It’s the time of the year when Australians, again, turn their thoughts to the sacrifices made by young men and women in theatres of war. We pause on ANZAC Day, to remember the fallen, the heroic and the ordinary service men and women who served their country in battles far from home.
But it was not always those that carried weapons that bravely served their country. The stories of battles-past are also filled with the bravery and sacrifice of non-combatants – nurses, doctors, field-ambulance medics and… chaplains.
Major William McKenzie was a Salvation Army Officer whose first posting was to the Salvation Army in Newcastle, in 1890. At the outbreak of World War 1, he volunteered as a Chaplain to the Australian soldiers. McKenzie, or “Fighting Mac” as he was known, was heavily involved in the Gallipoli campaign. He was one of the first chaplains to go ashore and quickly showed that he was willing to endure danger and hardship along with the young soldiers, in order to bring them practical and spiritual comfort.
One of the major roles of an army chaplain was to conduct funerals and see to the burial of the dead. As the fighting on Gallipoli dragged on, McKenzie was called upon to bury fallen Australian soldiers. In one 3-day period of battle, he conducted 647 funeral services. He regularly risked his life to bury the dead.
As well, he led services and preached, and is estimated that between 2000 and 3000 men were brought to a faith in Jesus Christ as a result of McKenzie’s chaplaincy.
But it was his conduct during battle that earned McKenzie his nickname. In a letter by a Gallipoli digger, ‘Fighting Mac’ was described as a “big, burly fellow”. The digger recounted a typical episode when ‘Mac’ declared that he was going to go with the soldiers as they left the trenches to attack a Turkish position. He declared, “Boys, I’ve preached to you and I’ve prayed with you, and do you think I’m afraid to die with you?”. He joined the attack, carrying nothing but a little stick, and he came out of the fight without a scratch. In another incident, ‘Mac’ wore a bandana to protect his head from the sun. After a particularly intense battle that involved bursting shells and bullets, Mac emerged with no injuries, although his bandanna was, reportedly, riddled with shrapnel.
McKenzie’s gallantry during his time at Gallipoli earned him the Military Cross, an award not normally awarded to Chaplains. The citation for the award mentions, “… continual courageous devotion to duty … both in the trenches and out. His behaviour has set a good example to the men in the fearless way in which he carried out his duties under fire”.
McKenzie’s good humour, booming voice and presence with the soldiers in the front line, even under shelling, made him a popular padre. And his reputation followed him back to Australia. More than 7000 people attended his ‘welcome home’ concert, in Melbourne. A journalist, at the time, paid tribute to McKenzie saying that, “His actions spoke louder than his (many) words of faith”.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). ‘Fighting Mac’ is a great example of a person of faith who was prepared to lay down his life for those around him, in order to do all that God had called him to do.
Are we also prepared to sacrifice all, in order to do what God calls us to do?
Church and Community connections
Keith Davies volunteers his time at Rhema FM Newcastle and oversees the communication that we have with Pastors and churches. He is also the host of ‘Hymns of Praise’ and can be heard on 99.7 Rhema FM Newcastle on weekends and occasionally during the week.