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MacNaghten's Son, "Fighting Mac" In Gallipoli And Egypt

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MacNaghten's Son, "Fighting Mac" In Gallipoli And Egypt

Post by Karen on Sat 27 Feb 2010 - 19:07


Lieut.-Col. Charles Melville Macnaghten
("Fighting Mac.")
Photo credit: News Of The World, Sunday December 15, 1918, Page 4


Of all the tales of gallantry and grit disclosed by the war none surpasses that told of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Melville MacNaghten, the details which have just become known (says the London "Daily Mail"). This officer, son of Sir Melville MacNaghten, for many years head of the Criminal Investigation Department at Scotland Yard, who won the C.M.G. for gallantry in command of a battalion at Gallipoli and acted as a brigadier-general in Egypt, deliberately threw away his rank and position because, as an officer, he was "shelved" through wounds, and enlisted as a private, and was again commissioned for gallantry in France.
On the outbreak of war Colonel MacNaghten, who, like his father and grandfather, is an old Etonian, was in Australia practising law as his profession and soldiering with the local militia as a hobby. Within twenty minutes of the declaration of war Colonel MacNaghten booked his passage for England, intending to join the British Army. The ship by which he was to travel was commandeered for military purposes, and before another vessel sailed arrangements were on foot for mobilising an Australian contingent. He was appointed to the 4th Battalion of the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade, and as second in command he went into training with his battalion in Australia and Egypt.
As all the world knows, the 1st Australian Brigade made the landing at Anzic Cove, Gallipoli, Major MacNaghten being the first man to reach the shore. He was wounded almost immediately, but "carried on." Next day he received two more wounds, and was sent into hospital at Alexandria and afterwards in England. He succeeded in being returned to his unit at Gallipoli, where, to the great joy of the men of the 4th Battalion, to whom he was known as "Fighting Mac," he was appointed to succeed Lieutenant-Colonel Onslow Thompson, killed in action while in command of the battalion. He led the 4th in their immortal charge at Long Pine, of which gallant action General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote: -
"At an early period of this last counterattack the 4th Battalion were forced by bombs to relinquish portion of a trench, but later on, led by their commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel MacNaghten, they killed every Turk who had got in."
Next came the evacuation, and Colonel MacNaghten was one of the officers engaged in that marvellous military enterprise. Service in Egypt followed, during which he temporarily did duty as a brigadier. But it was not long before his wounds and fever laid him low, and he was eventually invalided to England. In the meanwhile it had been announced that the King had rewarded his distinguished services at Gallipoli with the C.M.G.
While in England Colonel MacNaghten was always seeking to get back to his regiment, but the doctors refused; he had suffered too much in the war. Eventually he was sent back to Australia as second in command of the Australian Sandhurst. From that period onward his story is best told in his own words to a relative, diffident and modest though they are.
"I tried to get on to the active list again out there, but it was of no avail, and eventually I decided to slip away and join one of the reinforcement battalions. I got away to Queensland, where, after four attempts - I am a bit lame after Gallipoli - I was enlisted as a private under the name of Charles Melville in the 9th Battalion reinforcements. My one fear was that I should be recognised before getting to France, but I was not, and eventually I found myself in England training with the rest of them on Salisbury Plain.
"I had been promoted to corporal, and one morning on parade the commanding officer, in whom I recognised a fellow passenger in the hospital ship which brought me to England as a colonel, sang out, "Corporal, do you think you could drill this company?" Seeing that among other things I had acted as brigadier while in Egypt, I replied that I thought I could, and did so.
"All the time I was trying to get into a draft in France, and at last succeeded, but there I found my identity could not be hidden for long, for I was among officers and men who had known me in Gallipoli, and I was given away." General Birdwood, who had known me at Long Pine, sent for me and gave me a commission. I was invalided to England, and the next thing was I received a summons to attend Buckingham Palace in my old rank as lieutenant-colonel to receive the C.M.G. which the King had conferred on me years before."
Colonel MacNaghten omitted to mention that he was especially congratulated by his general in France for gallantry at Messines but did not neglect to extol the valor of his men at Gallipoli, and across the Channel. "They," he said, "did everything; I did nothing by comparison."
But the colonel, who is not yet 40 years old, wears four wound stripes, and in the words of one of his battalion, "He is riddled like a colander; it's only his fighting spirit that keeps him alive."
That his identity should not be traced when he enlisted as a private he deliberately cut himself off from all his relatives, even from his wife, who was nursing in England, for fear that in the censoring of his letters his true name and rank might be discovered.

Source: The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA: 1889-1931), Friday 21 February 1919, Page 9

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