Donald George McKENZIE


Donald George
Z Special Unit
Born Wagin WA
Landed Borneo and captured at Sandakan
Died October 31 1944
Executed at Jesselton
Aged 22 years
from Williams WA























Donald George
Sergeant WX40238
A.I.F. “Z” Special Unit

Executed December 30 th 1944
At Jesselton North Borneo

Written by Noel McKenzie



Don was born at Wagin on 22 nd October 1922, the sixth son of Arthur Charles McKenzie and Florence Bradford McKenzie (nee Hebbard). After the break up of his parents marriage in the mid 1920’s, Don, who was a sickly baby, was separated from his siblings and reared by his Grandparents (McKenzie). He lived with them at a farm “Maybell” in Pinjarra and then at “Pinmoor” farm in Williams. Don attended Williams Primary School.

He worked on the farm at Williams after leaving school at age 14. The expectation was that he would inherit the farm. He took a correspondence course in Wireless Communications and Mechanics and when the Japanese entered World War II, he joined the Army as a Wireless Mechanic. (This is what we thought at the time, but only 10 or 12 years ago I was shown documentation that he was rejected by the Army as medically unfit because of eyesight problems). Evidently Z Special of SRD snapped him up because of his ability to build battery wireless and he was trained ( Queensland and Garden Island) and selected for a secret intelligence mission in Borneo (Operation Python 2) and the rest is sad history.

Don’s other six siblings, including myself (Noel) the seventh son were reared by our Dad’s sister Aunt Mabel who was a spinster and was a school teacher at West Leederville School. My only contact with Don was the occasional trip to Williams at Christmas or Easter and I remember Don had a passionate interest in radio. He used to get a manual or magazine called “Radio & Hobbies” and from information in this, he learned to build Battery Powered Radios. I remember asking him where the money came from to buy parts and materials etc., and he said he trapped rabbits and sold the skins as the only employment he had was working on the farm. Remember, these were post depression years, so I don’t think he received a wage. I remember feeling that he was unhappy at the farm.

The last few times I had contact with my brother Don was late in 1943 when I was an apprentice at the WA Government Railways Workshops and I used to go one day a fortnight to Perth Technical College for further instruction in my trade and it was here that I found that Don was doing a course in Radio & Communication etc., and he was in uniform. We use to talk a lot to make up for lost years.

The last time I saw Don was near the end of December 1943 when he told me he was selected for a dangerous and secret mission, which he couldn’t talk about and from which he may not return. He gave me his wallet and private bankbook for safe keeping, I was very sad and wished him well and God Speed. One of the things I remember about that time was that Don told me while he was in the class at Perth Technical School the instructor caught him doing a sketch on a pad instead of taking notes. When the teacher said, “you think you know all about this McKenzie,” to which Don replied, “yes, I did all this when I was 14 years of age and I think I could teach you a few things”, which didn’t endear him to the teacher.

One other thing I remember was that Don was born with a turn in one eye, and the Grandparents sent him down to Perth to us at Blencowe Street, West Leederville so he could go to Royal Perth Hospital for treatment. This took some time so he was enrolled at West Leederville School and spent some months at this school. I cannot recall which year but it would have been in the early thirties. Don was the tallest of his siblings and had a slim but sturdy frame, a tribute to a plentiful supply of food from the farm.

Sgt. D.G. McKenzie was awarded the 1939/45 Star, Pacific Star & War Medal and the Australian Service Medal. Additional medals are The Dutch Medal & Prisoner of War Medal. He was also posthumously mentioned in despatches by the King. These medals and the M.I.D. Oak Leaf are currently in my possession.


Written by Noel McKenzie and Allan Cresswell

Donald George McKenzie’s war service was based on incorrect information supplied by the Army. Subsequent information and facts contained in a book written by author Don Wall titled ‘Abandoned?’ has brought to light the truth regarding his capture and execution by the Japanese. This has been followed up by author Kevin Smith in his book, ‘Borneo - Australia’s Proud but Tragic Heritage’.

Sgt. Donald George McKenzie embarked on an American submarine the USS Tinosa from Pot Shot in Western Australia in January 1944 bound for a special intelligence mission, code named PYTHON 2 in British North Borneo. There were a total of six in the party. They landed at Turtle Beach on the eastern coast of North Borneo on the evening of January 20 th.

Early in February 1944 Sergeant William Brandis WX16743 from their group was captured after becoming lost in the jungle for three weeks. Later in early March a Japanese patrol ambushed the group whilst following markings on trees and Don McKenzie and Lieutenant Alfred John “Jack” Rudwick VX102007 were taken into custody. They were then taken to Sandakan for interrogation by the Kempei Tai, the Japanese equivalent of the German Gestapo. At the Sandakan Kempei Tai cells they met up again with Brandis. Whilst at Sandakan they were made to dig air raid shelters and allowed to grow vegetables behind the cells.

The three remained at Sandakan as POW’s until September 1944 then they were sent to the Old British Gaol at Jesselton (later renamed Kota Kinabulu) by ship where, after being brutally battered, Don and his two companions were put on trial as spies. The Japanese considered them as being disguised in plain clothes as civilians despite that they were wearing combat uniforms, jungle greens, American jungle boots, army issue waist-belts and carrying military weapons, when captured.

After being found guilty of espionage they were all brutally beaten resulting in them receiving fractured skulls. Don, Bill and Jack were all blindfolded and with their hands tied behind their backs they were led to the gallows. They were executed at Jesselton by hanging on the 30 th December, 1944.

With kind permission from Don Wall, the following paragraph is quoted verbatim from his book ‘Abandoned?’

“The fate of Rudwick, McKenzie and Brandis, was not disclosed to their respective families until the author informed them in 1990. Previously, they had been advised by the Commanding Officer of Z Special Unit in December 1945 that they were lost at sea after leaving Sandakan. This information was first collected by Sgt. W.A.C. Russell of S.R.D. in Oct/Nov 1945. Relatives were misinformed by a former “Z” Special operative who had served in Borneo that they were executed by the sword. The Army could have informed the relatives in 1946 when their bodies were recovered and identified.”

Sgt. Donald George McKenzie WX40238 was reburied in the war cemetery on the island of Labuan, as were his two companions, Lt. Jack Rudwick and Sgt. Bill Brandis. Don is buried at Grave 19.A.5. The epitaph on his grave reads as follows: “Man’s dearest possession is life. He gave his for humanity.” Don was just 22 years old when he was executed at Jesselton.