Topic: Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942)

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Colin Edward Macmillan served in both World War I and World War II. He was killed in action on 16 February 1942 when Japanese surface craft gunfire sunk Harbour Defence Motor Launch (HDML) 1062 south of Banka Straits, Sumatra. Colin was the uncle of Katikati Historian Ellen McCormack (1935-2017). Story by Debbie McCauley.

Colin Edward Macmillan was born in Thames on 20 January 1899. His parents were Robert Macmillan and Mabel Sanders Macmillan (nee Hart) who married in Thames on 10 September 1896.

On 29 December 2015 Colin’s niece, Ellen McCormack, wrote:

Colin was the second child born in Thames on 20/1/1899 to Mabel (nee Hart) and Robert Macmillan. My father John Donald (known as Don) Macmillan was the eldest child born 7/7/1897 in Thames. Even though the family was not living in Thames at this time, it appears that Mabel returned to her parents’ home for the births of her first two children. Her parents were Isabella and husband John Hart who was a well-established gun-maker living in the Main Street in Thames since 1867.

The next child, Vera, was born at Wiri and this is likely where the family were living when Don and Colin were born. Robert and Mabel purchased the property in Beach Road, Katikati (named Ferndale) in 1906 and from there the children walked to what was No. 2 School at the end of Beach Road. 

On 9th May 1912, Robert died of peritonitis in Waihi Hospital. Apparently, Robert fell ill with appendicitis and was taken to Waihi Hospital in a horse and cart. He died after an operation, just one month short of his 41st birthday. For many years I heard whisperings from various relatives that the Doctor concerned with the operation was drunk and this I took with a grain of salt. However, while doing further research regarding other people, it became very obvious that it could possibly be true as this particular doctor’s name featured on far more than average death certificates of death's under many dubious circumstances. This may also be one of the reasons that researchers were later restricted in the use of these records which were eventually closed and sent to Wellington.

Don was not yet 15 and Colin just 13 years old. They attempted to go to school and run the farm with the help of their mother who also had two other children to care for. All this was impossible and very stressful for the whole family, and so the farm was leased for seven years and the family returned with their mother to Isabella and John Hart’s home in Thames. The children then went to school in Thames.

On 2nd February 1914, Mabel remarried to Edward Thomas Rees and the couple had four more children. Then World War One started. Don, Colin and Edward Rees all enlisted, meaning Mabel had a husband and two sons serving overseas while she was still having babies. What a traumatic life that would have been for her!

Mabel regularly wrote to her cousins in England and these letters were kept by the families for over 80 years before being returned to us in New Zealand in the early 2000’s. We were able to read of Mabel’s real worries and concerns for her family, her aging parents and her husband and sons overseas.

Don and Colin returned from the war. Don was balloted a farm in Manawahe, and Colin we believe went to Wellington and worked for the Ministry of Health and continued his passion for the sea and boats. He was also in a Wellington Rugby team. Aunty Vera said Colin owned a yacht during his days in Wellington.

My own memories of my Uncle Colin are of a very handsome, kind man, who bothered to take notice of a little girl. It was 1940, I was five years old and I was in Wellington with my parents to attend the Centennial. We were in the main street in Wellington and Uncle Colin was with us. Being an inquisitive child, I was obviously asking Mum and Dad why the horses had bags round their necks. Uncle Colin explained to me that the bag was full of chaff so as the horses could eat as they were doing their daily round of the streets. I remember he lifted me up and took me over to the horses so I could see into the bags as to what the horses were eating. Wonderful memories as I never saw him again. He enlisted in the Navy during World War Two and was killed in February 1942.

Colin attended Thames High School, being admitted on 17 February 1913 and discharged on 13 September 1915.

Afterwards, he worked in the Public Health Department in Wellington. He loved the sea and was secretary of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club.

Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942)

Colin served as a Gunner during World War I (1914-1918) (Service No. 79781). He enlisted at Wellington on 21 January 1918 and trained at Trentham Military Camp. He embarked on 2 October 1918 from Wellington with the 43rd Reinforcements New Zealand Field Artillery on board the Matatua for London, England. It was noted that he was underage and also suffered from pes cavus (claw foot). Colin attributed the condition of his feet to wearing deck shoes on board the transport ship. On 10 February 1919 the Medical Board noted that Colin became tired upon walking due to the pes cavus and also suffered from a painful bunion. On 11 April 1919 he was discharged as no longer physically fit for war service.

When World War II was declared, Colin applied to Admiralty House in London. Lieutenant Colin Edward Macmillan served with the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve (M.V. Medusa, Motor Vessel 1062). 

He appears to receive training at HMS Sultan as a Probationary Temporary Sub-Lieutenant, attached to the 'Grasshopper'. On 14 May 1941, Colin was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant, serving in 'Grasshopper' until 2 September 1941. He was posted elsewhere between 3 September to 1 November. It is likely he began serving on HDML 1062 from 2 November 1941. 

On 13 May 1941 Colin wrote to his Aunt Ethel MacMillan about the death of her husband Charles in January 1941;

I received your sad letter today and it was nice to know that a little of the honour due to Uncle Charlie was displayed at his funeral and I know that throughout the country he always commanded respect and affection... Vera and I correspond regularly and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Sydney on my way here just on the eve of her departure for New Zealand on a trip... To adequately express the sympathy that I feel for you in your bereavement I find is beyond me and I hope that soon you will not feel so lonely and so will bring this short letter to a close. I remain, Your nephew, Colin Macmillan.

On 4 October 1941 Colin wrote another letter to his Aunt Ethel;

We are very proud of the work our chaps did in Crete and Greece and chafe a bit at the lack of action in our job in this part of the world... Recently I learnt of my promotion of the rank of Lieutenant five months ago and have been in command of a small patrol launch and it is all very interesting. I was sorry to leave my ship and it was a most valuable and interesting experience, serving on one of His Majesty's Ships... Kind regards to the family. Your nephew, Colin.

Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942)

On 9 September 1941 Colin wrote to his sister-in-law, Alice Macmillan, Ellen's mother;

Yesterday I was in Singapore and was in a shop where there were a lot of small household things and they were very cheap so I have bought a few and made up a parcel and sent it. You have no idea how cheap beautiful things are here... Of course life is most interesting, but some of our patrols are a little boring, but other times we do some really interesting work. I hope to call Katikati way when I return. Kind regards to the family. Yours sincerely, Colin.

In December of 1941 they were assigned to special operations on the west coast of Malaya. On 19 January 1946 the London Gazette reported Colin's posthumous Mention in Dispatches for 'bravery, endurance and marked devotion to duty in H.M.S. 1062 during the withdrawal of troops from Sungai Punggor in December 1941'. The Dominion reported on 26 January 1946:

Advice has been received from the Admiralty that the King has approved of the posthumous award of Mention in Dispatches to Temporary Lieutenant Colin Edward Macmillian, Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve, for service before the fall of Malaya in 1942.

Lieutenant Macmillan was reported missing on April 16, 1942, after the operations in the Singapore area, and was recently reclassified as mission, presumed killed. Before joining the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Probationary Temporary Sub-Lieutenant on October 26, 1940, Lieutenant Macmillan was a keen yachtsman and a member of the Royal Port Nicholson Yacht Club. His next-of-kin is his sister, Mrs. V. L. Brown, who resides in Australia, and his brother is Mr. J. D Macmillan, Box 2, Katikati, Bay of Plenty.

Colin was killed in action, age 42, on 16 February 1942, after HDML 1062 was sunk by Japanese surface craft gunfire south of Banka Straits, Sumatra, 'killed or drowned by enemy action while on active service'. At the time of his death, Colin was the Commanding Officer on board. There were also around 50 passengers on board, likely civilians, all trying to leave Singapore before the arrival of the Japanese and the situation is thought to have been utter confusion. Colin's sister Vera, wrote that he 'was doing what he loved best when he died'.

On 17 April 1942 Vera in Sydney received a telegram from F Jones, Minister of Defence, stating, 'Much regret to inform you that your brother Temporary Lieutenant Colin Edward Macmillian has been reported missing. The Prime Minister desires me to convey to you on behalf of the government his sympathy with you in your anxiety.'

A letter to Vera dated 21 September 1945 about the search for information about Colin states that, 'You will appreciate that owing to the fact that the Japanese were most unco-operative where prisoners of war and missing personnel were concerned, the position is very complicated'.

A letter to Vera from the Admiralty dated 23 October 1945 states that, 'My Lords have now been obliged to conclude, with very deep regret, that all hope of the survival of your brother, Temporary Lieutenant Colin Edward Macmillan, R.N.V.R., must now be abandoned, and that your brother must be presumed to have lost his life on active service. A formal presumption of his death on the 16th February, 1942 has accordingly been made.'

In a letter to Colin's sister Vera, dated 15 August 1946, Lieutenant-Commander Victor Cecil Froggatt Clark (1918-2006), RN, writes about Colin;

He served in M.L. 1062 under my orders for some time during Dec 41 and Jan 42 and I came to know him well and lived him very much. In fact, I can say that there was no ML. that I liked being around so much. I was a P.O.W. from March 42-last Sept and it was then that I learned of his M.L. being sank and was very sad to hear it... Once again can I say how very sorry I am that your brother did not come through, but you may be proud of his always cheerful contribution to the cause in the blackest of days.

Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942)

Colin Macmillan's name is on the New Zealand Naval Memorial, Devonport Naval Base, HMNZS Philomel, Devonport, Auckland, New Zealand (Panel 7) which was unveiled on 24 May 1959. The memorial commemorates the 352 officers and men of the Royal New Zealand Navy, the Royal New Zealand Naval Reserve, and the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve, who gave their lives in the Second World War and have no known grave.

Colin is also listed on the Katikati School Roll of Honour.

 

References:

Cenotaph Record: World War I

Cenotaph Record: World War II

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Dominion (26 January 1946)Naval Honour: Posthumous Mention in Dispatches.

McCormack, Ellen (niece of Colin Edward Macmillan, personal communication).

McCormack, Ellen (20158). Family history documents relating to the lives of Colin Edward Macmillan and Lillian Marie Elise Macmillan [Tauranga City Libraries, Research Collections: Sladden Collection, 929.3 MACM]

Military personnel file: World War I

The Medusa Trust

Waters, Sydney (1956). The Royal New Zealand Navy. (p. 474).

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This article was archived at Perma CC on August 10, 2016 (https://perma.cc/K9MV-H2S6).

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Colin Edward Macmillan (1899-1942)


Year:1942
Note:Service Number: 79781
First Names:Colin Edward
Last Name:Macmillan
Date of Birth:20 January 1899
Place of Birth:Thames
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:16 February 1942
Place of death:South of Banka Straits, Sumatra
Place of burial:no known grave
Occupation:RNZNVR Commanding Officer
Fathers name:Robert Macmillan
Fathers date of birth:5 June 1871
Fathers place of birth:St Croix, West Indies
Fathers date of death:9 May 1912
Fathers place of death:Waihi Hospital
Mothers name:Mabel Sanders Hart
Mothers date of birth:8 January 1877
Mothers place of birth:Thames
Mothers date of death:1937
Mothers place of death:New Zealand
Name of sibilings:John Donald Macmillan , Vera Isobel Macmillan , and Patricia Jean Macmillan
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945)