• John Bernard Francis McKenzie

Army / Flying Corps
  • 8th Australian Field Ambulance
    Unknown
  • Major

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  • 1914–1915 Star
  • British War Medal
  • Birth

    Monday, 2 April 1888

  • Promoted to Major

    Saturday, 9 December 1916

  • Married

    Thursday, 14 February 1918

  • Passing

    Monday, 9 August 1971

Stories and comments
    • Biography
    • Posted by coalfacesally, Monday, 4 May 2020

    John Bernard Francis McKenzie was born in West Maitland New South Wales in 1888. His mother and father, Martha Elizabeth McKenzie nee Hughes and Archibald Daniel McKenzie, came from the Molong and Singleton areas respectively. His maternal grandparents hailed from Ireland and England. His paternal grandparents came from the west coast of Scotland near Oban. John was one of six children. Both John’s parents were public school teachers. During the late 1880s, his father Archibald was the Head Teacher at the West Maitland Superior Public School and eventually the Senior Inspector of Schools for the Education Department based in Sydney. Music and singalongs around the piano were part of John’s home life and two of his siblings, Warwick and Ella, became world-class musicians. John himself was a very fine pianist and known for his ‘light touch’ on the piano. He studied medicine at the University of Sydney and his listing in the 1915 New South Wales Medical Directory reads: ‘McKenzie, John Bernard Francis, Paddington, Sydney, N.S.W. – M.B., Ch.M. (Syd.), 1912; R.M.O. Roy. Hosp. for Women, Paddington. B.M.A’. John enlisted for WW1 duties in 1915 and upon signing up he was enrolled as Major J.B.F. McKenzie. The following is a summary of John’s WW1 service in his own words: ‘Enlisted March 1915. Served at Zeitoun with details transferred to the First Australian Stationary Hospital and accompanied that unit to Lemnos, Gallipoli, Ismailia and Dartford. Was then transferred to 8th Field Ambulance in France where I was wounded. On recovery was appointed S.M.O. of the 3rd C.D. at Hurdcott’. Not included in John’s summary was that he was made a ‘Brevet Major for Specially Meritorious services during the present war’, 3rd June 1918. John was ‘Returned to Australia’ on the 23rd September 1918, performing his duties as a Medical Officer on board the ship during his return trip. His parents, having already lost one of their 5 sons in the war, were no doubt overjoyed at his return, doubly so since he brought with him his pregnant wife. John met his future wife Australian Nurse Ethel Ridgway Bailey while they were both serving during WW1 and they married on the 14th February 1918 at St. Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, U.K. The couple began their family in Australia in February 1919. John and Ethel were to have 3 children. During the 1930s they lived in Hamilton, new Newcastle N.S.W., where John had a medical practice. His specialist area was obstetrics and in 1938 he was admitted into the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Throughout his medical career he continued his piano playing. Family lore has it that one night he made a home visit to a woman who was close to giving birth. Her contractions slowed down. While John waited for the mother-to-be to begin contractions again he sat down and played her piano for 2 hours before he assisted with the delivery of her baby. John’s love of music can be traced through the diary he kept during the war. We also sense his humour and his sensory aesthetic in the following passage, which he penned on the 18th September 1915, while on his way to the killing fields of war. ‘Tonight, beautiful harbour, smooth, scores of vessels around. 5 big hospital ships lit up with green lights and red crosses. Campfires on the shores. Moonlight and brass band playing on board, belonging to the Royal Fusiliers. Relieved afterwards by drum and pipe band. Whole mess drank the King’s health. Must be 100 officers on board. The regiments going to Suvla Bay tomorrow. All very gay and cheerful. To look out over the harbour: everything so peaceful, it’s hard to believe that Gallipoli and the trenches and all the horrors of war, are only 40 miles away. Wrote home. All letters censored so could not put in much news. Bill Brown (dog) not keen on the music at all’. John was soon to be shipped to Gallipoli. This diary entry sums up his experience there, written as he was leaving Gallipoli, 14th December 1915: ‘I don’t much care where they send us, so long as I had been at Anzac and realized how I would feel under fire: damned nervous but still able to do my duties and think coolly, not in a blue funk’. John and Ethel eventually retired to Newport Beach. During the decades since WW1, John would mention the shrapnel he still carried around from when he was wounded in France. He passed in 1971 leaving behind memories of his sense of humour, his warmth, his generosity of spirit, his dedication to the field of medicine and his love of music. Sally McKenzie May 2020

    John Bernard Francis McKenzie with the music he loved, 1908