Our ‘Flying Scotsman’
Alexander Donald MacDonald was a pioneer of the Railway Circle of Merrylands, which became the Australian Railway Historical Society and as such he is a notable figure in NSW Railway History. But prior to his involvement he had already lived an adventurous and eventful life.
He was born on 14th August 1894 at Montrose, Angus, Scotland. His father was a soldier in the Black Watch and was killed in action in the Boer War. Subsequently bereft of both parents, he migrated to Canada at the early age of seven, where he lived on a farm at Colinton, on the shores of Lake Huron, until he was fifteen. Leaving the farm, he made his way to Argentina where he commenced his railway career on the Buenos Aires Great Western Railway. Getting “itchy feet”, he left South America and arrived in New Zealand, staying for a short while before moving on to Sydney just prior to the commencement of World War 1. Securing employment on the NSW Railways, he enlisted for active service at the commencement of hostilities and was amongst the earliest soldiers to leave these shores. He served at Gallipoli, in the desert and finally in France, being wounded on several occasions and carried shrapnel scars, which few knew of, to the end. At the cessation of hostilities, he went to England and worked for about 12 months as a fireman on the London and South Western Railway, his favourite run being London to Bournemouth. During this time, he visited his native heath, as well as most parts of England and Scotland.
Returning to Australia, he rejoined the service of the New South Wales Railways, serving initially as a Porter in the Traffic Branch, then transferring to ‘Loco’ where he remained to his retirement in October 1955. He was attached to Clyde, Enfield and Eveleigh loco depots at various times and he served the whole of his railway career in NSW in the area bounded by Nowra, Goulburn, Bathurst, Dungog and Newcastle. At his retirement, he was a senior driver and qualified to operate both steam and diesel locomotives.
‘Mac’, as he was affectionately called by the scores who knew him, was extremely interested in railways and his job. An ardent collector of ‘engine pictures’ (some of which have survived and are in the ARHS Archives collection) and railway data from all parts of the world, he, with several others similarly interested to further their object, formed the Railway Circle of Merrylands. Quite a number of the photos used in the books ‘A Century of Locomotives’ and ‘History of the NSW Railways’ (published for the Railway Centenary in 1955) were from the collection of AD MacDonald.
‘Mac’ participated in many of the ARHS outings and strove to do all in his power to add to the enjoyment of each and every passenger on the train. He drove every steam-hauled special train the Society had run and his expert knowledge of the road and the most suitable spots for photographs was a great asset to members of the Society. It was on the Society’s special of 8th October 1955, when he drove locomotive 1243 from Sydney to Penrith and return, that he finished his railway career.
Alexander MacDonald, nicknamed ‘The Flying Scotsman’ by some, passed away on March 7, 1956. He was 61.
(Adapted from MacDonald’s obituary, by H.H. Matthews in the ARHS Bulletin, No 223 May 1956.)