Fen McDonald

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Fen McDonald
Personal information
Full name Fenley John McDonald
Date of birth (1891-05-25)25 May 1891
Place of birth Nagambie, Victoria
Date of death 25 April 1915(1915-04-25) (aged 23)
Place of death Gallipoli, Turkey
Original team(s) Nagambie
Height / weight 175 cm / 70 kg
Position(s) Defender
Playing career1
Years Club Games (Goals)
1911–12 Carlton 10 (4)
1913 Melbourne 01 (0)
Total 11 (4)
1 Playing statistics correct to the end of 1913.
Sources: AFL Tables, AustralianFootball.com

Fenley John "Fen" McDonald (25 May 1891 – 25 April 1915) was an Australian rules footballer who played with Carlton and Melbourne in the Victorian Football League (VFL).

He was a member of the First AIF, and was killed in action during the landing at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, in Turkey on 25 April 1915.[1][2]


The youngest son in the family (of three girls and five boys) of Patrick McDonald and Margaret McDonald, née Figgins, Fenley John McDonald was born on 25 May 1891 in Nagambie, Victoria. By all accounts, he was a strongly built, quietly spoken, and well-mannered young man.

Educated at the Nagambie State School, he gained a thorough knowledge of cattle and sheep and farming from his family's property, "Winbrae".

In 1910, once he had finished his formal schooling, he moved to Melbourne and began a four-year evening course of studies at the highly regarded Stott and Hoare's Business College, at 426 Collins Street, Melbourne, whilst working in the day time as a stock and station agent with Pearson, Rowe, Smith, and Co., 416 Bourke Street, Melbourne.[3]


Two of Fen's brothers played a single VFL match with Essendon, on the same day (Saturday, 9 September 1905): Edwin Patrick McDonald (1875–1919),[4] and Archibald William Campbell "Arch" McDonald (1883-1942).[5]

Strongly built (at enlistment he stood 5 ft 7½ in, weighed 11 st 9 lbs, and had an expanded chest measurement of 37 in), he was rather fast on his feet, and had some success as a handicap runner. Once in Melbourne, he played in the Metropolitan Amateur Football Association competition, with the Carlton District team. Carlton noticed his impressive performance, signed him up, and he played his VFL first match, aged 20, against St Kilda, on 29 July 1911 (round fifteen). Carlton thrashed St Kilda by 114 points, and none of the forwards saw much of the ball as most of those up the ground were concentrating on feeding the ball to Carlton's full-forward, Vin Gardiner,who kicked 10 goals. Situated in the back pocket, McDonald saw little of the play — St Kilda only scored 2.3 (15) — yet he did make it down to the forward line and kicked one goal.

During the next season (1912) he played nine senior games, mainly in the backline; and at the end of the season, he decided to move to Melbourne.

In 1913, he played one senior match for Melbourne, against Essendon on 14 June 1913 (round nine). Essendon beat Melbourne by 41 points. One match report noted that "McDonald was another player who did a lot of hard work for Melbourne under discouraging circumstances",[6] whilst another commented that "McDonald… did very good work".[7]

He then returned to the District team, and did not play another VFL match. He played for the Carlton District team in 1914 as well, and concentrated on completing the last year of his studies.


Leaving his employment with Pearson, Rowe, Smith, and Co., 416 Bourke Street, Melbourne, he enlisted in the First AIF on 17 August 1914, and served, as a private, in the 7th Battalion, A.I.F.

His brother, Stanley David McDonald (1888–1945), also served in the First AIF, enlisting on 20 May 1915, before the news of Fen's death had reached his family.[8]


He died at Gallipoli, Turkey on during the first landings on 25 April 1915. It is not known how he died; and it is presumed that he was either shot dead or blown up in the process of making the beach.

One of his best mates from Melbourne, Harold Denston, who worked as a clerk in a Collins Street insurance office, was also killed in action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.[9]

Claude Crowl who had played his first game for St Kilda on the same day that McDonald made his debut for Carlton, also died in action at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. A special medal named in McDonald's and Crowl's honour was presented to the best player on the ground in the match played between St Kilda and Carlton on the hundredth anniversary of the Gallipoli landings.[10]


His body was never recovered; and, therefore, he has no marked grave. His name is recorded on the memorial at Lone Pine Memorial, Gallipoli, Turkey, and at panel 50 in the Commemorative Area at the Australian War Memorial.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lane, Daniel, "ANZAC hero Ted Larkin: The greatest sacrifice of all", The Sydney Morning Herald, (18 April 2015).
  2. ^ Despite various suggestions given over time, related to particular individuals, it is clear that, because, at least, six former VFL footballers were killed during the chaos of the landing at Anzac CoveRupert Balfe (University), Alan Cordner (Geelong and Collingwood), Claude Crowl (St Kilda), Charlie Fincher (South Melbourne), Fen McDonald (Carlton and Melbourne), and Joe Pearce (Melbourne) — it can never be definitively argued that any one of these men was "the first VFL footballer killed in the First World War".
  3. ^ The well-respected firm of Pearson, Rowe, Smith, and Co. was established in Victoria around 1860; the business was taken over by Goldsbrough Mort & Co Ltd in late 1937 (Goldsbrough Mort & Co.: Old Established Business Purchased, The Age, (Saturday, 27 November, 1937), p.19.)
  4. ^ AFL Statistics: Edwin McDonald.
  5. ^ AFL Statistics: Arch McDonald.
  6. ^ Football: Essendon's Last Half, The Argus, (Monday 16 June 1913), p.10.
  7. ^ Essendon (9.17) Beat Melbourne (3.12), The Age, (Monday 16 June 1913), p.11.
  8. ^ Australian War Memorial Photograph: Private Stanley McDonald (1769); World War I Service Record: Stanley McDonald (1769).
  9. ^ Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour: Harold Denston (94)
  10. ^ Roger Vaughan (25 April 2015). "Blues break through by storming past Saints". Australian Football League. Retrieved 25 April 2015. 


Note There is a typographical error in the relevant entry in this list.
The list states "Pte. McDONALD, T. J., 7th Batt., Nagambie." Checking with the "Roll of Honour records at the Australian War museum shows: (a) no "T. McDonalds" in any branch of the services had died earlier than 17 June 1915; (b) there were only two other "McDonalds" in the 7th Battalion on the Honour Roll who had died earlier than 17 June 1915 (Lindsay Gordon McDonald of Flemington and William McDonald of Benalla).
Thus, the entry on this list can only relate to Fen McDonald of Nagambie.

External links[edit]