National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Carpenter Goes Underground in France

John McKee was born on the 2 July 1876 in Thames and on leaving school completed his apprenticeship as a Carpenter before working in Te Aroha.

John Mckee completed three years Volunteer service with the Piako Rifles (two years as an officer) before deciding to head to South Africa to take part in the 2nd Anglo Boer War.

John McKee enlisted on 11April 1902, aged 24 and served as a Sergeant with the 10th Contingent, NZ Mounted Rifles and by all accounts, was an expert rifle shot.

In 1902, as a Warrant Officer Class Two, John was in charge of the men of the NZ Mounted Rifles who were getting discharged in South Africa and going back to England. In 1904, John was attached to the Royal Engineers in South Africa during reconstruction of the Cape Colony and where his carpentry skills proved invaluable.

Back home in New Zealand, John applied to be a member of the Permanent Force and was employed as a carpenter instructor and Sub-Area Sergeant Major for the New Zealand Defence Department at Maungaturoto in Northland when World War One broke out.

Now married to Angelina, John McKee felt a strong sense of duty and enlisted on 9 December 1915 aged 38 as Company Sergeant Major of the Tunnelling Company, New Zealand Engineers. They embarked on 18 December 1915 aboard the Waitemata and headed for England, arriving in Plymouth on 18 February 1916 before embarking for France on 9 March.

Hospitalised in April for two weeks with flu, once he returned to his unit, he would be promoted to Second Lieutenant in July.

In action on the Somme, he was hospitalised again in December with bronchitis. After five weeks at the No. 3 General Hospital and 8th Michelin Convalescent Hospital, John McKee returned to his unit and was back in the action, being promoted to Lieutenant on 11 February 1917 and then wounded on duty on 2 May 1917.

John McKee would see action in some of the hardest battles on the Western Front and on 2 December 1918, 4/1232 Lieutenant John McKee returned to New Zealand aboard the Maunganui and was discharged on 6 February 1919.

In July 1919, John McKee’s name was published in the London Gazette as having been awarded a MiD (Mentioned in Despatches) by General Sir Douglas Haig for “distinguished and gallant service and devotion to duty during operations over the period 16th September 1918 to the end of hostilities”.

John McKee returned to Auckland before eventually living in Whangarei where he passed away on 15 August 1952, aged 76.

Lieutenant John McKee’s medals are on display at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.