Written by his cousin Donald Lang
My first cousin Donald McKenzie scrambled his name a bit while learning to talk. He was known as “Dollar” for some of his youth. After a decade or so, when people were about ready to become more formal, two new “first cousin Donald”s arrived for him. My father and his mother were siblings. I was given the first name Donald. Not much later. on the other side of his family, his father’s sister called her first son Donald. A year or two after I helped confuse his life, I acquired a cousin on the other side. My mother’s sister had a son who was given the name Donald McLennan. Now that Donald McLennan already had a first cousin on his other side named Donald McLennan. For something like half a century my young cousin used his second name. In recent years he has migrated back from being Graham McLennan to being Don McLennan.
At Christmas certain fissures in the family were papered over. My Aunt Myra, another of Dad’s six sisters, dubbed me Donald “Beag” and Donald McKenzie became Donald “More”. If I had been able to spell at the time I would have written my extra name as ‘Beck’, but that last consonant sound in Gaelic is rather more complicated. Translated, I was “little Donald” and he was “big Donald”. My non English speaking background is sparse after two removes. Myra’s mother, my Grandma, spoke English to her parents, and they spoke Gaelic to her. A few words only were convenient for the next generation
I was about to remark that I did not know ‘Dollar’ – Donald More – properly, and I realised I did not know Aunt Myra either. Dad once pointed in passing to a person in a group photo of soldiers, taken a week or so before the Battle of Messines. The main topic was some other aspect of the photo. I gathered that if that man had survived that week, and a lot of other messy weeks in WWI, he might have married my Aunt Myra.
She had taken a northern hemisphere trek lasting some years between the wars. She took strong impulsive and dogmatic views which I would not be sure I could defend, e.g., late in a summer plagued by a polio epidemic: “They should not re-open any of the [~1000] schools in this education area if it puts one more child at risk of polio.”
She had by that time retired from the teaching service unexpectedly when her eyesight was badly damaged, as I understand it, by glaucoma. There could also have been simultaneous complications of cataracts.
In most other matters she was on the other side of any family fault lines.
Donald More was almost, but not quite, in my generation. At the outbreak of WWII he was already in the workforce. He was a handsome, and in my view then a large, young man. In our parents’ generation men who were not returned soldiers were rare. I suspect they were considerably outnumbered, by those who would have been returned service people, but who had not returned. Donald was bound to ‘join up’. Pennants from various Air Force training centres appeared on walls. I have hazy memories of him on “Final Leave”. Letters arrived from the Northern Hemisphere. Various elephantine hints escaped from or were ignored by the censor. He was “having nights out with Popeye’s friend”, and the word went round that he was doing night bombing in a Wellington Wimpy. I don’t know how he let his father know, but he did, that he could not expect to see the end of the war. He was right. He did not survive to fly Lancasters. I think it is 62 years ago later this month that our Aunt Hilda, another of Dad’s sisters, came over to a busy sheep yard with news of his death. On his last flight he almost got his badly damaged plane home. They crashed about ten miles from their field. The sole survivor was the tail gunner. That was a reversal of another frequent misfortune, where a bomber might stagger home, grateful for the work of a tail gunner who did not make it.
He is buried in England and members of the family have visited his grave. For many years we displayed two photos of him. One was a studio portrait of a solemn young man with flight sergeant stripes and those all important wings. The other was out doors, a bit older looking but more relaxed and with a friendly smile. Some years ago I realised that there were a few snaps of him in other places. I could pick him out of them but I had no feeling of the person that went with them. I do not know if the unfortunate disposition sometimes accorded to Aunt Myra was evidence that she was in some way a battle casualty. I do know that Donald “More” McKenzie was a casualty. I do not know if it is simply perverse to wish I had met the two people they might have become in a different history.
After WWII was long over I was given training to fit me to take part in land warfare. Few if any of those who trained with me went into harms way and saw shots fired in anger. My children have passed through a crucial age window without needing that training. I look at the next generation and I fear that they in turn could become vulnerable. I have spoken with historians who felt that both wars were inevitable in their time because of the way international politics played out. It is easy from here to picture sitting a number of the important leaders down together for a showing of newsreels that are now available, at times when the historians of today are now sure those wars were inevitable. Would simply showing them the consequences of their collective folly have stopped either lot in their tracks? Or just removed some of the hideous mistakes and made for greater and longer agony? On the whole, after considering what is visible in the current crop of talent, I would be pessimistic.
The actions are not available. It is too late for global regret. I can call to mind that serious young man and the smiling person in the photos and I am grateful again for this person whom now I will not ever know properly.