Feature

How Maegraith the banker became MacGrath the war hero

IN PROFILE: Former Lismore banker Hugh Gilmore Maegraith after enlisting during the First World War.
IN PROFILE: Former Lismore banker Hugh Gilmore Maegraith after enlisting during the First World War.

WHAT'S in a name? Well, when you have a name like Maegraith and live in an area where names beginning with Mc and Mac are not a rarity, let alone the fact that there are a good number with the surname McGrath, it is no wonder the authorities make a mistake and change the spelling of your name.

So it happened with Hugh Gilmore Maegraith.

Hugh Maegraith was born and grew up in South Australia. He came from a large family, his grandparents arriving in Adelaide in the 1860s. Several of his uncles were professionals, including at least one doctor and a dentist.

His father, Alfred Edward Maegraith, was a school teacher who later worked for Dalgetys in Adelaide as an auditor.

For some reason Hugh decided to come to New South Wales where he joined the staff of the Bank of NSW.

When the First World War began he was stationed at Lismore and he enlisted, aged 20. He wrote his name clearly on the Attestation sheet as Maegraith but, on the Embarkation Roll, it is listed as MacGrath.

The Army authorities soon found that Hugh had plenty of initiative and that he was fearless.

He rose rapidly to the rank of lieutenant in the 15th Battalion.

On September 26, 1917 he was involved in an action near Zonnebeke in Western Flanders, Belgium. He was leading a platoon in a major offensive and when he met opposition he dashed forward and his men, following, simply smothered the enemy.

He was later severely wounded when rushing an enemy machine gun position. His action on that day won him the Military Cross, but it was also the end of his war.

He returned to Australia in January 1918 and possibly returned to his position at the Bank of NSW as in 1919 the Census lists him as living at St Kilda, Victoria, with his occupation as clerk.

Shortly afterwards, however, he appears to have decided to work on the land as he is listed as a jackeroo at Stonehenge, Derrinallum in the Corangamite Shire.

In 1925 he married Lilias Tresillian at Young, NSW.

Some time later they moved to Griffith and Hugh became an orchardist.

In 1940 he enlisted for the Second World War with the rank of major. He was not discharged until the middle of 1946.

He was to spend the rest of his life in Griffith, dying there in 1969.

The spelling of his surname caused many problems.

Even the family seems uncertain of the spelling, some choosing Magraith while others keep to Maegraith. None however appear to have spelt the name as McGrath or MacGrath.

At least two of his brothers became famous in their field of work.

His brother Kerwin was a well-known cartoonist who travelled the world, working for several well-known newspapers and as a cartoonist during the Second World War. There is a wonderful collection of his work in the State Library of NSW.

Another brother, Brian, was a Rhodes Scholar and a doctor specialising in tropical medicine.

He worked with Florey and during the Second World War was a medical officer in the British Army. It is said he swam out to a waiting ship at Dunkirk. He was Dean of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England between 1946 and 1975.

The Maegraith family was certainly amazing.

Topics:  anzac-centenary history world war 1


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