel also towed the submarine AE2, although on several occasions during the voyage the towline broke and had to be repaired. The Second Convoy arrived safely in Alexandria exactly one month after leaving Albany.

During the voyage, Mackay found the men under his charge lacking in discipline, and seemed incredulous that many had never fired a rifle. Remarking on the ignorance of basic military knowledge he commented, “One man today in loading with dummies turned the charger through a right angle and tried to load with bullets pointing downwards.” He set about running courses in small-arms and physical training. This was difficult on a troop ship so crowded that units were rostered to spend only forty-five minutes per day using the boat deck. The physical training included boxing tournaments, deck-cricket and use of gym equipment.

Once in Egypt, Mackay set about rejoining 4th Battalion, which he did at the start of March.  However, he was disappointed to be given the role of military transport officer. Impatient with inactivity Mackay was eager to see action. 

Australian troops on parade at Mena Camp, Egypt, 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial H02719

Australian bodies, rifles with bayonets attached and discarded equipment litter this Lone Pine trench following the attack.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial A04029

On 8 May Mackay landed on Gallipoli and was made a platoon commander. He was soon in the thick of the action. His platoon helped resist the large Ottoman offensive of 19 May. Firing continually for six hours, their rifles ran hot. During this action a shell hit the parapet in front of Mackay but failed to explode. Another shell exploded nearby and buried him, but he was dug out alive. He was promoted to major in July and given command of a company just before the battle of Lone Pine.

At Lone Pine Mackay led his men by example and was one of the first into enemy trenches. In the ensuing fighting, there was a constant exchange of bombs, and sometimes the Australians caught them and threw them back. After two days in action Mackay was twice wounded, once when a bomb exploded beside him. Though badly wounded in the thigh, he managed to walk out on his own. For his efforts at Lone Pine, he was Mentioned in Despatches.

Our artillery stopped. The men braced themselves. Suddenly, whistle blasts–three of them–which were taken up all along the line by other whistles. I had to throw my rifle over and then vault out [of the trench]…expecting every moment to stop one… While running forward…and seeing the puffs of dust coming from the Turks’ loopholes, I steered between the puffs and we crossed their fire-trench…While running along the top of the trenches I saw a dozen or more Turks scurrying down the communication trenches, and I got a couple of them, firing my rifle from the hip…All companies attained their objectives, but at a heavy cost…About a dozen of our men were with me…so in we jumped and shot more Turks as they ran past a crossing. We then got ready to pass this spot ourselves. My luck was in, for after passing it safely, the next four men who followed me were killed by rifle fire along the cross-trench. I kept guard at a further crossing while the men behind (i.e. on the other side of the cross-ways) filled their sandbags and barricaded the branch from which the shots had come. While there, three Turks came suddenly round my corner, and I fired…only to hear the rifle click…empty! Then I lunged with the bayonet, and just about scratched the front man’s chest as he was jumping back, after which they all turned and ran the way they had come…One other man tried to come round a corner… and I shot him dead. After that we blocked up and loopholed this crossing, too, and we then had a trench which we proceeded to prepare for fire against the Turks… All through the night the Turks counter-attacked and took a heavy toll of our men. Most of our casualties arose from Turkish bombs, many of which we nullified by dropping half-filled sand-bags on them before they could burst. We, too, had bombs but of an inferior quality …The short cylindrical shape of ours is bad for throwing, and our method of igniting with a naked match, cigarette and or slow-match, took any time up to two minutes…If only we had a plentiful supply of the Mill’s bomb at Lone Pine, a different story might have been told! About daylight I was wounded by fragments of a bomb in the right arm and shoulder… Some time later, a Turk put his rifle over the parapet and, firing at random, shot [Captain] Massie . …[Thus] I was in a kneeling position with the rifle ready to sweep the parapet, when [a] bomb we had not noticed exploded almost under me, and got me in the right thigh near the hip…By this time I was feeling pretty dizzy, and not good for much, so I went off to the dressing-station. Our men were all splendid.

For this action Major Iven Mackay was Mentioned in Dispatches. The recommendation read:

This officer was the first into the furthest Turkish trenches on August 6th where he shot 5 Turks and bayoneted a sixth. He then held by himself a corner of the Turkish Trench while his men erected a barricade. He was wounded during the night of Aug. 6th and 7th but remained at his post until he was again wounded on the night of Aug. 7th and 8th when he was carried out of the trench on a stretcher. By his personal courage and devotion to duty he was very materially responsible for retaining the trenches captured to repelling constant bomb attacks and by the example he set his men. Up to the time of Major MACKAY being carried off the TURKS were not more than 6 yards away and whilst the captured trenches were being cleared of the dead and wounded Major MACKAY remained on guard personally the whole time with bayonet and rifle to repel any TURKS who should come over the parapet though he was constantly under a hail of bombs and for a considerable portion of the time had no bombs with which to retaliate. 

 

Australian bodies atop the parapet of a communication trench; these 1st Battalion men had been killed in the attack on Lone Pine on 6 August 1915.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial C01942

Mackay (left), commanding officer of the 4th Battalion, AIF, with his adjutant, Lieutenant LA McKenzie, at Samer, France, January 1918

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E01571

Mackay was declared medically fit at the end of December and in February 1916, rejoined the Australian forces in Egypt in charge of his own AIF contingent. He was sent to France in March as part of the advance party to prepare for the arrival of 1st Division. By mid-May he had been promoted to lieutenant-colonel in command of the 4th Battalion.

At Pozières the 4th Battalion witnessed an unparalleled 48 hours of continuous shelling. Mackay described the onset of German artillery: ‘[It came] slowly, regularly, methodically at first … then with growing intensity. Gradually leading with a terrifying ferocity to the worst bombardment ever experienced by the Australians.’ The 4th attacked early on 25 July seizing a vital trench and the hotly contested Pozières cemetery. Mackay was in the thick of it; his pockets filled with Mills bombs (grenades). The barrage seemed never-ending, with constant shell explosions punctuated only by regular calls for stretcher-bearers. Men were being bombed to pieces or buried alive. They met all their objectives but at a cost of 434 casualties. Mackay received the Distinguished Service Order.

Understrength and following a short period of rest and training, the 4th Battalion was sent back into battle near Mouquet Farm. Though the action was not as intense as at Pozières, battalion casualties still reached 307. Australian sacrifice had been supreme. In less than three weeks 23,000 men had been lost. With incoming reinforcements reduced to a trickle, Mackay feared it would take until the end of the year for the battalion to regain full strength. The Distinguished Service Order was awarded to Mackay on 3 December 1916 for distinguished and gallant services in the field for his efforts at Pozières and Mouquet Farm.

Mackay was detached as temporary brigadier to command 1st Australian Infantry Brigade five times between 19 January and 25 August 1917. According to his superiors Mackay’s prompt action and extreme resolution at Bullecourt displayed leadership skills of a high order. For his service in this role he was Mentioned in Despatches for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty in the Field. 

Mackay’s efficient, resolute leadership was noticed and rewarded. In March 1918 he was appointed commander of the 1st Australian Machine Gun Battalion. His gunners helped repulse the Germans east of Hazebrouck. By June Mackay was given command of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade and promoted to temporary brigadier general. His brigade saw success at Chuignolles and Hargicourt, but a mutiny by 120 tired and disillusioned men of the 1st Battalion on 21 September was a shock to him. The remainder of the battalion went successfully into action, and most of the mutineers were later court-martialled. This was to be Mackay’s last involvement in combat for the war. In October he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, and the CMG in the New Year.

Officers of the 4th Battalion, AIF at Merris, France, February 1918. Mackay sits in the front row, fifth from the left

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial E01670

Major General Iven Mackay CMG DSO, Commander of 6th Division in the Middle East.

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial 005058

Just prior to Christmas 1918, in response to an offer by the Australian Government for non-military employment, Mackay applied to study physics at Cambridge University. He settled with his wife Marjorie in a cottage close to Cambridge and it was there that his daughter Jean was born in July 1919. His non-military employment at an end, Mackay, his wife and daughter sailed for Australia on 3 January arriving back in Sydney on 19 February 1920. His AIF appointment was terminated on 4 April 1920, however, he continued to serve as a citizen soldier and was given command of 9th Brigade in July 1920.

Mackay settled back into his teaching position at Sydney University with relative ease, however, he was overlooked for promotion and applied for positions elsewhere. In 1933, he commenced new employment as a headmaster, leaving in February 1940.

In March 1940, Mackay was appointed to the position of General Officer Commanding (GOC) 6th Australian Division AIF. A year later in March 1941, after 6th Division’s victories in the Libyan Desert, notably the battle of Tobruk, Mackay was knighted. In August he returned to Australia to take up his new appointment as General Officer Commanding Home Forces. 

Mackay’s role as GOC Home Forces included him advising the war cabinet.  He was given command of the Second Army in early 1942, and commanded the New Guinea Force until early 1944. Between 1944 and 1948 he served as Australia’s first High Commissioner to India. He retired from the army in 1946. He retained his interest and involvement in military decision-making and was active in ex-servicemen’s organisations. Mackay died at his home in Sydney on 30 September 1966, aged 84 years, survived by his wife, son and two daughters.

References

Austin, R., 2007, The Fighting Fourth: A History of Sydney’s 4th Battalion, 1914-1919, Slouch Hat Publications, McCrae

Australian War Memorial, Embarkation, Honour and Nominal Rolls, http://www.awm.gov.au/

Bean, C E W, 1936, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 -18 Vol. I, 5th Edition, Angus and Robertson, Sydney

Chapman, I. D., 1975, Ivan G. Mackay Citizen and Soldier, Melway Publishing, Melbourne

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office; B883, NX363, Iven Giffard Mackay’s First Australian Imperial Force personnel dossier, 1914-1948; MACKAY I G, 1914-1948

Plowman, P. 2013, Voyage to Gallipoli, Rosenberg Publishing, Dural

Ritchie, J. (Ed.), 2000, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, 1940-1980, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne

Mackay farewelling troops of the 6th Division before leaving to take up the appointment of GOC Home Forces, Syria, August 1941

Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial 044255

Kenna

I am proud of your bravery. Respects, Kenna.

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Anonymous

I think you are an amazing soldier.

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Anonymous

A valiant soldier and most remarkable man.

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Anonymous

What a legend! Shame you died early.

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Anonymous

A very brave man. RIP.

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Robert H.

An exemplary soldier and great Australian. Thank you for your service.

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shelse

Thank you for serving in the war. Without your bravery the world would not be the same.

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Narele Barton

Thank you and all soldiers for your contribution and sacrifices for all of us living now. May you all rest in peace.

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Anonymous

Dearest Mackay, I am relieved to hear that you have returned home safely, and are happy. You are an incredible person, and an amazing Australian. Thank you for your service.

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N.Clarke

A true leader and a hero. Lest we forget.

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zac

Hope you don't miss your family. All well. Thanks for helping Australia.

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BROGDEN

WHAT a story!

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Anonymous

Dear Iven, I hope that in the war you haven't got hurt. From your wife.

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juleen darwen m...

We will never forget.

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chad

I'm glad you didn't die.

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chad

Thanks for fighting.

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Anonymous

So brave!

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Anonymous

I really like to learn about you! Did you know that my birthday is before Anzac Day!

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IMOGEN

WHAT A TROOPER.......

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Anonymous

A very brave soldier. You managed to survive the war.

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The Obama Admin...

Nice to hear that you survived both wars.

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Jacob

On behalf of all Australians, we thank you.

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Anonymous

Hi. On behalf of all Australians, we thank you for your service.

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Anonymous

Hello Mackay, I have enjoyed learning about your war story. You are very brave.

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Anonymous

An amazing story, to see what you went through at Lone Pine. To survive the war and continue your service to Australia. God Bless.

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benjamin myles

Thank you for your bravery and serving our nation and thank you for the story.

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Anonymous

Amazing to be involved in 2 world wars and to make such contribution.

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Noa

YOU WERE VERY BRAVE.

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Anonymous

YOU DID YOUR COUNTRY A GREAT SERVICE.

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Anonymous

Jolly good show old chap.

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Anonymous

Brave leader. Thank you.

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sue-ann green

I was in the RAAF for 8 years, had a lot of mod cons, then I couldn't begin to imagine how hard it would have been back then.

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Anonymous

Good job!

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Anonymous

Well done for surviving the war and fighting for our country.

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lucy craven

Thank you for risking your life so that I can go to school without any fear of not returning. RIP.

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Anonymous

RIP. I could not imagine the thought of leaving and never knowing if or when I would return. You and many other Anzacs are truly inspiring.

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abbie.kiehne

How many wounds did you get? Why did you enter the war?

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Zac

Thank you for being a brave man and saving lives.

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charlie

Never forgotten. Thank you for everything you did.

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DAFF

WELL DONE THOSE MEN!

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hayley davidson

Mackay, thank you for risking your life for our country. We all love you.

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Anonymous

What courage he displayed throughout his service. Thank you.

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Lorraine

Thank you for your bravery and courageous leadership.

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Judy

Thanks for my future.

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Anonymous

I will always remember you with lots of love, Granddad, and the freedom I now enjoy. RIP xxx

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Anonymous

You were a great man and leader who will never be forgotten.

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Dean Hrabar

This is a special place to remember those who sacrificed so much for us to live free today. We will never forget. Rest in peace.

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Anonymous

I thought you were very brave to survive the two wars. Thank you for saving our country. LOVE FROM TALLULAH KIRK.

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Anonymous

Your suffering, bravery and sacrifice will never be forgotten over the ages.

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Anonymous

SO PROUD AND HUMBLE TO READ HIS STORY.

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