New research has revealed that a north Queensland family holds an amazing military record that until now was unknown since the end of the Second World War. But then there are their horse racing scandals. I told a version of this story live on West Bremer Radio.
The incredible McComiskie family from Cordelia near Ingham in North Queensland had at least eleven children. Six of them served in the Australian army during the Second World War. This number alone is not a record – the most siblings to have served from one family currently known by the Australian War Memorial is the seven from the Hutchins and Pritchard families.
While members of those families were killed during the war, all of the six McComiskie men proved to be impervious to whatever was thrown at them – absolutely nothing could keep them down.
First there was John McComiskie. He served as a Warrant Officer with the 12th Infantry Battalion. At first he fought in Egypt where he was shot by the Germans, then he fought in New Guinea where he was shot by the Japanese. The family story is that on one of those occasions, John threw himself on top of a mate to protect him from a sniper, only to be shot himself. The bullet passed through the top of his shoulder. When John came home he went to live in Warwick.
The second brother was Bob McComiskie. He served as a private with the 15th Battalion and was also wounded in action and he too survived.
Then there was Bill McComiskie. Bill served as a private. However, it was after the war when he cheated death and was awarded a bronze medal for bravery by the Royal Humane Society. What he did was swim two hundred yards in a strong current to save the life of a fisherman who had fallen into the sea.
Bill’s mother accepted his award from the Queensland governor Sir John Lavarack who himself was a hero. During the First World War, Sir John was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and French Croix de guerre, and was Mentioned in Despatches three times.
The fourth brother to serve was George McComiskie. George was as a private with the 3rd Australian Armoured Division. Later in 1950, he was hit by a car on Mary Street in Brisbane and suffered a compound fracture of the skull and severe lacerations. But he survived and just nine months later was off to fight again, this time to the Korean War.
The fifth brother was Herbie McComiskie. He served as a private with the 31st Battalion. Before the war, Herbie narrowly escaped serious injury when the Herbert River was in flood and he dropped the ferry’s anchor and badly lacerated his foot. He was successfully treated by the ambulance.
Finally, there was Donnie McComiskie. Donnie served as a private with his brother Bob in the 15th Battalion. He trained at Redbank in Ipswich and went to the Middle East where he too was wounded in action. The Germans shot him through the wrist. He recovered and then served on Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. It was on Morotai that the last confirmed Japanese holdout from the war surrendered in 1974 which was almost thirty years after the war actually ended.
Donnie brought back to Australia from his service in Egypt a bracelet that was made out of sterling silver sixpences and threepences. They had been hand-cut out around the kangaroo and emu and other features on the coins. Sadly the family lost this priceless memento in a robbery a few years ago.
All six McComiskie brothers survived. That’s an Australian record for the Second World War. It’s an Australian record that until now was unknown to researchers at the Australian War Memorial. No other family had more siblings come home.
However, there were also two McComiskie boys who did not serve.
One of the brothers was the youngest Ronnie McComiskie. Ironically for the family’s perfect wartime survival record, Ronnie was tragically struck by a car and killed in Townsville when he was just nine-years-old.
Then there was the oldest brother Hugh McComiskie. The McComiskie family were wee Scotsman and Hugh’s children were no different, becoming jockeys and horse trainers. In fact, one of Hugh’s descendants is a strapper in Melbourne today.
But one of Hugh’s sons was Bruce McComiskie. Bruce was a professional jockey. In 1950 he was a ring-in for an amateur race. He won the race in a canter but was disqualified and fined £20. The horse owner was warned off racetracks for five years, and the instigator for ten years.
The horse owner was the Toowoomba owner and trainer Harry Dukes. In his day, Dukes was the number one enigma of the Australian Turf. He was well-known as the owner and trainer of Pamelus which was one of Queensland’s greatest racehorses and one-time hot favourite for the Caulfield Cup. Along with Bruce McComiskie’s ring-in jockey scandal, Dukes was banned when his champion Pamelus ran second in the Doomben Stakes but had clearly been held back.
There was another McComiskie son. Back in 1969, the horse Big Philou (top picture) was the Caulfield Cup winner and raging hot favourite for the Melbourne Cup. The horse was trained by none other than the cups king Bart Cummings. But Big Philou was nobbled before the race and was scratched just thirty-nine minutes prior to the start. Champion jockey Roy Higgins insisted that the horse was a certainty to win. It’s the most notorious doping scandal in Australian racing history. In a move that rocked the turf world, the owner of Big Philou took the horse away from Cummings and sent him to be trained instead by former jockey Charlie McComiskie. Charlie was another of Hugh’s sons.
So until now, the Australian War Memorial did not know about the record six McComiskie brothers who came home from the Second World War. And they probably don’t want to know about the family of a seventh brother and their racing stories.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD ON RADIO.
Big Philou – Herald Sun, Melbourne, 18th March 2014.
Donald and George McComiskie with their parents – McComiskie family collection, Linda Bull.
Bronze Medal by the Royal Humane Society – Spink and Son 2022.
Charlie and Bruce McComiskie galloping stablemates at Caulfield – Herald, Melbourne, 17th January 1946, page 16.