Hugh MacDonald MacKenzie

Dundee's only First World War Victoria Cross


This is an account of the short life of Hugh MacKenzie who was awarded a V.C. for his valour during WW1. Although other articles have been written they fail to recognise or acknowledge his connections with the city of Dundee. This is an attempt to address that omission.

Hugh spent much of his youth in Dundee and returned there whilst on leave to visit his mother and family. He attended Rosebank Primary School as did his daughter, Elizabeth. It is therefore very fitting that there still hangs a memorial plaque in his memory in Rosebank School. His wife was a Dundonian and his parents were married in Dundee in 1877.

The information contained in this account is a compilation of a number of different sources. I should also like to thank Sandra Moffatt, Canada for her assistance in researching the Canadian side of the story. Given that we are approaching the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War, other information may become available over the coming months. If this should be the case, I shall be happy to make adjustments as necessary.

Linda Nicoll 2014


Hugh Macdonald MacKenzie was born on 5th December, 1885 in Liverpool. His parents were James MacKenzie and Jane Macdonald. They married in Dundee on 13th June, 1877 in the Free Church.

Census records show that the family moved around the country. Their first four children were born in Greenock, Hugh in Liverpool and his two younger siblings in Inverness - the birth place of his mother. His youngest sibling, Nora, was born illegitimately. Her Birth Certificate states that her mother, Jane, was the widow of James MacKenzie, a marine engineer who drowned at sea on 16th November, 1888. Hugh was only three years old when the tragedy occurred.

In 1891, the census shows Jane and her family living in Inverness at the home of her aunt. Although she and Hugh are recorded as living at a different address in the Inverness area in the 1901 census, it seems likely that they may have returned to Dundee in the intervening years as we know from the school log book that Hugh was a former pupil of Rosebank Public School, Dundee. Unfortunately, the school admission records for the relevant years have not survived. Around 1905 they returned to Dundee where Hugh was employed as a carter with the Caledonian Railway Company. He had a keen interest in Wrestling and won numerous trophies, including a cup and a gold medal. He also became the champion of the North of Scotland. In addition to this, he also acted as joint instructor of the Dundee Amateur Boxing and Wrestling Club at Dudhope Castle.

By 1911, Hugh is living at 43 North Street, Dundee with his mother, two of his sisters and his daughter Elizabeth. She was born on 25th April, 1909 in Dundee. The birth was recorded as illegitimate. Her mother was recorded as Marjory McGuigan. No-one could have foreseen that, within ten years, this baby girl would unveil a plaque at school in memory of her late father.
Later that year, Hugh emigrated to Canada. There, on 14th March, 1912 he married Marjory McGuigan. It seems probable that their daughter, Elizabeth, remained in Dundee with her grandmother as there is no reference made to her in Canada whereas we do know that she attended Rosebank School in Dundee. The Canadian census of 1921 shows no record of Elizabeth living with her mother then either. On 15th February, 1913, Hugh and Marjory had a son, Alexander, who was baptised in St. Mark's Presbyterian Church, Montreal.

On 21st August, 1914, in Ottawa, Hugh enlisted in Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) as a private soldier. His Army papers described him as 5 foot 10 inches, chest 39 inches, grey eyes and brown hair. Under distinguishing marks was written, " Heart Rt. Wrist". He gave his religion as Presbyterian. A few weeks after he enlisted, on 22nd September, 1914, he sailed from Canada, arriving in the UK on 18th October. By Christmas, he was fighting at the front in some of the harshest conditions. Over the next three years, he rose through the ranks until, in January 1917, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Later that year he transferred to 7th Coy. Canadian Machine Gun Corps.

In 1916, Hugh received two decorations. The French government presented him with the Croix de Guerre and shortly after he also received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Referring to the latter, the London Gazette printed the following extract:

"...for conspicuous gallantry. His machine gun having been blown up by a shell and the whole crew killed or wounded Cpl. McKenzie displayed the utmost coolness in stripping the wrecked gun of all undamaged parts and bringing them safely out of the trench, which by then had been absolutely demolished. Having no machine gun, he volunteered to carry messages to and from Brigade Headquarters under terrific fire and succeeded, his devotion to duty has always been most marked ... London Gazette, 14 January, 1916.

It is interesting to note that whilst in Dundee on furlough he was asked what particular incident
had led to his decorations. He modestly replied, " I could not really tell you. I suppose I was selected for the honour because it was fortunate enough that some officer's eye lighted on me during the operations. For myself, I cannot think that I did anything more than what the others did."

Dundee Advertiser, 15 Feb. 1918

His final Furlough to Dundee was in October 1917. That was to be his last visit home as he was killed in action shortly after he returned to the front. The following accounts give an insight into the kind of man Hugh McKenzie was and the events which earned him the Victoria Cross.

Passchendaele Passchendale
The Canadians were sent to relieve the ANZAC forces at the beginning of October, 1917 and to take part in the push to capture Passchendaele. Conditions were appalling and progress slow. One of the main obstacles that the advancing troops encountered was the German pill-box. These reinforced concrete machine gun positions offered protection to the enemy but caused extensive casualties and fatalities to the allies. It took immense courage and the outstanding bravery of many individual men to attain their objectives. Nine Canadians earned the Victoria Cross fighting at Passchendaele, Hugh was one of them but he did not survive to receive it. It was awarded posthumously.

Citation - "For most conspicuous bravery and leading when in charge of a section of four machine guns accompanying the infantry in an attack.

Seeing that all the officers and most of the non-commissioned officers of an infantry company had become casualties, and that the men were hesitating before a nest of enemy machine guns, which were on commanding ground and causing them severe casualties, he handed over command of his guns to anN.C.O., rallied the infantry, organised an attack, and captured the strong point. Finding that the position was swept by machine-gun fire from a "pill-box" which dominated all the ground over which the troops were advancing, Lt. MacKenzie made a reconnaissance and detailed flanking and frontal attacking parties which captured the "pill-box", he himself being killed while leading the frontal attack.
By his valour and leadership this gallant officer ensured the capture of these strong points and so saved the lives of many men and enabled the objectives to be attained." London Gazette, 13 February, 1918.

At home in Dundee, Mrs MacKenzie, his mother, received a letter from the major of the battalion to which her son was attached. Part of that letter was printed in the Dundee Courier and read as follows:-
"During an attack in the morning of the 30th October, 1917, Hugh led over four machine guns. When nearing the final objective he noticed that a company of infantry were being temporarily held up by some Germans in a "pill­box". The company had lost all its officers through casualties, and only a corporal was in) charge. Hugh instantly went forward shouting, "Come on, boys, we'll take it". He succeeded in j taking the first objective but he had only gone a: short distance towards the second when he was shot through the head and killed instantly. The men, however, carried on, and took the second! "pill-box". In all my experience out here I have never seen a better officer nor a more likeable officer than your son. He did not know fear, and was always outstanding even among the most; courageous. He has hosts of real friends who loved and admired him, and his influence was always for good. One of his greatest friends, Lieutenant Neatly, recovered his body.

"Dundee Courier, 14 February, 1918.

Hugh Mackenzie was awarded the following medals: -

Victoria Cross
1914-1915 Star
Victoria Cross
Distiguished Conduct Medal
1914-1915 Star
1914-1918 War Medal
Victory Medal
Croix de Guerre
British War Medal (1914-20)
Victory Medal (1914-19)
Croix de Guerre (France)


The official papers state that Hugh MacKenzie died from a gun shot wound to the head by a sniper at a bunker south of the Passchendaele Road, at Meetcheele, Belgium.
An entry in the CWGR, page 804 states that he was buried a short distance from where he fell at Meetcheele Spur, Passchendaele. Grave not registered as at 16.12.21.

Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate
His name is inscribed on the Ypres Memorial (Menin Gate). A Certificate is available through the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Liverpool (city of his birth)
In Liverpool, a memorial has been erected at Edge Hill in memory of sixteen Liverpool men who were awarded the Victoria Cross between the years of 1857 and 1917. The memorial depicts Captain Chavasse and a Liverpool Scottish stretcher bearer attending a wounded soldier. Round the base are inscribed the names of the V.C. recipients. Included is the following:-
"Lieutenant Hugh Mcdonald McKenzie V.C. 7th Coy. Canadian Machine Gun Corps. 30 October 1917 at Meetscheele Spur, near Passchendaele, Belgium." Rosebank Memorial

Rosebank Primary School, Dundee
The following extract is from the Rosebank School Log Book, 1920. (Dundee City Archives)

22 Dec. "A memorial tablet was unveiled in the school yesterday afternoon in memory of the late Lieut. Hugh McKenzie V.C., D.C.M., Croix de Guerre, a former pupil of the school. The ceremony was a deeply impressive one and there was a large gathering in the middle corridor of relatives & friends of the deceased, members of the Education Authority and subscribers to the Memorial Fund. The tablet was handed over as a gift to the school by Mr C.H. Marshall who organised the movement for the Memorial Fund. It was unveiled by Lizzie the eleven year old daughter of Lieut. McKenzie & a present pupil of the school, and accepted on behalf of the Education Authority by Mr. C. J. Bisset, Chairman of the Authority."

The inscription on the plaque reads :-

ON 3th OCTOBER 1917.

"He has the noblest sepulchre; Not the spot where his bones are laid, But a place in the minds of men."

Hugh maintained his interest in Rosebank and many of his letters which he wrote home were sent to the Headmaster to be read to the pupils. His Croix de Guerre and his D.C.M. were displayed in the school after their arrival in Dundee. Dundee Advertiser, 15th Feb., 1918

Dundee -
Hugh's mother, Jane, continued to live in Dundee until her death on 28th April, 1919. The previous year the Dundee Courier printed an article (2nd April, 1918) in which they appealed to the public to contribute to a memorial fund in Hugh's memory. The purpose of the fund was to provide an annuity for Jane. The article stated that she was in poor health. She died the following year. It is interesting to note that two of Hugh's brothers also served in the Great War. Alexander, the youngest son, was a reservist in the Cameron Highlanders and was sent to France at the start of the war. He was taken as a prisoner of war and was still in the hands of the Germans when Hugh died. The eldest son, Robert, was in the Army Service Corps and also served at the front.

Hugh's wife, Marjory, remained in Canada with their son, Alexander. In February, 1917, Hugh sent a letter to the Army instructing them to cancel payment of his Assigned Pay and Separation Pay to his wife. The reason given was "infidelity of wife". The payments were to be made instead to the Canadian Patriotic Society.
Hugh's medals were sent to his wife as his mother had died. She. received his Medals and Decorations, Plaque and Scroll and a Cross of Sacrifice. The Plaque was returned on 3rd July, 1922.

In May 1920, Marjory married Peter Smith in Nipissing, Ontario. Peter was from Dundee and he had been a witness at the marriage of Hugh and Marjory. He had a son called Norman. They were still living in Nipissing when the 1921 census was taken but there is no record of Elizabeth being with them at that time. Other children are listed, all with the surname of Smith, but it is not clear who their parents are.
At some point, Elizabeth did emigrate to Canada where she married George McAndrew. They had a son, Andrew. George died in 1966 and Elizabeth in 1991, aged 82 years. Her obituary shows that she had eight grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

1955, Amerstburg, Ontario.
This story would not be complete without mention of the fire which destroyed Hugh's V.C. and its subsequent replacement.
At some point the family had moved to Amerstburg. Here, on 19th May, 1955 fire swept through one of the houses on Murray Street in the early hours of the morning. The occupants were Mrs Betty McKenzie McAndrew and Mrs Norman Smith and her three children. Mrs Smith was Elizabeth's (Betty's) sister-in-law. Sadly, Mrs Smith and her three children died in the fire. Elizabeth must have had possession of her father's medals by that time and they perished in the fire. It has been suggested that the D.C.M. and the Croix de Guerre were on loan to a relative at the time.

It is very rare for a Victoria Cross to be lost and even rarer for one to be replaced. A replacement needs to be approved by a special committee and then is must become the property of a recognised museum. When writing about lost and stolen medals, Roy Bassett refers to the case of Hugh MacKenzie. He describes Elizabeth accepting the replacement V.C. and then presenting it to Lt. Col. David C. Currie, V.C. who accepted it on behalf of the Canadian War Museum. He also states that Hugh's other five medals, the Star, War and Victory medals were also replaced. The medals were then displayed in the Museum of the Regiments, in Calgary, Alberta.

Source Information

  • Family certificates - 1891, 1901,1911 census records
  • Rosebank School Log Book, Dundee City Archives
  • Dundee Courier, 14 February 1918
  • Dundee Advertiser, 15 February, 1918
  • Dundee Courier, 2 April, 1919
  • Cover photograph, Canadian Department of Defence
  • DCM citation, London Gazette
  • V.C. citation, London Gazette, 13 February, 1918
  • Excerpt from letter from battalion major to Mrs MacKenzie, Dundee Courier, 14
    February, 1918
  • Remembrance certificate, Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Rosebank Primary School
Grateful thanks to Rosebank Primary School for allowing us access to their collection of in­formation about Hugh MacKenzie which was compiled by Gary Thomson. The section on Military Records is taken from this folder.
Canadian Sources .. with thanks to Sandra Moffatt

  1. Marriage record of Hugh MacKenzie and Marjory McGuigan, 14, May, 1912;
    Montreal, Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection) 1621-1967
  2. Baptism record of Alexander MacKenzie, 15 February, 1913, Montreal
  3. Marriage record of Marjory MacKenzie and Peter Smith, North Bay, Nipissing, On­
    tario, January 1920: Quebec, Vital and Church Records (as above)
  4. Census record 1921 for Nipissing, Ontario
  5. Amherstburg Echo, report of house fire, 19 May, 1955