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Donald Eric Caithness MacKay, 1890 - 1916

Donald Eric MacKay died of wounds on 9 June 1916 during fighting at Armentieres. He was aged 26. He is buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension (Nord), France.

Eric (as he was known) was born at Woodstock on the West Coast of the South Island on 1 January 1890. His parents were William Donald Caithness and Ida Octavia MacKay. His father was headmaster of the Woodstock School.

Eric went to Woodstock School and then to Victoria High School in Hokitika. He was a brilliant student. At the end of 1903 he was placed second for all New Zealand in the Queen's Scholarship Examination and at the end of 1904 received the Rector's special prize for general excellence and conduct at Hokitika's District High School.

His last year at school, 1906, culminated with him coming fourth for the whole country in the Civil Service Examination. In February 1907 the local newspaper reported that he was "at once offered an appointment in the Treasury Department which he has accepted. He is to report himself in Wellington on the first of next month."

Shortly afterwards a social was held at the Woodstock School to honour him. There was a large attendance, singing, and a presentation of a gold-mounted watchguard plus a bound volume of Shakespeare to MacKay. Although only just 17, his reported response showed a real aptitude for public speaking: "Mr MacKay, in an appropriate speech, acknowledged the great kindness extended to him that evening. Although his mother maintained he was Irish, he felt he was a Scotchman from whom long speeches could not be expected. He could only say that he had received his education at Woodstock, his home was at Woodstock, and Woodstock would ever be dear to him and their kindness remembered." (West Coast Times, 9 February 1907). 

On his move to Wellington MacKay enrolled at Victoria University College and began to study law. The proud West Coast Times carried a further item later that year: "Mr Eric MacKay, who went to Wellington a few months ago to take up a Government appointment has continued his distinguished scholastic career at the Victoria College. Mr MacKay has secured the Senior Queen's Scholarship, entitling him to three years further tuition at £40 a year in extension to the Junior Queen's Scholarship with which he left Westland. Further successes will doubtless have to be recorded to the credit of this brilliant young Westlander in the future."

MacKay participated fully in student life while at Victoria College. He played cricket in the College's junior and senior XIs, captaining the junior eleven one season, and representing the College in matches against Canterbury University College. He also played rugby and after a couple of years, was selected for the College First XV. Off the sporting field MacKay was also a full participant in the Victoria College Debating Society, and he also sang and acted in social events. He wrote prose and verse for the student newspaper, The Spike

MacKay passed the final section of his LLB at the end of 1912. He was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court in 1913 and found employment as a solicitor in Eltham with the firm Syme and Weir. He would have worked with George Washington Tayler, who was killed on 8 August 1915 at Gallipoli.

On 3 December 1913 the engagement was announced of Eric MacKay, son of Mr and Mrs Donald MacKay of Woodstock to Miss Frances Darke, daughter of Mr DH Darke, manager of the Colonial Bank, Camperdown, Victoria, Australia. The couple did not marry.

MacKay enlisted on 9 July 1915 and was sent for training at Trentham. He was promoted to Sergeant in E Company of the 8th Reinforcement Mounted Rifles while in training and embarked from Wellington on 13 November 1915, arriving at Suez in Egypt on 20 December 1915. He was posted to B Company of the First Battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade. While completing further training he reverted to the rank of Private on 8 March 1916 (as was common practice), but was promoted to Corporal on 28 March. Shortly after, on 6 April 1916 MacKay's unit left for France. 

He was soon involved in trench warfare and was severely wounded in the chest and abdomen on 7 June. It was reported that he was in charge of a fatigue party, taking material up to the front line when he was hit in the left side by machine gun fire. He was taken to the First Canadian Casualty Clearing Station at Boulogne, but died at 6:30pm on 9 June.  

MacKay's name is on the fourth panel of the Eltham War Memorial Gates at Eltham Primary School. He is also remembered on the Hokitika War Memorial.

Sources: West Coast Times, 22 January 1904, page 2; West Coast Times, 23 December 1904, page 3; West Coast Times, 21 December 1906, page 4; West Coast Times, 6 February 1907, page 2; West Coast Times, 9 February 1907, page 2; West Coast Times, 14 September 1907, page 2; Dominion, 24 January 1911, page 6; Dominion, 15 May 1911, page 5; Evening Post, 6 May 1912, page 3; Grey River Argus, 20 December 1912, page 5; Dominion, 3 December 1913, page 2; Dominion, 20 August 1915, page 6; Hawera & Normanby Star, 8 August 1916, page 4; The Spike, War Memorial Number, 1920, page 31.

Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph soldier profile.

This obituary has been prepared by the New Zealand Law Society to preserve the memory of members of the legal profession who lost their lives while serving in World War I.

Lawyers Roll of Honour

By Geoff Adlam, New Zealand Law Society. Further information is welcomed: geoff.adlam@lawsociety.org.nz.

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Last updated on the 22nd November 2016