Lieutenant General Sir Iven Mackay

7 April 1882 - 30 September 1966

Accession Number: ART02990 Artist: Longstaff, John Title: BRIG. GEN. I. G. MACKAY Date Made: 1918 Medium: oil on canvas AWM copyright

Iven Giffard Mackay was born in Grafton, New South Wales on 7 April 1882, the son of a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister. He was educated at Grafton Superior Public School, Newlington College and the University of Sydney, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1904. He opening the batting for the university's cricket team, and was on the rugby union and rowing teams. Mackay taught at Sydney Grammar from 1905 to 1910, when he returned to the University of Sydney.

Mackay had served in his school cadet unit at Newlington, reaching the rank of sergeant. In 1911, he became a lieutenant in the Cadet Corps. On 20 March 1913, he transferred to the militia as a lieutenant on the unattached list. He became adjutant of the 26th Infantry Battalion, then commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H. N. MacLaurin, on 1 July 1913. From 1913 to 1914, Mackay took the Diploma of Military Science course at the University of Sydney. He was promoted to captain on 1 June 1914.

On 27 August 1914, Mackay was appointed to the AIF as adjutant of the 4th Infantry Battalion with the rank of captain. Eight days later, on 4 September 1914, he married Marjorie Eveline Meredith, daughter of Lieutenant Colonel J. B. H. Meredith.

A riding accident prevented Mackay's embarkation with his battalion. Instead, he sailed for Egypt with the 1st Reinforcements of the 13th Infantry Battalion, departing Sydney on HMAT Berrima on 19 December 1914 and arriving at Alexandria on 31 January 1915. He was posted back to the 4th Battalion as Transport Officer. As such he did not move to Gallipoli with the battalion, but joined them there on 8 May 1915. Heavy casualties in the early fighting had depleted the officer ranks and Mackay was promoted to major on 14 July 1915 and given command of a company in August.

On 6 August 1915, Mackay was involved in the attack on Lone Pine. When the attack began, Mackay ran across No Man's land at the head of a number of men and, ignoring the front Turkish trench, ran on over the surface to what they knew was their objective, firing from the hip and killing Turks in the trenches below. Mackay jumped into a wide trench and positioned himself at a junction where two trenches crossed, shooting down a number of Turks. When no more came, he figured that the trenches were in Australian hands and ran across the junction into a wide bay. The next man was Corporal H. S. Mills, a Duntroon boy who had left before completing his course and enlisted in the ranks. When he attempted to follow, he was shot dead, as were the next two who after him. The rest decided not to follow.

Mackay took up a position on a fire step, a raised part of the trench floor which allows men to fire over the top. Three Turks suddenly appeared. Mackay attempted to fire but discovered that his magazine was exhausted. So he lunged at the Turks, grazing one and making all three flee. Mackay then instructed his party to fill their empty sand bags and barricade the trench that the Turk who had killed Mills was still firing down while Mackay stood guard, shooting another Turk. As the barricade was built up, it became possible for the rest of the party to join Mackay. The position became the north eastern corner of the new Australian position at Lone Pine.

Overlooking Owen's Gully as it did, the wide bay was an easy target for Turkish bombs during the night. The Turkish grenades of the day were not too powerful, and Mackay's men had some success smothering them with sand bags but men were constantly wounded. Mackay decided that the position should be abandoned and sent a message to that effect to Lieutenant Colonel C. M. MacNaughten, who sent his adjutant, Lieutenant R. J. A. Massie to relieve Mackay and ascertain the position. Massie found that Mackay had himself been wounded by a bomb which he had tried to smother with a sandbag, which had actually thrown him up into the air, but Mackay refused to leave his position. Shortly after, a Turk looked over the parapet and severely wounded Massie, who was carried out. Dawn found Mackay dazed, but still on his fire step, and the position still in Australian hands.

Mackay was by this time convinced that the position could not he held. He kept the enemy at bay with his rifle while new barricades were constructed. When he was satisfied with the security of the new position, Mackay reported to Lieutenant Colonel MacNaughten, who had himself been wounded. MacNaughten sent Mackay off to have his wounds dressed. Mackay was evacuated to Malta and then England and did not rejoin his battalion until February 1916, in Egypt. For his work at Gallipoli, Mackay was mentioned in dispatches.

Mackay accompanied his battalion to France in March 1916, and was given command and promoted to lieutenant colonel on 18 April 1916. He led his battalion at Pozieres in July, where it played a key part in the capture of the town. At one point he had walked up Dead Man's Road to its junction with the main road with Lieutenant Colonel A. B. Stevens of the 3rd Infantry Battalion to brief their company commanders. As they stood there, surrounded by shredded tree trunks and the dead, a panting messenger came up to them and gave them a message marked "Urgent and Secret". They tore it open, to find that it read: "A number of cases have lately occurred of men failing to salute the army commander when passing in his car, in spite of the fact that the car carries his flag upon the bonnet. This practice must cease."

Mackay held acting command of the 1st Infantry Brigade in January 1917, and again at Bullecourt in May, when the brigade was recalled suddenly from a rest. Mackay was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for Pozieres in December 1916, and a bar for Bullecourt in June 1917 and was again mentioned in dispatches. On 1 March 1918, machine gun companies were consolidated into new machine gun battalions and Mackay was given command of the 1st Machine Gun Battalion. On 6 June 1918, Mackay took over command of the 1st Infantry Brigade and was promoted to colonel and temporary brigadier general. He commanded the brigade at the Hazebrouck (June 1918), Amiens (August 1918) and the Hindenburg Line (September 1918). As a brigade commander, he was twice more mentioned in dispatches and made a Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG). He was given the brevet rank of major in the AMF's 26th Infantry Battalion on 3 June 1918.

After the Armistice, Mackay took advantage of Brigadier General G. M. Long's education scheme to study physics at the University of Cambridge. Returning to the University of Sydney in 1920, Mackay lectured in physics. From 1922 to 1932, he was student advisor. From 1925 he was also faculty secretary. In 1933 he was appointed headmaster of Cranbook School. Blamed for the school's slow recovery from the Great Depression, Mackay left in acrimony in 1939.

Mackay held the rank of honorary brigadier general in the AMF from 21 January 1920 to 30 June 1937. He commanded the 9th Infantry Brigade from 1 July 1920 to 30 April 1921, the 8th Infantry Brigade from 1 May 1921 to 30 April 1926 and the 5th Infantry Brigade from 1 May 1930 to 31 December 1932. On 24 March 1937 he took command of the 2nd Division and was promoted to brigadier. He was finally promoted to major general on 1 July 1937.

In 1939, Mackay was ranked seventh on the army's seniority list, after Major Generals H. G. Bennett, T. A. Blamey, J. D. Lavarack, C. H. Jess, O. F. Phillips and E. A. Drake-Brockman. When a second division of the Second AIF was raised in 1940 and Lieutenant General T. A. Blamey was elevated to command of I Corps and Mackay was selected by General C. B. B. White to replace him as commander of the 6th Division. Mackay took over command on 4 April 1940.

Nicknamed "Mister Chips" by his men after his civilian occupation and the central character of the 1939 movie of that name, Mackay established himself as a stern, strict and highly professional commander. He led the 6th Division into its first battle, at Bardia, in Libya, in January 1941, capturing the town along with 40,000 Italian prisoners. For this success, Mackay was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE).

The 6th Division's next campaign was Greece, a complete debacle. As in the desert, Mackay shared the hardships of living in the field with his men, and impressed them by his coolness during air raids. Mackay set a example to his men of disregarding the threat from the air. They watched him sit in the open during attacks and on during a raid on 19 April 1941, Mackay waited out a two and a half hour raid, when his car was hit and driver wounded. He was frequently with the rearguard during the withdrawal. For Greece, he was mentioned in dispatches.

On 1 September 1941, Mackay relinquished command of the 6th Division to return to Australia. Promoted to lieutenant general, he was given command of Home Forces. His task was to get the militia ready to repel a Japanese invasion. Mackay submitted an appreciation in February 1942 in which he outlined a strategy whereby the army would concentrate on the defence of the most vital areas of eastern and southern Australia. This later gave rise to the Brisbane Line controversy, based on the misunderstanding that the army intended to abandon northern Australia, the Australian Labor Party member for East Sydney, Mr E. J. Ward attacking the conservatives for the strategy. He was correct in assigning to the conservatives the responsibility of a decade of neglect that had placed the country in such straights.

In General T. A. Blamey's sweeping reorganisation of the Army, Mackay became commander of the Second Army on 6 April 1942. When Blamey relinquished command of New Guinea Force on 30 January 1943, he handed over to Mackay. Mackay's watch saw the end of the fighting at Buna and the struggle at Wau. Mackay returned to command of the Second army at Parramatta, New South Wales on 21 May 1943, but on 28 August 1944 he once again assumed command of New Guinea Force, overseeing the capture of Finschafen and the fighting at Sattelburg and the Markham and Ramau Valleys. This time his command was marred by disagreements with General Douglas MacArthur's staff over the allocation of shipping, which cause grave difficulties at Finschafen. Junior commanders felt that Mackay should have been more forceful, and should have enlisted the help of his superior, General T. A. Blamey, at an early date.

Blamey agreed with them, feeling that his old colleague was, at age 61, slowing down, and no longer possessed the vigour required for the campaign in New Guinea. On 20 January 1944, Mackay relinquished command of both Second Army and New Guinea Force, handing over command of the latter to Lieutenant General Sir L. J. Moreshead, and took up the post of Australia's first High Commissioner to India, serving until May 1948.

The University of Sydney appointed Mackay an honorary esquire bedell in 1950 and an honorary doctor of laws in 1952. He died in Sydney on 30 September 1966 and was cremated.

Curiously, it is his World War One record which is best remembered today. But Mackay was a great general, who gave his country exemplary service in two world wars.

Sources: Australian Dictionary of Biography, 1940-1980, pp. 234-237; Bean, C. E. W., The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918. Volume II: The Story of Anzac pp. 511-512, 533-534, 538-541; Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, p. 129

Page created by Ross Mallett
Last update 22 September 2001