Donald John Duncan MCKILLOP
Eyes brown, Hair black, Complexion sallow
A family from country Queensland
In 1885 in Cunnamulla in western Queensland, his mother, Mary McLeod, married John McKillop, both of Scottish background. Together they had Donald (named for her father) but then parted ways. Mary went on to have ten more children – three with John George Merrifield (publican of the Tallyhoo Hotel near Kyabra) before he died in 1890 and seven under the name Pitt. Her last husband, Richard Brinsley Pitt, was stepfather to the older children.
It all began in the cattle country: Cunnamulla on the Warrego River; continued in Thargomindah on the Bulloo River, 1100 km west of Brisbane; Kyabra near Quilpie, then over the years, on to Charters Towers and Townsville. As a mother having eleven children across 20 years, often living in semi-arid cattle country, life would not have been easy. And then to see three of her boys go to war must have been a challenge – each son under different surnames, McKillop, Merrifield and Pitt.
The full story of Donald’s early life is completely unknown at the time of writing. On enlistment in July 1915, he gave his occupation as farrier and his address as Hillgrove near Armidale, New South Wales. He was unmarried and gave his mother’s details – then living in Charters Towers - as his next of kin. Our only other clues lie in correspondence on his AIF file.
Firstly, there are letters from the executrix of his will who was a Mrs Ethel M. Juergens (nee Milner) of Haberfield, Sydney. The connection between Ethel and Donald is unknown but at the time of Donald’s enlistment she was unmarried (she married Ernest Juergens in 1917), of a similar age and had lived in Glen Innes, not far from Armidale. She also had sufficient family connections to update the army with the new address for Donald’s mother in 1920.
In addition, there are letters on file from a Miss or Mrs K. Moore of Brackin Street, Hillgrove, enquiring about Donald but again the connection is unknown. She provided the address of a local Hillgrove lad who enlisted the week after Donald and had written home with conflicting details about Donald’s fate. This lad was 18-year-old William Pullen of the 53rd Battalion (wounded in action and returned to Australia November 1917). Again, the details of any connection between Pullen and McKillop is unknown.
Donald’s war – ‘he showed the greatest of pluck’
Donald was assigned to the 30th Battalion and after reaching the trenches at Fromelles the battalion was initially tasked with providing carrying parties for supplies and ammunition but they were soon drawn into the vicious fighting. While we know little of his early life, we do have quite a good snapshot of his story’s last chapter through reports from the battlefront at Fromelles.
The following reports from Captains Cheeseman, Sutherland and Barbour - fellow soldiers of the 30th Battalion- probably describe Private Donald McKillop’s last hours. For context, a sap was a short trench dug into No Man’s Land towards enemy lines to allow soldiers to move forward without being exposed to enemy fire.
The official Court of Enquiry found that Donald McKillop was killed in action on 20 July 1916 – coincidentally, the first anniversary of his enlistment. He is reported as buried at Ration Farm Military Cemetery (Plot VI, Row F, Grave No. 46), La Chapelle d ‘Armentieres, France.
His mother’s pain
In June 1917, Donald’s mother, Mary Pitt, then based in Flinders Street, Townsville, wrote to the Melbourne barracks pleading for news of her son:
..as it is now over 6 six months since you notified me that my dear son was missing and I have not had any more news of him since this happened some where in France……and as I am his mother it is but right that you should forward any thing of my sons to me also his money and pension - he was my oldest child and I have 2 two more sons at the front one of them have been active service over 2 years waiting a answer at your earliest. I remain yours respectfully, Mary Pitt.
Mary’s other two sons were Frederick Merrifield, two years younger than Donald, and Richard Pitt, ten years younger. Frederick and Donald both listed their mother as next of kin while Richard listed his father.
6631 Private Frederick John Merrifield (1887-1957)
Born in Thargomindah, signed up in Charters Towers in January 1915, about six months before Donald. He was 28 and his occupation was listed as miner and stockrider. He was recruited initially to the 11th Light Horse and served with them at Gallipoli and Egypt but was then transferred to the 9th Battalion serving in France. Throughout his service, Frederick suffered chronic ill health – tonsillitis, mumps, influenza, trench fever, scabies, heat exhaustion, and complications from a previous head injury. After treatment in England, Frederick was sent back to Australia in 1918 and eventually discharged due to ill health.
Once back in Australia, however, he promptly attempted to join up again, this time using the Pitt surname. His subterfuge was uncovered and he was again discharged (and fined £1 for making a false statement). Frederick went back to mining around Charters Towers and Cloncurry and lived on into the 1950s, apparently remaining single.
6628 Private Richard Pitt (1894-1953)
Born in Kyabra, was a 21-year-old cook when he signed up on 20 November 1916. He was assigned to the 25th Battalion, served in Egypt and France, and was wounded in action in September 1918. Six months later, he returned to Australia and settled back in Charters Towers. Richard married and raised a family of four and his son of the same name served in World War II. Richard died in 1953 in Charters Towers and his obituary noted that:
"as the result of his war service he suffered ill-health for the remainder of his life, suffering from the effects of gas poisoning."
And so, Mary’s sons did their bit for King and country with her eldest paying the ultimate price and lying in a French grave. While details of Donald’s early life may be lost, we still remember and honour his service.
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