TROOPER ERNEST MCKAY
AUSTRALIAN LIGHT HORSE
25TH SEPTEMBER 1918 AGE 23
BURIED: HAIFA WAR CEMETERY, ISRAEL
Trooper Ernest McKay was one of the fourteen 11th Australian Light Horsemen killed in the savage fighting at Samarkh on 25 September 1918. There's nothing to say whether he was killed in the cavalry charge or in the subsequent hand-to-hand fighting in the town. And nothing to say why the inscription refers to 'mate' in the singular rather than mates in the plural.
It's always interesting to see the cause or causes for which Australians fought. Today the idea that Australian nationhood was born in the First World War is commonplace, and is being fiercely promoted during the centenary. But McKay, Australian born, fought for his country and his King, and I would venture to suggest that by his country he meant Britain, or rather the British Empire for the terms were synonymous. Actually, to be accurate, the word most people would have used for Britain at this time, and for the whole British Empire, was 'England' but whichever word was used I don't think McKay was fighting just for Australia.
McKay was a carpenter from Brisbane. His mother chose his inscription and filled in the circular for the Roll of Honour of Australia. I love the way that, given the opportunity to say something that might "be of interest to the Historian of the AIF or of his regiment", she writes proudly that he was -
"One of the most popular boys in his regiment. Also a good footballer. In fact one of the best all round players over in Egypt."
[NB I have corrected some of the spelling a punctuation.]
Somehow I don't think this was the sort of information the historians were looking for!
As to the 'spotless name': McKay's service record shows that he embarked from Australia for Egypt on 30 September 1915; he spent from 3 January to 22 February in detention for an unspecified misdemeanour; in December 1916 he was punished for being absent without leave, and from 15 August to 22 December 1917 he was in hospital being treated for VD.
But none of this detracts from the fact that Ernest McKay, living in Australia where there was no conscription, volunteered to fight for King and country, an action that led to his death.