Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mackinnon, W. A.

A Veteran Army Doctor.

No doubt there are those in New Zealand, especially in the North Island, who remember Dr Mackinnon, who served as sanitary officer to the forces during the campaigns against the Natives in the later sixties. That veteran died a couple of months ago in London, after a career of no less than forty-three years' service in the medical department of the British Army, which he entered in 1853. He served throughout the Crimean war with the 42nd Highlanders, including the battles of Alma and Balaclava (in medical charge of the regiment), in the expedition to Kertch and Yenikale, in the siege and fall of Sebastopol, and in the assault of the outworks on June 18 and Sept. 8 (medal with three clasps, Knight of the Legion of Honour and Turkish medal).

He was surgeon on the personal staff of Lord Clyde during the Indian Mutiny from April, 1858, to the end of the war. He served also in the New Zealand War of 1863-66, including the capture of the rebel position at Katikara and repulse of the attack at Gilbert's Clearing, being mentioned in despatches.

He became Sanitary Officer to the New Zealand Force in November, 1863, and held the appointment till April, 1866, when field operations ceased. In that capacity he served the campaigns in the Waikato, Tauranga and Wanganui districts, on the headquarters staff of Sir D. Cameron, and attached to the Quartermaster-General's department.

He was present in the action at Rangiawhia, assault of the Gate Pah, Tauranga (mentioned in despatches and C.B.), and at the repulse of the enemy's attack on the camp at Nukumaru, and affair at Kakaramea (medal).

He also served as Principal Medical Officer in the second phase of the Ashanti War of 1873-74 including the battle of Amoaful, battle of Ordahsu, and capture of Kumasi, being several times mentioned in despatches, promoted Deputy Surgeon-General, and receiving medal with clasp. He was Surgeon-General at the War Office from 1882 to 1887, and Director-General of the Army Medical Department from 1889 to 1896, retiring in the last-named year.

In 1891 he was promoted to be K.C.B., and in 1893 he was appointed Honorary Surgeon to the Queen.

Writing of him in the Times, the famous war correspondent, Sir William Howard Russell, says: "The obituary notice of Sir W. A. Mackinnon in the Times of last Saturday was a succinct record of the services of one of the best and bravest soldiers that ever wore the uniform of the Queen, but it conveyed no idea of the man himself, who was an embodiment of some of the finest traits of the Celtic Highlander— a dour, tender-hearted man, stern and kind, imaginative in all that related to clan and country, loyal to his Sovereign but full of sentimental affection for the lost cause of the Stuarts, which still lives in poetry and song north of Perth, and is not altogether ignored in high places along the valley of the Dee; keen in maintenance of the rights of the profession to which he belonged, and highly sensitive on the point of honour, but practical enough to recognise that there were broad lines of demarcation between the combatant and the medical officer in relation to military duties, and it must be confessed promptly pugnacious in vindication of his views against all comers. And so it was that, not being all things to all men, 'Jock Mackinnon,' as he was known to friends and enemies, had to fight his way like a Gordon Highlander at Dargai, and rather enjoyed what Kinglake calls 'the rapture' of the combat.

After the repulse of the Russian detachment by the 42nd, his own loved regiment, on Oct. 25, Jock became so full of warlike ardour that he resigned his appointment as assistant-surgeon and applied to Sir Colin Campbell to obtain him a commission as ensign, which I believe he actually received, although his "chief," as he called the General, endeavoured to divert him from his purpose by the remark, 'My good man, why, if you want to kill people, depend upon it you'll be more deadly with the lancet than you'll be with your sword.'

The link that was forged between him and Sir Colin in the fire of battle was never broken, and Mackinnon was wont to rage at large when he, spoke of the repulse at the Redan. We (meaning the Highland Brigade) would have just driven them like chaff before the wind if Sir Colin had had the word.

When Campbell took the command of the army in India he selected Mackinnon as his personal staff surgeon. 'And an awful time I have of it said Jock. 'He is not amenable to advice, and it's responsibility for a whole hospital to look after him.* * * Sir William had not a trace of the Puritan about him he loved a Gaelic song, and he pitied the folk who did not. understand it; and he, has been known in moments of special relaxation to exhibit to his intimates his skill in the various dances, steps and measures which were in vogue when he was a boy in his well-beloved Isle of Skye, the traditions and tales of which were familiar and most dear to him.

He was too sensible to deny to the races which were not fortunate enough to be born in the western isles a share in the virtues of manhood and in a proper development of fighting qualities, but he believed in his heart and soul that the warlike and other virtues of the human race obtain their highest pitch among his own people and their congeners.

Whatever touched the fame or good name of the clan touched him to the quick, and it was as though he had suffered a personal outrage that he read the damning proofs of the treachery of Glengavry to his, unfortunate master, and denounced the miscreant as though he was there standing before him as a villain who had brought eternal dishonour upon the country. When he was speaking of a medical officer with whom he had quarrelled in rather severe terms, he was reminded by a friend that the other was his countryman, and that Scotchmen should hang together. Scotchmen exclaimed Mackinnon, 'don't you understand the difference between a Glasgow body like that and a Highland gentleman? God forbid we should be considered the same!' By all the officers he served under he was held in friendly esteem and regard."
Star , Issue 6087, 26 January 1898, Page 4

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