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Alistair Rose MACDONALD

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Lieut 1679 2 Jun 1896 18y4m 5 Oct 1914 21 Feb 1919 1

Lieutenant Alistair Rose Macdonald (1896-1981)


Family background and early life

Alistair Rose Macdonald was born at Georgetown1 in Queensland on 2 June 1896, the eighth child and fourth son in the family of nine children of Alexander Rose Macdonald and Nancy née Armitage.  Alexander Rose Macdonald was police magistrate, assistant land agent and district registrar at Aramac in 1888 and carried out similar work in Eidsvold, Maytown and Charters Towers before his appointment to Georgetown in 1896. Alistair’s eldest brother Allan Robert Armitage Macdonald began his naval career in 1898 when Alistair was only 18 months old.  In 1899 Alistair’s father became under-secretary for the Department of Mines in Brisbane so the family moved to their Brisbane home at Hillview, Barradine Street, Greenslopes.

Alistair’s name denotes his Scottish ancestry. His father was born in Inverness, the son of Rev. Dr Donald Macdonald D.D., minister of The Old High Church in Inverness for a term of 47 years.  Alistair’s grandmother was the daughter of Rev. Dr Alexander Rose D.D., also one of the ministers of Inverness High Church for 45 years.

Alistair attended Bowen House School for Boys in Ann Street where he obtained in December 1909 his form’s gymnastics prize and an extra efficiency and good conduct badge at the annual prize-giving festivities.  While a student at Brisbane Grammar School from February 1910 till December 1912, he played the part of a servant in a performance of scenes from Goldsmith’s 'She Stoops to Conquer'. After school, Alistair Macdonald gained employment in the firm of Moreheads Limited, bringing him in touch as a junior clerk with the pastoral industry.

Alistair's youngest brother Ian left home in 1914 to attend the Royal Australian Naval College at Geelong.  Alistair too decided to join His Majesty’s Forces but he chose the army.  

Enlistment and Service

Alistair Rose Macdonald enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Brisbane on 5 October 1914. He had already served a year in the Citizen Force 9th Infantry.  At the age of 19 years and 6 months he was appointed to Australian Divisional Ammunition Park at Melbourne on 17 December 1914.

A few days later Alistair was embarking from Melbourne on board HMAT2 Ceramic.  He was given regimental number 1679 and the unusual rank of cleaner.  A. R. Macdonald arrived in England in February 1915 and left for France in April with 2nd Division Mechanical Transport. He served with this unit till he was sent in April 1917 to Officers’ Training School at Oxford.

Alistair Macdonald received his commission on 31 July 1917 and was attached to the 12th Battalion.  Having taken part in the brief advance that followed Germany’s retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the 12th subsequently returned to Belgium to participate in the Third Battle of Ypres.  Second Lieutenant Macdonald was promoted to the rank of lieutenant in November 1917.

In March and April 1918 the battalion helped to stop the German spring offensive, and later participated in the great allied offensive of 1918, fighting near Amiens on 8 August 1918.  This advance by British and empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as "the black day of the German Army in this war".

The 12th Battalion continued operations until late September 1918. Soon afterwards Lieutenant Alistair Macdonald left London on the troop ship Borda to return to Australia.  He was discharged on 21 February 1919.  Medals awarded to him were the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Post war

In civilian life Alistair began an interest in the wool industry and worked as a jackaroo on Maranthona, near Muttaburra, the property owned by his sister Mina and brother-in-law William David Crombie. 

Alistair soon afterwards returned to Brisbane where he resided again at the family home at Hillview in Barradine Street, Greenslopes with his parents and sister, Alexandra Rose Macdonald.  He was employed as a salesman in the auctioneering company, Isles Love & Co. Ltd from 1929 to 1931.

He left on account of a reduction in staff.  In November 1931 he was subpoenaed to give evidence in a Supreme Court hearing before Chief Justice, Sir James Blair.  Held in early December 1931, the trial was the fourth in a bank robbery case and it had attracted a good deal of public interest.

1931 was a sad year for Alistair and his sisters and brothers. Their mother, Mrs Nancy Macdonald died suddenly at home in June and in the following December their father, Mr Alexander Rose Macdonald, who had retired from the Mines Department in 1915, also died. Alistair’s younger brother Ian died suddenly in Sydney in 1937, aged only 37 years.

Perhaps Alistair’s involvement in the court hearing at the end of 1931 awakened in him a liking for legal proceedings.  Perhaps through school or other friendships he was encouraged to apply himself to legal pursuits. 
Whatever his motivation, Alistair Macdonald was appointed in August 1939, associate to Mr Justice Ross Philp3 and in May 1940, Alistair was appointed associate to Mr Justice Alan Mansfield4.  The role henceforth involved him in a close working relationship with Judge Mansfield.  From time to time, he travelled with Justice Mansfield who presided over the Circuit Courts in Toowoomba, Roma, Charleville, Mackay and Townsville.  On one occasion in a Brisbane court room Alistair had stumbled and grinned over his pronunciation of solicitor John Chrysanthus McGrath’s second name.  McGrath is reported to have riposted, “What’s so funny? Don’t forget your own.”5

World War II

Alistair Rose Macdonald served in the Second World War as a Staff Captain (# Q142035), 1st Australian Garrison Battalion in Brisbane for a brief period from 25 June 1942 until 3 March 1943.  

Post-World War II

After the war, Mr Justice Alan James Mansfield, assisted again by Alistair Rose Macdonald, was appointed as the Australian Prosecutor to the International Prosecution Section of the War Crimes Commission in Tokyo along with prosecutors from United Kingdom, Soviet Union, China, Philippines, India, Canada, France and New Zealand. 
This International Military Tribunal for the Far East (lMTFE) sat in Tokyo from 1946 to 1948.  (A photograph of the Tribunal in session is shown in the Photo Gallery.)
Alistair returned to Australia in January 1947 and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1949. His role as Associate to the Chief Justice, Sir Alan Mansfield was to continue for a period of 25 years. Sir Alan Mansfield KCMG, KCVO resigned from the court on 21 February 1966 to take up his appointment as Governor of Queensland (1966 – 1972).  Alistair retired from his position at this time.


In 1977 he was still living with his sister Alexandra at their Greenslopes home in retirement.  He died in 1981 aged 85 years. Alistair Rose Macdonald is remembered on honour boards in the Great Hall at Brisbane Grammar School, in the Coorparoo School of Arts and Memorial Hall as well as on Honour Board 1 in the Merrington Anzac Memorial Peace Chapel.

1. The Etheridge River was the site of a gold rush in the 1870s; the town of Georgetown was established on the site of the diggings. Originally known by the name Etheridge, the town's name was changed in 1871 to honour an early gold commissioner, Howard St George.  By 1900 grazing had replaced gold mining as the region's primary source of income.
2. His Majesty’s Australian Transport 
3. Later Sir Roslyn Foster Bowie Philp (1895-1965)
4. Courier Mail, Brisbane, 21 May 1940. P4
5. Truth, 25 April, 1943. p5

Bean C E W, Anzac to Amiens, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2014
Archives of Australia, military records
Australian War Memorial
Unit histories
Embarkation Rolls
Australian Electoral Rolls, 1919 - 1977
Archives, Brisbane Grammar School, The Golden Book
Resume, Alistair Rose Macdonald, Assistant to the Associate prosecutor, International Prosecutors for the ‘Tokyo Trial’, Rare Books and Special Collections Archive,    University of British Columbia Library, p 20
Extract, ‘Tokyo Trial Prosecutors’, 1946
Macdonald Family Materials, Fryer Library, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane
Inverness Courier, 4 October 1843
Inverness Courier, 15 February 1849
Inverness Courier, 14 March 1850
Brisbane Courier, 13 December 1909, p 6
The Telegraph, 13 September 1912, p 8
Queenslander, 21 June 1913, p 7
Evening News, Rockhampton, 18 June 1931, p 12
Brisbane Courier, 2 December 1931, p 14
Brisbane Courier, 23 December 1931, p 13
Courier-Mail, 27 December 1937, p 17
Telegraph, Brisbane, 16 September 1940, p 9
Daily Mercury, Mackay, 8 December 1941, p 4
Truth, 7 February 1943, p 14
Courier-Mail, 13 May 1944, p 4
Courier-Mail, 20 June 1944, p 3
Sunday Mail, 30 January 1949, p 6
Courier-Mail, 16 August 1949, p 5
Truth, 18 September 1949, p 39
Brisbane Telegraph, 22 December 1949, p 6
Truth, 8 January 1950, p 35
Courier-Mail, 9 September 1950, p 8

Compiled by Noel E Adsett OAM, Brisbane, March 2016.  Revised December 2020 and updated February 2023 by Miriam King  ©



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