Macdonald story retold from half a world away
A Marlborough Express article by John Alexander on July 6 detailing a Wellington ceremony honouring the feats of Marlborough rowers John Hoani "Jack" Macdonald and Lawrence "Jumbo" Woodgate-Jackson prompted an interesting response from afar.
Late last month, at a ceremony co-ordinated by Maori Tourism in conjunction with the New Zealand Olympic Committee, the 1932 Los Angeles Games oarsmen were recognised as this country's first Maori Olympians.
With information gathered from various sources, the story stated: "One of New Zealand's most famous sportsmen, MacDonald was also a New Zealand Maori and South Island rugby rep, played rugby for England, rugby league for the World 13 from 1936-39 out of the Huddersfield and Keighley clubs and won the Wimbledon mixed doubles tennis title. He had to default the tennis title because he was playing professional rugby league, and tennis was amateur back then."
After reading the report on the duo's exploits, Jack Macdonald's nephew Peter Macdonald got in touch from London to make some minor corrections and offer some more insight into his uncle's achievements.
He writes: "[Uncle Jack] was a great sportsman, and I am thrilled that he is being honoured again. It is a pity he didn't get those honours when he was still alive. I have done a lot of research on his sporting career, both here in England and New Zealand. I submitted a lot of archive material, including photos and newspaper reports which were handed down from my late father, Enoka Macdonald, for Jack's induction into the Maori Sports Awards Hall of Fame. As time has gone on, there have been quite a lot of myths, half-truths, and out and out fiction written about Jack. Unfortunately, John's article has used material, which I have seen before and is inaccurate.
"Jack may have won a Wimble don mixed doubles title, but it was nothing to do with the All England Championships.
"They have no record of a John Macdonald ever playing there after the war. It was services tennis that Jack played during the war. The professional code was relaxed during the war and that's how he was able to play tennis and rugby for England in a services international. Services tennis during the war was played at Wimbledon, Surbiton and several other clubs around London, and was mainly Commonwealth and US servicemen and servicewomen based in London. Another myth about Jack is that he introduced Bob Falkenburg (1948 Wimbledon singles champion) to Wimbledon and regularly practised with him. He didn't, but did play services tennis with Bob's brother Tom.
Incidentally, I recently found a photo of my mother and father sitting with Jack at centre court Wimbledon during the 1948 men's singles final between Bob Falken burg and Jack Bromwich.
"The Marlborough Macdonald sporting dynasty is a formidable one which continues today. In John's article he described Leon MacDonald as a distant relative to Jack. In fact, Leon is a grand-nephew, not too distant!
"Jack should be in the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, and he should get there on his own merits . . . I wouldn't want any boost to his entry based on myths that were probably word-of-mouth distortions within the family that may have been embellished from letters he wrote home from England to his mother Polly (my grandmother). A final point is the variation in the spelling of Macdonald. All of Jack's brothers and sisters were made to spell their name with a lower case "d" by their mother.
"It may well be that many of their children now choose a different variation. Jack, along with my Dad and cousin Mugwi always adhered to grandma's wishes. Small point, I know."
Many thanks to Peter for his clarification. The MacDonald/Macdonald clan are arguably this province's foremost sporting family and Jack's exploits are much revered. As Peter says, his uncle is worthy of inclusion in the NZ Sports Hall of Fame, but only on his merits.
I'm sure the great sportsman would never have wanted it any other way.
- The Marlborough Express