Author: Daniel Reynaud
Click below to listen to an audiobook sample.
He was a beacon of hope in the atrocious conditions of Gallipoli and the Western Front. He was once one of the most famous of the Anzacs but do you know his name?
This story will leave you truly inspired. How could a man have such strong courage and faith in such horrendous conditions? How could someone so tirelessly serve others, putting their own life constantly in harms way? How do we honour the men and woman who have made such huge sacrifices for the generations that followed?
This is the legendary true story of William McKenzie, whose tireless work as a Salvation Army Chaplain among the Anzacs in World War I earned him the nickname 'Fighting Mac'.
For decades after the war, he attracted crowds of adoring soldiers and their grateful families almost everywhere he went. His post-war fame rivalled that of Australia’s wartime prime minister William Hughes.
What makes McKenzie's reputation incredible is that he embodied almost everything that the typical digger loved to hate. He railed against booze, brothels, betting and bad language, and ran frequent evangelistic campaigns for the Anzacs.
At Gallipoli he conducted burial services under shell fire. At the Battle of Lone Pine he followed the charge carrying just a spade. In Cairo before the Gallipoli landings, he dragged men out of brothels and put them on a tram back to camp.
His normal routine was arduous, given that he worked all day, then often conducted burials for several hours at night. A typical day’s work was usually around 18 hours. Sometimes he got no sleep because the funerals lasted until dawn.
Where ever he could, he lent a helping hand, carrying one end of a stretcher, lugging the awkward but precious water tins tainted with the taste of their former contents of kerosene or petrol up to the trenches, or bringing other supplies on his way to the front.
Noticing that a “treacherous” section of steep hillside was problematic for the men carrying the huge tins of water or wounded men on stretchers, McKenzie spent one free night cutting steps into the track.
He held evening services for the men and often held meetings in the modest shelter of gullies behind the front lines. He distributed letter-writing materials and soldier comforts, chased up those who had not written home and wrote hundreds of letters himself, usually to the families of men in his unit, especially those killed or wounded.
Decades later, soldiers recalled “Your endurance was simply astounding, and your courage and consecrated audacity amazed the bravest of boys.”
Fighting in France & the mystical experience
Later while fighting the Germans in France he recorded in a letter about his experiences of a mystical nature:
“I had buried seven of these fallen heroes (all Sussex men) when my guardian angel said “Get away from here quickly.” I obeyed instantly, and had got away twenty-five yards in a slanting direction from the enemy’s fire when a big shell landed right on the spot where I had been standing minutes before. I only got a shower of dirt.
At all times of great danger I am quietly conscious of this guardian angel’s presence while engaged on such work. I cannot see him, nor can I tell who or what he is like, but I hear his voice sometimes saying – “Do not go there,” “Get in here”, “lie down in that shell hole,” “Be careful”, “You are quite safe,” “Wait five minutes here,” and suchlike messages. I could give at least six instances within the past week where a prompt attention to his instructions has saved me from those big shells I now know that if I pay heed and obey God, I will continue unharmed until my work is finished, so if I fall on the field you will know the reason.”
Returning from the war a celebrity
When he returned from the war and arrived in Sydney, he received a celebrity welcome. “It was said that his feet never touched the ground from the time he retuned me met him at the train till he landed on the town hall platform, where he was given – according to the Sydney Daily Telegraph "a welcome such as few are privileged to receive.”
Hundreds of ex-servicemen came to meet him, as did family members of other servicemen, often travelling hundreds of kilometres and clutching a letter from McKenzie concerning the fate of a loved one.
McKenzie never failed to recall time and place, giving the grieving relatives a comforting final glimpse of their son, husband, brother or father. One woman exclaimed,” That dear hand! Oh may I kiss the hand that laid my boy to rest.”
If the original Anzacs revered him, then we who revere them should pay attention to his story. Buy The Man the Anzacs Revered now and discover this inspiring story for yourself.