What makes a hero?

I’ve already asked a similar question in my post, Saving Lives – Which One Will Make You a Hero?


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This time I ask it with the seriousness that comes with ANZAC day and our recognition and respect for the soldiers who fought.


I was originally going to write about Simpson and his donkey – the story of a stretcher bearer who risked his life to save hundreds at Gallipoli. His story captured the hearts of a nation and is well known by Australians. You can read about it here.

I’m going to tell you about a hero who joined up mainly because of a murder scandal. He also went AWOL, played an ingenious trick on the officers and later pulled off a daring heist.

While his bravery on the field is in no doubt, it could be how he survived his childhood that gives him real hero status.



The man I’m talking about is my husband’s grandfather Harold Macnish, a loveable larrikin who endured atrocities most of us could never imagine.

I had the privilege of knowing Pop for a few years before he died, aged 93, in 1989.

He always came across as cheerful and loving and it was not until just recently I realized what an amazing person he was.



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Pop holding his great-grandson – our eldest son.


One of his grandsons, Tony Bailey, has written a book in honour of a life that gave so much – and received so little.

In his book, God Willed It, Tony describes his grandfather as: “an orphan, a warrior, a digger, a gambler, a larrikin, a womanizer, and a two-pot screamer”.

The book tells the tale of Pop’s Irish-born mother and how she bravely left her country of birth to make the long and dangerous journey to Australia.

She was a good Catholic girl and relied heavily on the church to guide her morals and decisions.

She worked behind a bar at a hotel in Townsville before meeting her future husband.

The marriage was not approved of by family – an unlikely union between an Irish Catholic and a Protestant.

Regardless, they lived happily and produced three children – Pop was the middle child with an older sister and younger brother – until tragedy struck and his father died suddenly. The man had left no provision for his family.

Pop’s mother tried to make ends meet, even resorting to begging help from her dead husband’s rich family, but in the end, she had no option but to return to Ireland to get funds.




She couldn’t afford to take the children so she left them where she believed they would be safe – in a Catholic-run orphanage.

It is hard to imagine that such evil could prevail in a place claiming to be working on direct orders from God but this is where the story of Pop’s torture begins.

He and his younger brother were repeatedly beaten, starved, overworked and sexually abused. Their sister had been taken to another part of the orphanage and they didn’t see her again for years.

The abuse continued throughout Pop’s childhood despite the fact his mother had tried in vain to reclaim her children when she returned from Ireland.

Did this make Pop bitter? Yes – for a while. Did it make him strong? Seriously tough.

The recurring theme was Pop’s dedication to protecting his little brother and it was out of that need, after tasting freedom at age 17 for such a short time, that the murder scandal made joining the army the only safe decision.

I’m going to be mean and tell you if you want that full story, you’ll have to read the book – God Willed It by Tony Bailey, available through;







The brothers joined up but it was soon discovered Pop’s brother was too young to enlist, by a matter of months. Pop couldn’t un-enlist so did the only thing he could think of – disappear for a while in the hopes he could wait for his brother to join him. Leaving his brother alone at war was not an option.

This made him AWOL (absent without leave) – a deserter, a crime punishable by death.

The need for soldiers was so desperate that when Pop gave himself in, a desperate last-ditch ploy to avoid starvation when all his funds had run out, he was merely fined and sent out to fight.

Pop and his brother fought alongside other diggers in France. Pop made it home by the skin of his teeth, horribly scarred, both physically and emotionally. His brother did not.




ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) day is the anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, in World War I on April 25, 1915.

During this ‘war to end all wars’ 60,000 Australians were killed – 8000 of them in Gallipoli and the others on the Western Front of France and Belgium. 156,000 were wounded, 18,000 on Gallipoli.

There are many tales from the frontline describing Pop’s bravery and strength, particularly when it came to protecting his brother.

These are things I didn’t know about the happy, fun grandfather I knew for a short time.

The man I saw – the loveable larrikin – was best described in a tale in the book about how Pop invented the Bread Patrol.

He used his new-found influence with a field promotion to escort a small group of men to the nearest bar to enjoy some wine and bread.

The men all wore full patrol uniform and when stopped and questioned by officers as to their mission, Pop would tell them the men were on ‘bread patrol’. As Pop predicted, the officers didn’t want to admit they didn’t know what that was so waved them on.

They got away with this for five days, right near the frontline of the war, until someone finally wised up. They were all brought up on charges and docked a week’s pay which Pop claimed was more than worth it.

Pop killed many men, saved many more, found a way to fight the bitterness inside him, forgave his mother for deserting him (at age five when she left them in the care of the nuns, Pop couldn’t understand her efforts to save them) and reconciled with her.

His childhood experiences gave him a unique understanding so that when he was the manager of a plantation in New Guinea, he treated the native workers with care and respect – something they were unaccustomed to.

Despite this, he was forced to declare war once again on a group of cannibals who had abducted his wife. A truly horrifying story you will have to get the book to read. (When you do, you will also be entertained by his daring heist).

He spent 61 of his 93 years married to that woman (another unlikely union between a Catholic and a Protestant) and together they raised four children – one of them my mother-in-law.



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Pop sand his wife of 61 years, Annie, who recognized the hero in him.


He had 56 different jobs in his lifetime – and was never formally educated. He never lost the need to fight injustice where he saw it and thought it important to treat people with kindness.

Pop – he took lives, he saved lives, he created lives. He stole, he deserted, he gambled but he also treated everyone with fairness, fought for the underdog and worked hard for everything he had.

What makes a hero?

Wishing you a gleeful week, Tamuria.





  • Wow. What a fantastic story of a real life. It’s as they say that real life or truth is stranger than fiction.

    • I agree, truth is so often stranger than fiction. Amazing I knew and loved this man but had so little knowledge of his younger years and what an incredible life he had.

  • What an amazing story. I’ve read so many stories of children being abused in Catholic orphanages in Australia. To rise out of such pain and to make something of yourself takes a lot of inner strength.

  • Pop is definitely a hero, Tamuria, one who was willing to do what was required so that others would be safe. It has always fascinated me how during both World Wars, soldiers from countries that weren’t at war supported sides that they believed were right and gave us the freedom we take for granted.

    When I lived in Tunisia, every year during the anniversary of World War I, there would be a memorial service and many families came from India to visit the graves of their young men who died for the cause. It was upsetting to see that some of them had been 18 years old at the time, but the fight to maintain freedom from tyranny doesn’t have an age bar.

    • Too many sons die in wars they have not started. One day the world will get wiser Vatsala, I hope. In the meantime, we need to honour those who fight for our freedom.

  • Wow! What a fantastic story! I do want to read the book. Love how you make the point that he was an awesome human being even tho he didn’t do everything “right” . Thanks for sharing his story!

    • Thank you, Kimberly. I believe if we do good things, those actions shouldn’t be outshone by our mistakes. Pop’s story is truly a compelling one – hope you have the chance to read and enjoy the book.

  • Oh, what a beautiful story! And you are SO right–Pop IS a true hero. He went through everything imaginable and still could love so deeply and profoundly–which he showed through his actions.
    Lovely tribute. Thank You!

  • Wow, what an amazing story, I was not very informed about the Australians battles during WW1, what a truly brave and resilient man. thank you for sharing his story with us!

  • Tamara – What a wonderful story! I felt as though I really knew your “Pop” when I finished reading your post. One ongoing theme I see in good stories is the examination of “who merits merit?” I recently wrote a book entitled “Sweet Dreams” which also examines this question. I definitely think your “Pop” merits the title of hero!

    • I’m kind of fascinated with the subject of who merits merit at the moment Joan – will have to check out your book (where can I find it?). Thank you for recognising the hero in Pop.

  • I trust you so I know every word you write is true but this sure makes for a wild story. I do understand how early childhood hardships can make one stronger. My sister & I were raised in foster care because my dad left my mom in the hospital upon delivering me. We were ultimately raised by a wonderful family but I was always in jeopardy of being sent away. I became resilent, smart, independent, outspoken & was the first female allowed to go to college by my agency.
    I believe we all have great stories of our own lives & those around us. I look forward to reading your blogs.

    • I knew you were a trailblazer Roz and being the first female allowed to go to college by your agency is more proof. Another great example of making a challenging past work for you. I agree, we are all surrounded by great stories.

    • Tamuria what a special story, I am so glad you brought this to life, it is so important to get these stories about in the open so we can learn from them. He sounds like a very wonderful and strong man, thank you for sharing

  • Pop seems like a very special person. Thanks for sharing.

  • What a wonderful story and tribute to your husband’s grandfather, Tami! Wow! It is so hard to imagine the challenges that former generations had to endure. I cannot imagine going to war and having to kill anyone, as I honestly cannot even kill a tiny bug that I find in my house. I love that his grandson Tony has written a book about Pops, and as you know, I really believe it is important to preserve these stories of the generations that came before us, as they have so much to teach us about life, living and resilience! Thanks for sharing with us all and may his memory live on!

    • I feel the same way about having to kill someone Beverley – I can’t imagine the emotional pain it must cause soldiers. Yes, so much to learn about life and resilience from these stories.

  • How wonderful that you’ve dedicated so much of your heart and spirit to bring forth the value and recognition of another. So heart-warming and heart-wrenching at the same time..

  • Wow. What a wonderful story and an amazing person…even though you did leave us with a cliff hanger!

  • It’s wonderful that you and your family were able to capture his story before he passed. Family stories not only help us to understand our family history, but also the world that our family members had to survive in when times were so much different than they are. Thanks for sharing such heroic memories.

    • It would have been so sad to lose these memories Joyce, many of which my Hubby didn’t even know before reading the book. Hat off to Tony for recording this important history.

  • I enjoyed reading your story Tamuria. Pop is a wonderful hero!

  • Joan M Harrington

    May 1, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Hi Tamuria 🙂
    Wonderful story 🙂 So glad you could get this story before he died 🙂 What an inspiration ! Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  • Fascinating story; thanks for sharing it.

  • These are great memories. Thank you for sharing them. I know you are very proud of him.

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