Of the eight Australian Independent Companies formed in the first half of the Second World War, only one, the 2/7th, is not represented by a formal, published unit history. This means that not only is there no substantial narrative – aside from occasional personal anecdotes available on internet sites such as that of the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment or in old copies of one of the state commando association newsletters – of the 2/7th’s training and active campaigns, but there exists also a deficit regarding the squadron’s leadership. Lacking the depth that comes from a published history, what follows is a dry rendition of the career of the first commander of the 2/7th Australian Independent Company, Fergus MacAdie D.S.O., C.B.E., M.I.D.
Thomas Fergus Buchanan MacAdie was born in Williamstown, Victoria on the 22nd of September, 1919, to Captain Thomas Fergus MacAdie and Amelia Mary Buchanan. Captain T.F. MacAdie’s parents hailed from the Okney Islands, and prior to marrying Amelia – more commonly known as ‘Milly’ – he himself was master of the vessel R.M.S. Peregrine, which conveyed mail between Brisbane and Townsville, Queensland.
Young Fergus was one of five siblings, two of whom died young: one at just 11 days and the other aged 10 years, both boys. In 1930, young Fergus passed his Qualifying Certificate and obtained a ‘Thomas Henderson Jubilee Scholarship’ at the Central State School in Williamstown. He must have been a successful student, for he was able to gain admission to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra, from which he graduated and was commissioned in the rank of lieutenant in the Australian Staff Corps in 1940, not long after the beginning of the Second World War.
One of the Australian Official Historians of the War, Dudley McCarthy, later described MacAdie as “well over 6 feet tall, thin and strangely hawk-like, with curiously flecked eyes set deep above a high-bridged nose.”
His first active command, for which he was promoted to the rank of Temporary Major, was the 2/7th Australian Independent Company, one of eight such irregular units trained in the remote wilderness of Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, where MacAdie had been an instructor at the Guerilla Warfare School.
Just under 300 strong, the 2/7th arrived at Port Moresby, Papua on the 4th of October, 1942, and several days later was flown to Wau, in the Bulolo Valley, New Guinea. There MacAdie’s men were to reinforce a small command called Kanga Force, the main elements of which then consisted of No.5 Australian Independent Company, and the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles, a lightly armed territorial unit of men who had worked in the region pre-war. Kanga’s role since the Japanese occupied the coastal towns of Lae and Salamaua in early March of that year, had been mostly to watch and gather intelligence, though they had staged several raids against enemy positions, two of which were very successful.
MacAdie’s company remained in the general area until late May, 1943, having patrolled extensively and participated in the Second Raid on Mubo, the most forward Japanese outpost line in the Salamaua area, and then skirmished ‘behind the enemy line’ during the unsuccessful Japanese regimental-sized assault on Wau. #
Having flown from the Bulolo Valley to Port Moresby, there was, however, to be no rest for MacAdie and the 2/7th, for almost immediately they were re-emplaned and flown to Bena Bena in the New Guinea Highlands where they relieved a small element of the 2/7th Australian Infantry Battalion under Lt. Rooke. Bena Force had been roaming the highlands since January, watching for enemy movement from the north coast of New Guinea via the Ramu and thence Markham Valleys, the ‘back door’ route to the Lae-Wau-Salamaua area being fought for by the 3rd Australian Division which had assumed control of operations from Kanga Force in late April.
Promoted to lieutenant-colonel, MacAdie assumed command of Bena Force (command of the 2/7th Ind. Coy. passed to Captain F.J. Lomas), and with the addition of the 2/2nd Australian Independent Company (commanded by Major C.G. Laidlaw D.S.O.), was able to maintain far-flung outposts to give advanced warning of enemy movements from their growing north-coast base area – at Madang, for example. In mid July, Bena Force numbered 615 personnel, including small support detachments.
As Australian forces had occupied Lae and Salamaua in September and began pushing both along the coast of the Huon Peninsula and westward up the Ramu Valley, the need for Bena Force decreased, and the force itself ceased to exist on the 10th of November, 1943. At the end, MacAdie was in command of just over 1100 personnel, with Bena Force having sustained 33 casualties including 12 killed and 5 missing, and having killed at least 230 Japanese.
In December, 1943, MacAdie was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) for his services commanding the 2/7th at both Wau and with Bena Force. He was also Mentioned in Despatches and received a Commendation from the Fifth U.S. Air Force.”
After commanding Bena Force, MacAdie returned to Australia and served in staff positions, including as a GSO (1) at H.Q. 1 Aust. Corps before assuming command of the 3rd New Guinea Infantry Battalion in 1945.
On a personal note, MacAdie became engaged in December, 1944, but the marriage seems not to have taken place, for reasons now unknown.
Posted at Army Headquarters after the war, MacAdie took command of the 67th Australian Infantry Battalion in Japan in March, 1947. The 67th comprised one of three battalions in the Australian component of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force (BCOF).
In Tokyo in June, 1948, he married Colleen Clay of Alabama, the United States, the couple afterwards riding through the city in the Imperial Coach that had once belonged to Emperor Hirohito himself.” Two months later, MacAdie relinquished command of the 67th.
After returning to Australia, the MacAdies gave birth to a daughter, Catherine.
Serving at the 3rd Division Headquarters in Melbourne, MacAdie was then transferred to the Australian Joint Services Staff in Washington D.C. where he “had the opportunity to attend functions held by the U.S. Army at West Point and Fort Knox.” This was followed by a period as the Australian Service Attache in Saigon.
Back in Australia again, in 1957 he was appointed the Director of Military Intelligence at Army Headquarters, attended the Imperial Defence College in the United Kingdom in ’63, was the Director of Military Operations and Plans in ’65, and then Chief of Staff at Eastern Command, Sydney.”
After serving for almost 30 years, MacAdie retired – due to ‘ill health’ which was not elaborated upon – from the Army on the 10th of October, 1967, and several months later was awarded a C.B.E. in the 1968 New Year’s Honours List. Had he been able to continue his military career, he would have, according to the later Chief of the General Staff, Sir Mervyn Brogan, “been appointed to the most senior ranks.”
Immediately following his retirement from the army, MacAdie joined the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, beginning as a clerk and then, in April 1972 taking a role as counsellor (atomic energy) at the Australian Embassy in Paris, France. On the 21st of January the following year, however, MacAdie died.
[References will be provided upon request].
# I intend to present a brief summary of the 2/7th Independent Company’s service in the Wau, New Guinea, campaign in the near future, so please stay tuned.