Topic: John Donald Macmillan (1897-1977)

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John Donald Macmillan served during World War I (1914-1918). He was the father of Katikati Historian Ellen McCormack.

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John Donald Macmillan was born in Pollen Street, Thames on 7 July 1897. He was known as Don. His parents were Robert John Cumming Macmillan and his wife Mabel Sanders Macmillan (nee Hart) who married in Thames on 10 September 1896.

On 9 May 1912 Don's father died suddenly death of peritonitis in Waihi Hospital. Don was only fourteen years old and the family were forced to relocate to his maternal grandparents in Thames.

In 1914 his mother remarried to Edward Thomas Rees.

Don had been a member of the senior cadets and terratorials before joining the New Zealand Defence Depot - Fort Ballance. He attested on 20 July 1917 at Thames and was part of the 88th Reinforcements.

Don embarked aboard the Balmoral Castle on 24 April 1918, disembarking in London on 21 June 1918. He was with the 38th Regiment, a gunner with the New Zealand Field Artillery.

He was admitted to hospital on 15 August 1918 with epistaxis (bleeding from the nose).

He returned to London aboard the Matatua on 28 June 1919, being discharged from the army on 7 September 1919.

After World War I a block of bush at Manawahe  (a small settlement in the hills between Matata and Rotorua) was opend up for returned soldiers, sections being drawn by ballot. Don drew a Soldier's Block at Manawahe, and there he met Alice Maryann Theobald, daughter of Percy and Selina Theobald (nee Robinson) of Manawahe. 

On 26 July 1922 Don and Alice married in Rotorua. They had five children together:

  1. Jean Marie Macmillan (1923- ). Born in Tauranga on 25 September 1923. She married Ashton David Leech, and later married Lester Stanley Minifie.
  2. Robert John Cumming Macmillan (1926- ). Born in Katikati on 20 October 1926. He married Patricia Violet Collins.
  3. George Edward Macmillan (1929- ). Born in Katikati in 1929. He married Doreen Valerie Brew in 1952. He later married Kamini Naidu in Fiji.
  4. Ellen May Eva Macmillan (1935- ). Born in Tauranga in 1935. She married Clarence Wayne McCormack (1926-2008) at St Peter's Anglican Church, Katikati on 18 April 1953.
  5. Nancy Alice Macmillan (1947- ). Born in Katikati in 1947. She married Richard Lionel Stanbra.

The couple and their oldest child Jean moved to Katikati in 1924 when Don was able to take over the lease on his parents 123 acre farm at the end of Beach Road. The Beach Road property had been farmed by Don's parents from 1906, but had to be leased out when his father died in 1912. 

Don drove his herd of cows through the back roads from Manawahe to Katikati, stopping where he could on the way to rest. One of Don's war mates, Jim Earl, later told his daughter Ellen that her Dad’s last stop was at Jim’s farm near Aongatete. Alice and Jean followed by buggy to Tauranga and then by boat to Katikati. Don took the horse and dray out from the end of the farm at Beach Road in to the harbour and met the boat near the channel. He and Alice would remain at the farm on Beach Road for over fifty years from 1924 to 1976. On 13 November 1936 they were able to purchase the farm from his mother's estate after she died.

John Donald Macmillan (1924)The move from Manawahe (1924)

On 6 June 1941 they purchased more land at the end of Papakura Road which adjoined the farm. The land was known as the Noble Alexander Johnston block, originally purchased by him on 25 February 1903.

In 1976 Don and Alice retired and moved to 17th Avenue in Tauranga. The Korero of Katikati recorded:

Don Macmillan spent almost all of his life in Katikati, receiving the first few years of education at the central school. His grandfather was the colourful Captain Macmillan who lived at Castle Grace, Kauri Point and from his specially built attic could watch the harbour and the land across the channel, at the foot of Beach Road, The land is still in the Macmillan family today. Don Macmillan was also a World War I veteran, serving with the Field Artillery in France. After he returned home he met and married the former Alice Theobald and the couple celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary not long ago. Although poultry farming is now quite common, it was Don Macmillan who pioneered it is Katikati, and indeed was the first one in the Bay of Plenty to try this venture. He was an early director of Temco, away back in the days when few even knew what the name meant. For many years he was a stalwart committee member of the Katikati A & P Show, never in the limelight but working steadily behind the scenes. He also served as a school committee member for some time. Ill health dogged him in later years and a few months ago the couple moved to Tauranga. Their eldest son, Rob and  wife Pat are now living in the family home.

Don died in Tauranga on 3 November 1977. He was buried in Katikati Cemetery. Alice died on 5 March 1980 and was also buried in Katikati Cemetery.

In 2015 Don's daughter Ellen McCormack wrote down some memories about her father:

My memories of my Father are of a no- nonsense, very hard working man. He did not drink, nor smoke and it was only in extreme circumstances that I ever heard him swear. He was an excellent, tidy farmer and always had a box of matches in his pocket to burn any rubbish on his way round the farm. Dad had a real dry sense of humour and worked quietly in the background for many organizations. He was a very dignified man and never one to be in the limelight.

I was born during the great depression when times were exceedingly hard and Dad had only recently been able [after his Mother’s death in 1936] to purchase the farm back from his mother’s estate. My memories of my parents were of people who worked from daylight to dark and we were all expected to do the same. During World War II (1939-1945) there was a huge shortage of labour as so many men were away at war and any excess labour had been sent to work in factories to make requirements for the war effort.

Mum and Dad had 123 acres of good dairy land at the end of Beach Road in Katikati. They later bought another 35 acres adjoining the present farm and I have wonderful memories of running over the paddocks after school to that new block, to sit on the horse and drive a straight furrow while Dad ploughed the paddock, with a hand plough. Mum and Dad milked a herd of cows, ran a few sheep, pigs and we had a couple of draught horses, and several fox terriers. We had several hundred ducks too.

I remember we had canaries in cages, I think they may have sold the excess birds when they were also in the process of developing a poultry farm. There were several well- developed orchards’ on the property and fruit in abundance all year round. My Mother was “gardener” supreme, she could grow virtually anything from bananas to asparagus. Our vegetable garden was not just a few rows, but more like half an acre that we all wheel-barrowed fowl manure to, on a large scale. We lived in a house in the middle of the farm, there was a farm cottage across the paddock and by 1945 the poultry sheds had extended well over the farm.

At the time of my 10th birthday in July 1945 we shifted from the middle of the farm to live in chook sheds near where a new house was being built, down by the beach end of the farm. This was on the old site of Mabel and Robert’s house [ my grandparent’s] that had been burnt down during the time that the farm was leased.

The building of the new house was extremely difficult, as all materials were in very short supply because of the war, so the progress was extremely slow. Everything in the house was made by the builder, all cupboards, cutlery drawers, flour, sugar and bread bins .The builder [Mr. Fred Brake] hand made everything, towel rails, built in alcove for meals etc. even to the stools that went down the side of the alcove for us to sit on. Those stools are still in use today in some of our family members homes.

J.D. as my father  was often called was one of the instigators and a Board member of TEMCO  =Tauranga Egg Marketing Co and he and my Mother owned and operated the largest free-range poultry farm in the Southern Hemisphere [quoted in a newspaper] with over 10,000 hens plus breeding and hatching facilities. More houses were built for farm labour, the men working on the farm during the day and their wives worked in the egg shed for 2-3 hours during the afternoon from about 3p.m. This was a huge enterprise needing good co-ordination for all the work involved to be completed in the shortest possible time. 

My parents were good people who helped us all get established in life and also very quietly helped many other people and organizations. My generation of children did not ask questions of their parents [or anyone else] the way children do today. Children were definitely to be seen and not heard! We were never part of adult conversations and during my childhood World War II was in progress so World War 1 was very much a topic of the past.

Both my father and his brother Colin Edward Macmillan and their step father Ted Rees served during World War I. Colin was on the reserve and went to World War II and was killed 1942. I can remember my father being called up for World War II. He would have been in his mid 40's  and he caught the train to Tauranga to the recruitment office. He was not accepted because dairy and poultry farming were deemed essential industries. I think Jim Earl one of his old school friends who he was away at the war with, was on the train with him that day.

During the First World War Dad and Colin enlisted from Thames as that is where they were living at the time with their Mother who had remarried Edward Rees. I do not ever remember my father mentioning the war except for being with troops somewhere and Gracie Fields sang. He really admired Gracie and adored her singing and of course probably all the memories that went with the event. When Gracie came to New Zealand, [I am sure she was well in to her sixties], Dad would have been about 70 and I can remember my Mother phoning from Katikati and saying how much Dad would like to see and hear Gracie Fields again.

My husband Wayne and I were living in Tokoroa so I knew it would be quite a mission but it was one of the best things we ever did for my parents. We went from Tokoroa to Katikati then to Auckland. We stayed the night in Auckland then back to Katikati and home to Tokoroa. A really memorable trip. Wayne and I thought it would be a bit boring but it was really one of the best shows we had ever seen. Gracie was a non stop performer and to the cheers of everyone in the Auckland Town Hall she not only sang, she did cartwheels. At the end of the show the audience, young and old, were crying with absolute pleasure at what they had witnessed.

My father’s World War I kit bag was used in the laundry on the farm as a holder for clothes to be washed. Dad’s name and the number 65782 FA written on the bag has always stayed with me. That kit bag and Dad’s shaving mug are both still in family possession today.

We were very fortunate to have such exceptional parents. My husband and I along with son Chris returned to Tauranga from Auckland in 1976 to assist Mum and Dad. My parents left Katikati after 52 years and retired to 17th Avenue in Tauranga. We were able to be available and care for them for the rest of their lives. We had many happy days together, including giving Dad an 80th birthday party and large family Christmas gatherings at our home in Kaitemako Road.  


Birth Certificate.

Cenotaph Record.

Ellen McCormack (daughter of John Donald Macmillan).

Military Personnel File.




This article was archived at Perma CC on August 11, 2016 (

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John Donald Macmillan (1897-1977)

Note:Service Number: 65782
First Names:John Donald
Last Name:Macmillan
Date of Birth:7 July 1897
Place of Birth:Thames
Country of birth:New Zealand
Date of death:3 November 1977
Place of death:Tauranga
Place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Spouses name:Alice Maryann Theobald
Spouses date of birth:14 May 1904
Spouses place of birth:Pukeokahu, Taihape
Spouses date of death:5 March 1980
Spouses place of death:Tauranga
Spouses place of burial:Katikati Cemetery
Date of marriage:26 July 1922
Place of marriage:Rotorua
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
Military Service:World War I (1914-1918)