The Grafton-born physicist who became a fearless general

IVEN Giffard Mackay was not a member of the regular army; he was a member of the militia.

However, he fought as an officer in both the First and Second World Wars, achieved the rank of General, and was the first High Commissioner to India.

As well, he was a scholar, a teacher and later a lecturer in physics at the University of Sydney.

He was a brave man and a brilliant strategist, and his men called him "Mister Chips", after the James Hilton character, because he was cool, reserved, but strict.

We should be especially proud of him as he was also a local lad, born in Grafton, where his father was a Presbyterian minister, and where Iven went to school.

Iven Mackay was born in 1882, the only son of Scotsman Isaac Mackay and his Canadian wife Emily (nee King). He had two sisters.

After leaving Grafton Public School he attended Newington College and then Sydney University.

He was a fine sportsman as well as a scholar. After completing his studies he taught school and later returned to the University to teach physics and to under-take a Diploma of Military Science.

He had been a lieutenant in the Cadet Corps at Newington and had won prizes for his marksmanship with a rifle. After leaving school he had transferred to the Militia.

With the outbreak of the First World War he was one of the first to enlist, in August 1914. He was given the rank of captain with the 4th Infantry Battalion.

A serious riding accident prevented him from embarking with his Battalion and he later left with the 13th Battalion. In the meantime he had married Marjorie Eveline Meredith, the daughter of another soldier.

Rejoining the 4th Battalion he was appointed transport officer and soon found himself at Gallipoli. His duties kept him on board the transport ship until May 1915 when he joined his men with the rank of major.

In August he found himself at Lone Pine in the midst of a bitter battle. He always led his men when attacking and is said to have been fearless.

No Caption
No Caption

His ability as a marksman also had its benefits. Although wounded he stayed with his men. He used his skill with the rifle as his men reinforced the position.

His actions at Lone Pine saw him nominated for the Victoria Cross. Though this award was not made he was mentioned in despatches.

After Gallipoli he led the 4th Battalion, this time as a Lieutenant-Colonel, at the Battle of Pozieres, including the capturing of the town.

What was to become a famous amusing incident occurred there when his men were resting and he and another officer were making plans for future action.

An out-of-breath messenger arrived with a message marked "urgent and secret". Mackay quickly opened the envelope only to find it a complaint that soldiers under his command had not been saluting the commanding officer as his car passed. It is not known what Mackay's comment was on reading this.

Mackay went on to command the 6th Division in the Second World War.

He again served with distinction and received a knighthood for his efforts.

He is said to have been patient, highly intelligent and a meticulous planner, but also to care for his men and always to reward merit. Some were jealous of him, especially as he was a reservist.

In 1943 he was appointed High Commissioner in India with the rank of major-general.

He died in Sydney in 1966 leaving his wife, a son and two daughters.

At his funeral he had 10 generals for his pallbearers.