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Robert Stuart MC NAB

Rank Reg/Ser No DOB Enlisted Discharge/Death Board
Gunner 20y4m 4 Aug 1916 18 Sep 1919 1

Robert Stuart McNab (1896-1964)  


It was a courageous time to enlist when Robert Stuart (‘Sandy’) McNab did so on 4 August 1916. In the previous month at Fromelles and Pozieres in France the AIF had suffered 23,000 casualties - 5,533 on one day alone. 

When he enlisted Sandy was a 20 year-old articled law clerk in the firm of Nicol Robinson, Fox and Edwards in Brisbane. He had been born in New Farm, Brisbane on 18 March 1896 to John and Agnes McKinley (nee Dath) McNab.  John was a draper and owned a general store at Yandina, Queensland where the family was prominent in local affairs, and donated land for a Presbyterian Church and for a School of Arts.  

After attending the Boy's Normal School in Brisbane, Sandy won a State scholarship to study at a Grammar School in Queensland. He selected Brisbane Grammar School (BGS) and was a student there for five years (1910-14).  In his final year he passed the solicitors preliminary examination, played rugby union in the school’s first fifteen team, and was in the group who won the 1914 competition for the champion cadet company of Australia. 

Sandy enjoyed sailing, and was one of the 51 members of the Royal Queensland Yacht Club who volunteered during World War 1.  Two others on the Saint Andrew's Honour Boards were also among the 51 - Norman Abbot Ferguson and Walter Scipio Mactaggart.

World War 1 service

To enlist in the 1st AIF Sandy had to obtain the written consent of his parents (being under 21 years of age) and a formal order for leave to absent himself from his articles as a law clerk.  Sandy – 5’7” (170cm) tall, weight 130lbs (59kg), brown hair and eyes and a medium complexion, religion Presbyterian - was appointed a gunner.

After training he embarked on the RMS Osterley on 10 February 1917 as part of the 8th reinforcement for the 9th Artillery Brigade.  Further training in England followed. 

Shortly after arrival in France in August 1917 Sandy was placed with the 103rd (howitzer) battery in the 3rd Army Field Artillery Brigade – this was one of four artillery brigades separate from the artillery brigades within the each of the five Australian Divisions. This arrangement was adopted so that four ‘Army’ brigades could be flexibly deployed to points of greatest need.

During September 1917 the 3rd FAB was in action in the third battle of Ypres in the actions known as Menin Road and Polygon Wood, and later in the second phase of Passchendale. 

In early 1918 there was preparation for an expected Spring German offensive and in March the 3rd FAB supported several successful raids by infantry parties on German positions. Then in March the anticipated major German offensive began with the 3rd FAB in action at Dernancourt and Morlancourt. The Brigade lost a number of men to gas attacks before the German offensive ground to a halt during April.

In the following period the Australians undertook ‘peaceful penetration’ – attacks or raids at particular parts of the German lines – and the 3rd FAB played its part at Morlancourt and Ville-Sur-Ancre. It was also involved in attacks at Morelancourt and Sailly Laurette as part of the build up towards the major Allied offensive of August 1918. That offensive in early August 1918 was the beginning of the end for the German Army, with the 3rd FAB in action at Chipilly and Lihons during that time.

Then the Australians pressed on to battles at Mont St Quentin and Peronne in late August and September, fighting that involved continued movement rather than set pieces. The final fighting for the 3rd FAB was in the assault on the Hindenburg Line.

On 5 October 1918 the exhausted Australian Corps was withdrawn for rest and remained there until the armistice on 11November 1918. General Sir John Monash recorded that the artillery had been ‘a paramount factor’ in the victories of the Australian Corps, and was entitled to boast that it had ‘earned the confidence and gratitude of the Infantry’.

Demobilisation was a huge - and hence not speedy - exercise. In June 1919 Sandy embarked on Konig Frederick and arrived back in Australia on 10 August 1919. He was warmly greeted by many friends at the Yandina railway station and borne off to an enthusiastic party.

Later years

Sandy did his final solicitor examinations and completed his articles, being formally admitted to legal practice in May 1923, and then practiced in Yandina for many years.

On the 6th May 1925 Robert Stuart McNab married Dorothy Moffatt at Saint Andrew's Presbyterian Church.  The duties of best man were performed by his friend, Dr Duncan Fowles, who is also listed on the Honour Boards.  Sandy and Dorothy had two daughters, Heather and Dorothy.  He participated in local affairs including as President of the local RSL, President of the Coolum Beach Life Saving Club and Chairman of the Yandina School Committee.

In July 1942 Sandy joined the RAAF – again an hour of need as the Japanese were landing in PNG – and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer based in Melbourne.  Later he was promoted to Flying Officer and served until August 1946 in support and administrative roles. After the war he worked in Brisbane until retirement for the firm of Feez Ruthning and Co (now Allens Linklater). 

Sandy passed on at the age of 68 on 24 October 1964 and was cremated at the Mt Thompson Crematorium, Brisbane, with Presbyterian rites.

Select bibliography
• Australian War Memorial, including 3rd FAB war diaries
• Brisbane Grammar School records
• National Archives of Australia – service records
• Queensland Births Deaths and Marriages Registers
• Queensland Electoral Rolls
• Bean, C.E.W. Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 Sydney, 1921-1942, vols iv-vi.
• Grey, Jeffrey A Military History of Australia Cambridge 3rd edition, 2008.
• Horner, David The Gunners: A History of Australian Artillery Sydney, 1995
• Monash, Sir John The Australian Victories in France in 1918 Sydney, 1936.
• Serle, Geoffrey John Monash: A Biography Melbourne, 1982.
The Queenslander (Brisbane), 23 May 1925, Page 5, McNab-Moffatt.
The Telegraph (Brisbane) 20 January 1910, p2.
Nambour Chronicle and North Coast Advertiser – particularly 22 August 1919, p5; 28 October 1932 p7; 14 July 1939 p4; 4 July 1941 p12; 30 July 1943 p.5.

Compiled by Ian Carnell March 2016.  Edits and images by Miriam King 2023 ©



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