John Thomson Macky
John Thomson Macky, known as Tom, volunteered as a Field Secretary with the New Zealand branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in England during the First World War. He became an active figure in the Presbyterian Church after returning to New Zealand, and his post-war career linked strongly with his wartime service as he sought to unite the various denominations to engage publically with social issues.1
Macky was the grandson of the Reverend John Macky, the second Presbyterian minister in Auckland, who founded a long-lasting ministry in Otahuhu soon after he arrived from Londonderry in 1854. His grandfather reached Auckland on a Sunday and preached twice that same day.2
Tom Macky was educated at Auckland Grammar School, and studied engineering at AUC from 1910–1913 before going to theological college in Dunedin to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.3 He had been active at AUC as the President of the Student’s Association from 1912–1913, and spoke in this capacity at the farewell of two professors in 1913, where he presented them with gifts of a smoker’s cabinet and a microscopic slide cabinet, both crafted from native timbers.4 Other Macky family members also attended AUC, including Victor Macky.
On the front lines, the YMCA ‘buckshees’ were a highly valued source of tea, cocoa, chocolate, biscuits, cigarettes, and letter writing materials for soldiers.7 In his diary, fellow Auckland University College (AUC) student Vieira Currie made appreciative mention of the hot tea available at the YMCA ‘buckshee’ canteens during the interminable periods of transit that were part of his military experience.8 In England, where Macky was based, the YMCA was a source of affordable accommodation for soldiers on leave, and information and activities were made plentifully available to gently steer young men away from the temptations of London streets.9 Although away from the danger of the front lines, he was injured in a car accident in August 1917.10
The New Zealand YMCA was headquartered at 15 Gower Street, London.11 Alongside its presence on troopships, in training camps, and on the front lines, the YMCA also provided extensive facilities for troops on leave and in hospital in London.
The flagship facility of the NZYMCA was Shakespeare Hut, close to the headquarters in Bloomsbury, where any soldier could secure a bed for 9d and meals at less than half the prices charged in London restaurants.12 The NZYMCA boasted that the hut was ‘home in every sense of the word’. The canteen there could accommodate around 200 men, and they were attended to by ‘lady workers in their crushed-strawberry coloured frocks, which help[ed] to make the hut bright and attractive’.13
Macky was especially active in the Brotherhood of Men of Goodwill, a group founded within the YMCA that proselytised in a more overt fashion once the ‘supply of material comforts’ had opened the way for a ‘more direct religious message’.14 The Brotherhood included New Zealand pacifists such as John Johnson, who were frustrated by the war and its waste of their time and abilities.15 They held regular bible classes and debates, and actively sought to enlist servicemen. One such debate held during 1918 addressed whether New Zealanders should marry English girls during the war, and reached the decision that they should not.16
Macky would lecture on theology at Brotherhood meetings. At one meeting in 1918 they managed to acquire a Social Hall on the banks of the Thames River for a weekend, and spent their days rowing ‘up or down the Thames till signs of fatigue came’, before stopping to ‘talk for an hour or so on the chosen subject’.17 Through ‘assembling groups of men for Bible study and consideration of the great social and moral questions of the day’ the Brotherhood hoped to attract men who ‘were strongly in favour of “the betterment of things” generally’ to the church.18
Life after the War
After returning to New Zealand and being ordained in 1920, Macky continued to actively push for churches to publicly engage with pressing social issues.19 He became the chair of the Presbyterian Church’s Public Questions Committee in the mid-1930s. He made an ‘incisive impression’ on this committee, and ‘brought the Church to face crucial issues of the day’.20
Macky continued to nurture the inter-denominational approach that characterised the YMCA’s efforts during the First World War. In 1941, the National Council of Churches founded the Inter-Church Council on Public Affairs (ICCPA), a ‘body through which the churches [could] consult together for the purpose of initiating common action in matters of social and moral importance’. Macky was elected as its first chair.21
Much of the early influence of the ICCPA was attributed to Macky. The Council valued his ‘clear thinking’ and ‘wide vision’, and his ‘statesmanlike approach’ was invaluable in the Council’s dealings with cabinet ministers and other government representatives.22 The experience that Macky gained with the YMCA in England would have been influential and useful in this position.
Macky had been the minister at Knox Church in Lower Hutt for 13 years when he died in office in February 1946. He was still chair of the ICCPA at the time of his death, and had also served on the Alcohol Regulations Committee, and as Convenor of the Presbyterian Chaplains Committee.23
Jonathan Burgess, Special Collections
- ‘Macky, Rev John Thomson (Tom)’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church, Ministers, Deaconesses & Missionaries from 1840, Mabon to Matheson, accessed 21 July 2014.
- 'Macky, Rev John’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church, Ministers, Deaconesses & Missionaries from 1840, Mabon to Matheson, accessed 21 July 2014.
- ‘Macky, John Thomson’, A.U.C Roll of Honour. MSS & Archives E-2, Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; ‘Macky, Rev John Thomson (Tom)’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church.
- The Kiwi: Official Organ of the Auckland University College, 7, 1, 1912, p.32; 8, 2, 1913, p.19.
- ibid., 11, 1916, p.35; ‘Macky, Rev John Thomson (Tom)’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church.
- ‘Macky, John Thomson – WW1 52738 – Army’, R10927512, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- ‘Buckshee’ was a term meaning ‘free’ that was popularised by British soldiers and was common parlance among troops in the First and Second World Wars. The term appears to have been co-opted from Persian, and was picked up by troops serving in the Middle East.
- Vieira Currie, Diary from 2nd Field Ambulance – France, Europeana 1914–1918, accessed 8 July 2014.
- If this approach was not successful, YMCA patrols were out on the London streets between 7pm and 2am to separate men from ‘women of known disreputable character’. ‘Buckshee’: A Pictorial Record of the Work of the New Zealand YMCA on Active Service, London, 1919, p.66.
- ‘Macky, John Thomson’, A.U.C. Roll of Honour; The Kiwi, 13, 1918, p.27.
- The Triangle Trail: The New Zealand YMCA on Active Service, 4, 1918, p.7.
- ‘Buckshee’, pp.46, 50.
- The Triangle Trail, 2, 1918, p.5.
- ‘Buckshee’, p.78.
- Robin and Simon Johnson, ‘Working with the YMCA during World War One’, New Zealand Genealogist, 39, 313, 2008, p.315.
- The Triangle Trail, 4, 1918, p.7.
- ibid., 17, 1918, pp.6–7.
- ‘Buckshee’, p.78.
- ‘Macky, Rev John Thomson (Tom)’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church.
- Peter Lineham, ‘The Inter-Church Council on Public Affairs: An Exercise in Ecumenical Political Influence’, in John Stenhouse, ed., Christianity, Modernity and Culture, Adelaide, 2005, pp.269–270.
- ibid., p.271.
- ibid., p.272; ‘Macky, Rev John Thomson (Tom)’, Register of New Zealand Presbyterian Church.