Book Corner: ‘Fighting’ McKenzie Anzac Chaplain

Today’s post is a bit of a book review. Due to Australia’s recent Anzac Day (April 25th) that commemorates the landing of Australian and New Zealand “Diggers” landing at Gallipoli during the “Great War” I started to read the book ‘Fighting’ McKenzie Anzac Chaplain by Col Stringer. My husband has it in his collection. I finished reading it a few days ago. I’ll be up front and say it was hard to read. I wouldn’t suggest this for young people. The reason? Readability. That being said, I’ll still share what I learned and liked about this book, but I can’t say it’s great to read.

This book is the biography of the first chaplain for the Australian troops for World War I. William McKenzie was a big, burly humble man who was saved as a young adult and gave himself to God’s work in the Salvation Army. At an age when most think of putting aside for retirement, age 44, he volunteered to go to war. This book shares the life and  testimony of a man who was willing to suffer for the sake of the men that needed his encouragement, his spiritual guidance and his prayer. I read of horrible conditions the men went through, his tour of duty covering many lands and battlefields, but mainly in Gallipoli and France. After about three years of serving, his health was broken and he had to return home. He came home a hero- for he had written letters home informing families of their sons deaths. He had prayed and cried with and over hundreds of men. He didn’t slow down his service, and continued work in Australia with the Salvation Army. Around 1927 he and his wife went to support and lead the work in China. Despite many dangers he cheerfully worked there for about three years. The rest of his life is mostly quiet, but every influential.

The biggest blessing for me in reading this book is definition of heroism and the willingness to serve despite troubles and difficulties. “Mac” or “Our Padre” as his men called him was willing to do any thing for his boys. In our world of selfishness and “me first” attitudes, it’s good to be reminded of true christian living. Living for Christ. Jesus gave himself for us, why aren’t we willing to do the same?

A few quotes from the book,

Here is part of a speech Chaplain McKenzie gave at an Anzac Day service in 1930 during the Great Depression.

We must put our back to the burden. Think not of what you can get, but what you can give to help Australia…. I have no magic wand for waving gloom away, but I do say that if Australians will face the present crisis in the spirit in which the Anzac stormed the heights of Gallipoli, with the same indifference to personal discomfort, the valour and prodigality of brave effort, the sun will shine, the clouds will melt away and a brighter day will dawn sooner than we have any idea of at the moment.”

(Anzac Padre, page 67) quoted in ‘Fighting McKenzie’ Anzac Chaplain page 166

and a quote from the author, Col Stringer.

“…Sadly, today few Australians have even heard of his name. Winston Churchill made the statement that a nation derives its character from the worship of its heroes. We seem to be besotted with remembering (and glamourising) people from our past, such as the convicts or bushrangers and killers such as Ned Kelly. Yet it is obvious from this book that we have had many Godly heroes- our ‘Heroes of Faith’. We have no shortage of ‘boys’ today, but too few ‘men’, certainly of the calibre of William McKenzie.”  ‘Fighting McKenzie’ Anzac Chaplain page 182

After reading the book I wanted to know a bit more and I found several sources online with basic descriptions of Fighting Mac’s life. I also found a lot of controversy over this book, because some people claim the author, Col Stringer didn’t use correct or reliable sources for his claims of McKenzie’s life. I found this research document that explains some of the controversies. I did find a lot of problems with the readability of the book, more than sources or credibility. Like I wrote in the first paragraph, this was hard to read. It’s choppy, hard to follow and the formatting is very distracting. I found typos and sections that didn’t make sense or that were repeated from elsewhere.

I found this video on vimeo that goes for about 21 minutes to be very helpful as a summary of his chaplain influence. I would caution you with young viewers of war scenes and language.

I think Chaplain William McKenzie is a hero and we should keep his memory alive. We should be encouraging young people to be researching an learning about him and others who have made a difference in the lives of those around them. I’d encourage you to look around and take note of today’s true heroes as well.

Let’s be heroes for today,


Picture source:  The picture is public domain but I got it from this website.

One thought on “Book Corner: ‘Fighting’ McKenzie Anzac Chaplain

  1. Hi Beth: Just came across the post. I’m one of Fighting Mac’s great-grandchildren. I agree with those who think Stringer’s book does a poor job of telling Mac’s story. I don’t know if you are aware of Daniel Reynaud’s book, The Man the Anzac’s Revered. It’s a much more complete look. Thanks for helping to keep Fighting Mac’s story alive.

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