Robert (Bob) Mactier

Full name:
Robert Mactier, VC
Born:

Tatura
Vic
Australia
Died:

Mont St Quentin
France
Occupation:
Farm worker
Education:
Tatura State School
Fate:

Killed in action

Highest rank:
Private
Enlistment:
1 March 1917 Seymour, Victoria, Australia
Decorations/ commendations:
Victoria Cross (VC)
Service:
Australian Imperial Force
Service Number:
6939
Conflict:
World War I 1914-1918
Military event:
Attack on village of Mont St Quentin
Unit:
23rd Infantry Battalion, AIF

Private Robert Mactier was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his remarkable courage in attacking several German strongpoints, making it possible for his company to join the rest of the 23rd Battalion in attacking the village of Mont St Quentin on 1 September 2018. Tragically, he was killed in the process, aged 28. Two months later, the Armistice ended fighting on the Western Front.

Portrait of man in military uniform

Portrait of Private Robert Mactier, France, c 1918. AWM H06787A

Early life

Robert Mactier was born on 17 May 1890 in Tatura, Victoria. His parents were Robert Mactier, a farmer from Scotland, and his wife Christiana.

Robert was the seventh of 10 children in a close-knit Presbyterian family. He had 3 brothers and 6 sisters.

Robert's father had a farm near Tatura called ‘Reitcam' (‘Mactier' spelled backwards). When Robert was young, he attended Tatura State School and worked on the family farm. Later, he farmed with his brother Dave, growing cereal crops on the banks of Broken River at nearby Caniambo.

Robert was well-behaved, had a sense of humour, and was popular with people in his local community. He was also a talented athlete – a good runner, boxer and footballer, and an excellent shot with a rifle.

The newspaper of a rival football team wrote, ‘Bob Mactier is going to make a first-rater, and plays with plenty of dash and good judgment.' Later that season, the same paper wrote, ‘"Bob" recognises the fact that the use of a well balanced head is as essential as a big boot in a football match. He is a vigorous player, and wisely follows the advice of the veteran players.' Such attributes may have helped Robert on the battlefields of Belgium and France.

In April 1917, the Caniambo community held a social evening in honour of Robert on his final leave before he left for the war.

5 women wearing white dresses on a cart with 2 men in suits standing on the ground

Robert Mactier VC with family and friends at a Lake Cooper picnic party near Corop, Victoria, before the war. Robert is standing on the left.

Enlistment, voyage to England and training

Robert enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 1 March 1917 in Seymour, Victoria. He was 21.

On 11 May 2017, Robert boarded the troop ship HMAT Ascanius (A11) in Melbourne, which sailed for England to join the rest of the Allied forces.

Robert wrote several letters home to his family while on the troop ship. He described the food he ate as very good. It included fruit, meat, soup, potatoes, puddings, porridge and butter. Robert played sports on the ship, including tug of war, medicine ball and boxing. He also wrote that he got seasick sometimes.

Ascanius docked in Plymouth, England, on 19 July 1917. Robert and fellow soldiers then boarded a train to Rolleston on the Salisbury Plain to start training for warfare. Robert said they immediately separated from the other troops on arrival at the training camp because of an outbreak of mumps (a contagious viral disease). Robert complained about the cold at the Rolleston camp. After 2 months there, Robert's unit moved to Fovant camp at the edge of the Salisbury Plain, which was warmer.

Portrait of 2 soldiers in uniform, one standing with another seated.

Studio portrait of Private Robert Mactier VC (standing on the left) and Private Lane (seated on the right), 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion, France, c 1917 or 1918. AWM A05807

Service on the Western Front

In November 1917, Robert left England and joined the 23rd Infantry Battalion AIF on the Western Front. Robert wrote home that he was ‘somewhere in France'. Soldiers were not allowed to tell of their location due to wartime secrecy.

A month later, Robert was sharing a ‘dug-out' (a hole in the side of a trench) with 2 mates only a kilometre from the front. He wrote that there was plenty of mud about and a lot of snow on the ground. Robert said it snowed the heaviest on Christmas Day. He said they had some artillery shells go over the top of the battalion, but none landed close by. Robert saw German aeroplanes flying very low.

Robert was delighted to receive a Christmas parcel from home. It contained tobacco, cigarettes, cheese, lollies, bootlaces, safety pins, buttons, sardines and chewing gum. He also received some socks in another parcel, which he was very happy about. There was a shortage of clean socks among soldiers in the trenches. They could not wash or dry their socks because of the cold and rain, so clean socks were always welcome.

Another event Robert wrote home about was an encounter with the revered General William Birdwood, commander of the Australian troops. Robert and a mate, Frank, were walking to a hot drink station for a mug of cocoa. They bumped into the general and saluted him. General Birdwood wished them both a happy new year, and they did so in return.

In April 1918, Robert's battalion moved from Belgium to the Somme in France. He was in and out of the front line every 4 days. He was involved in heavy fighting near Albert and was gassed. Robert discovered that his brother Dave, also serving on the Western Front, had been in the same location earlier. Dave's battalion had had a rough time on the front, but the men succeeded in checking the advance by German troops.

A month later, Robert wrote that he and his mates were having a break from the front. They had not removed their clothes for 60 days, and the knees and seat of Robert's pants were worn through.

Robert noticed a build-up of military trucks and tanks in the area. By June 1918, he was in and out of the front again. He wrote that his battalion was taking heavy casualties and things were ‘not too good over here'. Robert also said that the United States (US) infantry joined them and were doing good work. He fought alongside the US soldiers at the Battle of Hamel. He said that together, they had pushed the enemy back a fair way.

In August 1918, Robert was promoted to company runner. In one of his last letters home, he wrote that he had not been to Paris yet but hoped to go when he got away from the front for a spell.

Final battle

Robert was killed in action at Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918. He was 28. He had won the love of his mates on the battlefield – they knew him as ‘the most uncomplaining digger in the company'. His battalion paper said he was a ‘soldier and a man'.

Robert is buried about 10 km west of Mont St-Quentin at Hem Farm Military Cemetery. His sister Mary Mactier visited his grave in 1924. In a letter home to her parents, she wrote:

Went on to Ham (sic) Farm Cemetery where Bob lies. The cemetery is just being finished ... there were many cases of stones ready for erection ... As in other cemeteries, the grass is beautiful and the flowers all in bloom. Bob's cross is exactly like the photo we have ... I put some gladiolus on it and they looked nice.

Wooden crucifix in a cemetery

The wooden crucifix that initially marked the grave of Private Robert Mactier VC (1890–1918), 23rd Infantry Battalion AIF, in Hem-Monacu, France. AWM A05806

Victoria Cross

Robert was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross (VC) for his actions and his exceptional bravery and valour.

In the Battle of Mont St Quentin, the 23rd Battalion had been pinned down by enemy machine-gun posts and suffered heavy losses. Robert leapt from his trench and ran across open ground in broad daylight. He stormed 3 German machine-gun posts before he was killed by enemy fire while trying to storm a fourth.

Robert's actions were important because they allowed the Allied forces to advance against the enemy.

Citation

War Office, 14th December, 1918

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers, Warrant Officer, Non-commissioned Officers and Men:-

No. 6939 Pte. Robert Mactier, late 23rd Bn., A.I.F.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the morning of the 1st September, 1918, during the attack on the village of Mt. St. Quentin. Prior to the advance of the battalion, it was necessary to clear up several enemy strong points close to our line. This the bombing patrols sent forward failed to effect, and the battalion was unable to move. Private Mactier, single handed, and in daylight, thereupon jumped out of the trench, rushed past the block, closed with and killed the machine gun garrison of eight men with his revolver and bombs, and threw the enemy machine gun over the parapet. Then, rushing forward about 20 yards, he jumped into another strong point held by a garrison of six men, who immediately surrendered. Continuing to the next block through the trench, he disposed of an enemy machine gun which had been enfilading our flank advancing troops, and was then killed by another machine gun at close range. It was entirely due to this exceptional valour and determination of Private Mactier that the battalion was able to move on to its "jumping off" trench and carry out the successful operation of capturing the village of Mt. St. Quentin a few hours later.

Commemoration

Robert is commemorated in his hometown of Tatura, where his name appears in a stained-glass window of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church.

A soldier's club at Watsonia Barracks in Melbourne is named after Robert. His family donated his VC to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, where it is displayed in the Hall of Valour.

In 2014, a bronze sculpture of Robert was unveiled in Tatura's Robert Mactier V.C. Memorial Garden.

Sources

1918 'OUR HEROES.', Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1887 - 1953), 19 September, p. 3. (EVENINGS.), viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article91142911

1933 'Obituary.', Numurkah Leader (Vic. : 1895 - 1948), 10 January, p. 3. , viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186441669

1943 'Family Notices', The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), 11 September, p. 8. , viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article11797351

1917 'CANIAMBO.', Shepparton Advertiser (Vic. : 1887 - 1953), 23 April, p. 1. (NEW EDITION and EVENINGS.), viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92110925

Tout-Smith, D. (2003) Australian Comforts Fund, World War I in Museums Victoria Collections https://collections.museumsvictoria.com.au/articles/1848, accessed 19 March 2024.

1912 'PLAY & PLAYERS.', Kyabram Free Press and Rodney and Deakin Shire Advocate (Vic. : 1894 - 1955), 11 June, p. 3. , viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article269977215

1912 'Football Notes.', Kyabram Guardian (Vic. : 1907 - 1930), 2 July, p. 3. , viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article270474099

1924 'Miss Mary Mactier in France.', Kyabram Guardian (Vic. : 1907 - 1930), 29 August, p. 1. , viewed 19 Mar 2024, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article270690934

Bowler, William (Bill) G (2017), 'Summary of AIF Convoy 31', Diary Of Voyage On HMA Troopship Shropshire A9 from Australia, 21 May–July 1917, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, MLDOC 1267

Mactier, Robert (1916–1918), Wallet 1 of 1 – Letters from Robert Mactier VC to his sister Belle Crawford and other papers, c.1912-c.1962, Australian War Memorial Digitised Collection, Accession no AWM2020.22.113, Collection no PR83/210, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2715656?image=12, accessed 19 March 2024.

Mactier, Ross (2015), 'Private Robert Mactier Victoria Cross', Bridge Connection, Edition 61, January 2015, http://www.redesdale.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Bridge-Connection-1501.pdf

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Mactier, Robert (Bob) (1890–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mactier-robert-bob-7447/text12967, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed 19 March 2024.

National Archives of Australia: Australian Imperial Force, Base Records Office, B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920, 01 Jan 1914 -, MACTIER R, Mactier Robert : SERN 6939 : POB Tatura VIC : POE Seymour VIC : NOK F Mactier Robert, circa 1914 - circa 1920. https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=1935392&S

Virtual War Memorial Australia (no date), 'Robert (Bob) MACTIER VC', https://vwma.org.au/explore/people/268262, accessed 19 March 2024.

WikiTree contributors, "Robert MacTier (1848-1939)", WikiTree: The Free Family Tree, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/MacTier-71, accessed 19 March 2024.


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Cite this page

DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) ( ), Robert Mactier, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 26 June 2024, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/robert-mactier
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