2nd Lieutenant Kenneth Clinton McKie of the 49th Battalion
Currently on display in the John Oxley Library Treasures Wall exhibition 'Keepsakes of War' is a small silver knife bearing the inscription 'K.C. McKie. Messines. 9-6-17'. This little knife, which is housed in its original box, commemorates the World War I service of Kenneth Clinton McKie, a young man from South Brisbane, who enlisted in October 1915.
Kenneth McKie was born in Brisbane in 1890 being the son of Robert McKie, a former major in the Indian Army and a principal in the firm of Wilson and Co., Biscuit Manufacturers, and Maria nee Weedon. Kenneth was the youngest of eight children. His mother died in 1900 when he was 10 and his father died in 1909. For this reason he nominated his brother-in-law, George Livingstone Elliott, as his next of kin on his enlistment papers. Kenneth was educated at the Brisbane Grammar School, where he served in the school cadet corps, and later worked as a clerk in the Bank of New South Wales at branches in Warwick, Roma, Longreach and Brisbane.
After enlisting in October 1915 Kenneth quickly rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and was assigned to the 49th Infantry Battalion. He trained at the Enoggera Military Camp in Brisbane before embarking on the troopship HMAT Boorara A42 on 16th August 1916. Once in England he trained at Codford Military Camp in Wiltshire, with stints at an officers' school at Tidworth.
While in England he spent time with relatives in London; his uncle, Douglas McKie and his wife, and their daughters Nell and Katherine (Kitty). The collection includes letters which Kenneth exchanged with the family. Douglas' son, and Kenneth's cousin, Douglas Hamlin McKie, was also serving on the Western Front with the British Army in the Northumberland Fusiliers.
2nd Lieutenant Douglas Hamlin McKie of the Northumberland Fusiliers, ca. 1916. Source: National Army Museum, Image Id: 2005-09-56-1.
At the outbreak of war Douglas Hamlin McKie was working as a bank clerk in Brazil. He returned to England and initially joined the London-based Artists Rifles, which was unofficially viewed as a regiment for aspiring young officers. A commission later became available in the Northumberland Fusiliers so Douglas joined this regiment as 2nd Lieutenant. It is remarkable that the cousins had so much in common; both served in the war, both worked as bank clerks, both rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and sadly both died in the conflict. Douglas died from wounds he sustained in the Battle of Arras on 11th April 1917, at the age of 24. Kenneth, when he heard the news, wrote the following to Douglas' sister, Kitty.
Dear Little Kitty. I feared when I saw the black envelope, which reached me today. So poor Douglas so soon has paid the price of freedom. Consolation by letter in such losses is futile. I should like to be with you, to try if together we could see the neat path of devotion & duty which Douglas & so many others have trod & to try to find comfort in the manner of his passing. For surely as we understand it, the noblest death a man can meet is in the great struggle for the protection of his womenkind, the existence of his country. I wrote Douglas yesterday little thinking what I should hear today. But war is a fearful school. It teaches us so thoroughly the lesson that each moment sees the extinction of many lives. In the freezing night, when the shells and bullets are flying thickly, one gets to realise & to acquiesce in the realisation that any moment may be one's last. It is extraordinary how one hears without emotion of the death of some friend or acquaintance which in civil life would have shocked and horrified one. But I think it is this numbness of the brain and emotions which preserves one's reason. If one continually & fully realised all the terrors of war I think it would mean madness. France 22.4.17.
Kenneth died two months later on the 9th June 1917 from multiple gunshot wounds which he suffered during the Battle of Messines in Belgium. The following letter was sent to Kitty McKie in London from Lieutenant Colonel Ramsay Webb of the 2nd Australian Casualty Clearing Station concerning the death of her cousin.
In Australia Kenneth's elder sister, Annie Ida Elliott, was hit particularly hard by his death. She wrote the following letter to the military authorities.
The deceased soldier was given to me by his dying mother in his early years. He was my own as it were and when I married he came with me. I feel his loss as only a mother could. I have no children so that all will eventually go to my brother's children, so hope you will see your way to grant me the medal that my boy gained - to put with the rest of his things.
On the 8th January 1918 she wrote to her cousin Nell McKie (sister of Douglas) in London, England.
Thank you for your loving sympathy with me over the loss of my darling Ken - he was indeed fine, the very flower of our flock and was just inexpressibly dear to me. I am so glad you all knew him & loved him... I was so very glad too that he and dear Douglas met - my tears mingled with yours when I heard of Doug's passing & two days later I got my own sad news.
We can only surmise that the little silver knife belonged to Annie Ida Elliott in remembrance of the beloved brother she lost during the war.
This touching family collection illustrates the strong bonds which linked families in Australia with their English relatives, and how the call of the Empire was such a motivating force in drawing Australian troops into a war so far from home.
The McKie Family Papers, Accession 3143, is available at the John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Apart from the commemorative silver knife, which has been digitised, the collection also includes correspondence, photographs, a family bible, and genealogical tables.
Lynn Meyers, QANZAC100 Content Curator