b. 05/12/1885 Liverpool. d. 30/10/1917 Passchendaele, Belgium.
Hugh McDonald McKenzie (1885-1917) was born on 5th December 1885 in Liverpool, Lancashire. When he enlisted in the Canadian Army, he listed his place of birth as Inverness, Scotland. His father, James McDonald McKenzie, was from Perthshire and was a confection packer. He married Jane McDonald, a domestic servant, on 13th June 1877 at 24 Rose Street, Dundee. Jane later became a midwife. James later joined the Mercantile Marine as a fireman and was serving on SS Arabic when he died at sea, presumed drowned in Trieste, Italy on 1st October 1885. His body was not found. Hugh had five older siblings, three brothers and two sisters.
Hugh was educated at Leachkin Public School, Inverness and at Rosebank Primary School, Dundee. He worked for the Highland Railway Company as a cleaner before returning to Dundee around 1905. He then worked for Messrs Watson & Sons of Seagate, Dundee and later for the Caledonian Railway Company as a carter. He is believed to have married Marjory McGuigan, and they had two children: Elizabeth and Alexander.
Hugh and Marjory emigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal, where he worked as a teamster on the railways. When Hugh attested for service in the CEF, he stated four years previous service in the Garrison Artillery and two years in the Special Reserve Field Artillery. He enlisted in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in August 1914, and joined No 3 Company and sailed for England as part of the First Canadian Contingent on 3rd October. They trained on Salisbury Plain and Winchester before joining the British 80th Brigade in 27th Division. The Battalion sailed to France on 20th December and became the first Canadian unit to serve on the Western Front.
Hugh was awarded the DCM for his actions on Bellewaarde Ridge between 3rd and 8th May 1915 as part of a machine gun section. He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for the same action. He was promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant by September 1915. He transferred to 7th Canadian Machine Gun Company on 3rd September 1916 and was appointed acting Company Sergeant Major. He would return to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in January 1917 and was commissioned as Temporary Lieutenant.
On 30th October 1917 at Meetscheele Spur, near Passchendaele, Belgium, Lieutenant McKenzie was in charge of a section of four machine guns accompanying the infantry in an attack. Seeing that all the officers and most of the NCOs of an infantry company had become casualties and that the men were hesitating before a nest of enemy machine-guns, the lieutenant handed over his command to an NCO, rallied the infantry, organised an attack and captured the strong-point. He then led a frontal attack on a pill-box which was causing casualties. The pill-box was captured but he was killed.
Sadly, Hugh’s body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres. It is understood that his wife at the time of his death had moved to Montreal and was possibly involved in a relationship with another man. In his will, Hugh left his money and watch to his mother and everything else to his wife. Despite her alleged infidelity, there seems to have been no legal separation.
In addition to the VC and DCM, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, and French Croix de Guerre. As he died on duty, his next of kin was eligible for the Canadian Memorial Cross. His medals were in his widow’s possession when they were destroyed in a house fire at Amhertsburg, Lake Erie, Ontario on 24th May 1959, in which she died. Unaware of this, the Regimental Museum in Calgary appealed across Canada for the location of the VC. They made contact with his daughter in 1970 and she had Hugh’s Croix de Guerre and DCM. The Museum arranged for replacement medals of the missing medals and VC, and she presented them to the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa on 17th March 1979.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE – ON MENIN GATE MEMORIAL, BELGIUM. PANEL 32.
Canadian War Museum – Images of the McKenzie VC Medal Group and VC Medal.
James O’Hanlon – Images of the VC Stone and accompanying board at the Church of St Nicholas, Liverpool.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the VC Stone in Inverness, Scotland.