Conductor, Imperial Transport Service (Julius Weil)
Conductor, 33 B Company, Army Service Corps – Anglo Boer War
Signaller, Divisional Signal Corps, German East Africa - WWI
- Queens South Africa Medal to 93 Condr. J. McDonald, A.S.C.
- British War Medal to Pte. J. McDonald, D.S.C.
- Victory Medal to Pte. J. McDonald, D.S.C.
John MacDonald was a Scotsman through and through, born in about 1879 in Dundee, Scotland to a hardworking, widowed mother by the name of Jane.
Of his early years in Scotland we know nought but, at the time the Anglo Boer War broke out in South Africa In 1899, he was ready to do his duty. That he was in South Africa at the time can be surmised by the first outfit with who he served – the Imperial Transport Service, better known as Julius Weil’s Company.
The following extract comes from Lady Brigg's book 'The staff work of the Anglo-Boer war, 1899-1901' and provides us with more than a glimpse of what the work and conditions were like for a transport man:-
In dealing with the work done during the campaign by the army field transport, it would be impossible to omit the mention of the invaluable services rendered to the Government by the firm of Julius Weil & Co., whose name is well known to all in connection with the provisioning of Mafeking, during the nine months it was besieged, and the assistance the firm rendered in every way to General Baden Powell during that trying time. As far back as 1887, Julius Weil was called "the man that moves the army."
In the ordinary way, this firm of contractors carry on a business something like " Carter, Paterson," with this vast difference : that their carrying or transporting work has to be done over large tracts of thinly populated country, instead of conveying goods to teeming multitudes in a circumference of a few square miles as in London and the suburbs.
The firm of Julius Weil & Co., Government contractors, were merged into "The Imperial Transport Service," their officers being given temporary army rank. To distinguish them they wore the initials of I. T. S. on their shoulders, and of course they were clad in khaki.
What England would have done in the South African crisis without the loyalty and help of such firms as Julius Weil, both at home and in the affected districts, it is hard to say.
The tract of country between Mafeking and Pretoria was largely served by the Imperial Transport Service, and, indeed, the advance convoys were sent as far as Machadodorp, if not actually as far as to Pilgrims' Rest. The firm employed over 2000 waggons, which required about 40,000 oxen to work; and as large quantities were from time to time captured by the enemy, numbers of oxen killed through one cause and another, it needed no less than from 85,000 to 100,000 oxen to keep up the efficiency of the service.
The firm employed in drivers and leaders nearly 7000 men (natives), in overseers, conductors, and inspectors (who had all to be mounted), about 500. The clerical staff alone exceeded 200 men. The number of miles travelled backwards and forwards by the oxen was considerably over 25,000; and this enormous distance was covered by these slow-going beasts under the most trying circumstances, such as forced marching and within range of the enemy's fire.
The difficulties to be overcome by the contractors can be better appreciated when I explain that as many as 200 waggons, with their teams of sixteen oxen each, have been captured at one time; the loss being made good immediately, and the work of transport proceeding without delay.
The officers employed had to obtain waggons and teams by voluntary sale from various farmers, in small lots and at great distances; they then had to collect them at given points and get them away in safety a feat that was not always successfully accomplished, as De Wet or some other Boer general would be first at the given points and swoop away the lot!
The oxen used in the Imperial transport service were all South African bred, and those purchased to fill up casualties had to go on foot to the chief centres of the firm, as the rolling-stock of the railway was all required for the movement of troops.
Convoys have to carry, in addition to military stores, a large amount of baggage for their own use on the road, as well as for the troops that escort them. They take with them such uninteresting things (which are also very heavy) as buck-sails, iron pails, pots and pans, waggon grease, lifting jacks, picks, shovels, extra reims, bolts, screws, shackles, and a variety of tools that appear to me to belong to a forge or a blacksmith's shop.
As the Boers made a point of burning up the grass behind them, extra weight had to be carried in fodder for the oxen, which at other times grazed on the veld; and, as a matter of fact, they thrive better on the stumpy grass, however scanty, than on the best forage that could be given to them.
To keep an army of over a quarter of a million of men fed and mobile over a whole continent, 6000 miles from the main base, is a feat that any army and its organisers may feel proud; and in spite of all that may be said to the disparagement of the War Office, the Admiralty, and the Treasury, the nation has every reason to be satisfied with the achievements of all the public departments, and with the contractors employed by Government.
As for the work done on the spot by the soldiers, sailors, and civilians that make up the South African field force, nothing but praise is due to them from their fellow country- men for their loyalty and devotion to duty.
MacDonald was one of the Conductors referred to in the above passage. Quite how long he spent in their employ is unknown but the roll whereupon his name appears is dated 2 August 1901 – there is thus every chance that he was with them from the very beginning.
He made his next appearance in the ranks of 33 B Company of the Army Service Corps - the 33rd and 36th Companies, ASC were at Portsmouth and were ordered to embark at Southampton on 07 October 1899 – almost a week before war was declared. By the time MacDonald joined them they were seasoned veterans and very familiar with conditions on the African veldt, as was he thanks to his service with Weil’s Company.
Although he would have been deployed in the Cape Colony, Transvaal and, most likely the Orange Free State, MacDonald, like so many of his Conductor comrades, wasn’t awarded any clasps to his medal which was issued off the A.S.C. roll on 2 October 1901.
His role in the war over MacDonald elected to remain in South Africa where, on the eve of the Great War which commenced in August 1914, he was resident in Johannesburg. According to his attestation papers completed at Potchefstroom on 31 March 1916, he was a Lineman by occupation, was single and 37 years of age and that his next of kin was his mother, Mrs Jane MacDonald of 27 High Street, Dundee, Scotland. He confirmed his previous service in the Boer War.
Physically he was a big man with height of 5 feet 11 ½ inches, and with a dark complexion, blue eyes and “turning grey hair”. By way of religious affiliation he was a Presbyterian. His medical examination revealed that his teeth were problematic but the Doctor was of the opinion that he could be “rendered dentally fit”. His Provisional Enrolment form informed us that he had originally enrolled at Auckland Park in Johannesburg and that his address was the Wanderer’s Chambers, Johannesburg.
Assigned no. 438 and the rank of Sapper, MacDonald became a member of the D.S.C. (Divisional Signal Corps) and was sent to German East Africa for service. Like so many he fell victim to the ravages of the climate and succumbed to malaria necessitating his repatriation to South Africa. His Proceedings on Discharge form, completed on 3 August 1917 at Roberts Heights, confirmed that he had been deployed as a Signaller and was discharged “being permanently unfit for further war service” on 4 July 1917 after one year and 134 days service. His Military Character was deemed to have been Very Good.
For his efforts he was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.
MacDonald moved north to Rhodesia at some point where he took up the trade of Building Contractor for his own account. It was whilst on a visit to Cape Town that he passed away at the age of 67 at the Tamboerskloof Nursing Home on 28 November 1946. He had had an operation on 22 June 1946 for relief but passed away from prostatic destruction, originating in a congenital deformity of the left kidney he suffered with.
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