Lieutenant George Lawrence Bisset Mackenzie was born on 4 January 1892 in Toronto, Ontario, to George Allan Mackenzie, KC and his wife Ella Therese (Demuth) Mackenzie. He had one older sister, Katherine Eleanor. Their father was a Barrister, but may be better known now as a gifted Canadian poet. Their mother died in 1886 and in 1911 Mackenzie and his sister were living with their father and an aunt, Edith, in Toronto.
At the age of 17, Mackenzie’s father had served as a Private in the Militia with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada during the Fenian Raids. Their grandfather, Reverend John George Mackenzie, was a well-known clergyman – he was the first Rector of St Paul’s church on Bloor Street in Toronto – and educator who came to Upper Canada from Barbados in 1834. In 1853, Rev Mackenzie received one of the first Masters degrees conferred by Trinity College of the University of Toronto and, in 1868, was appointed Inspector of Grammar Schools for Ontario. Their great-grandfather, Captain John Mackenzie, served as an officer in the Peninsula War in Europe under Lieutenant General Sir Arthur Wellesley and later fought in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812.
Mackenzie was educated in Canada at Upper Canada College and, while travelling with his family, in England and Switzerland. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA and a MA and was admitted as a law student in the Spring of 1913. He was articling under Beverley Jones of Jones & Leonard in Toronto. Before leaving practice, his father had been a partner in that firm.
Mackenzie attempted to enlist with the Infantry in August of 1914, but was rejected because of his eyesight. He then tried to join the Army Medical Corps, but there were no positions available. He ultimately obtained a commission in the Militia with the 12th Regiment York Rangers in the Autumn of 1914. In June of 1915, he and his close friend, and fellow Law Society of Upper Canada student, Lieutenant Errol Platt, enlisted in the CEF with the 35th Battalion. Mackenzie and Platt went overseas together in June of 1915 and in England they were taken on strength with the 23rd Reserve Battalion. In October of 1915, both MacKenzie and Platt were taken on strength with the 3rd (Toronto Regiment) Battalion in France. The 3rd Battalion was part of the First Contingent that went over to France in 1915 and, on the formation of the Canadian Corps, fought with the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. Law Society of Upper Canada students Lieutenant Thomas Herbert Sneath, and Private Henry Kelleher also served in the 3rd Battalion.
Mackenzie was killed in action on 7 June 1916 in the trenches at Hill 60 near Zillebeke. He and a Sergeant Burger were sent to reconnoitre trenches that were temporarily held by the enemy in preparation for an advance. Burger was wounded and Mackenzie brought him safely back. Mackenzie had made his report at the Battalion Headquarters and was returning to his Company when he was killed by a sniper. He was 24.
Mackenzie is buried at Lyssenthoek Military Cemetery (VI.A.17.) in Poperinge, Belgium, near his friend Platt, who had fallen only a few weeks before him.
Mackenzie was also a friend of Lieutenant Maurice Wilkes, who was killed on 15 September 1916. After college, Wilkes and Mackenzie had travelled to England together.
Prior to enlisting with the CEF, Mackenzie served in the Militia with The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada and the 12th Regiment York Rangers. He was also an Army Cadet.* Cadets were taught drill and marksmanship, but were not required to be employed in active service.
During WWI, Mackenzie’s sister Katherine volunteered at a military hospital at Folkestone, England. George Allan Mackenzie moved to England in 1915, no doubt to be closer to his children. He and Katherine lived in Folkestone, which George Allan Mackenzie described as “occupied by a large Canadian colony and thronged, in the late afternoon and evening, by the smart and keen-looking Canadian soldiers from the camps near by” until October of 1917, when they returned to Canada to live in Westmount, Quebec.
There is a published biography of Mackenzie likely written by his father – there is no identified author – titled On the Roll of Honour: G.L.B. Mackenzie, Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Toronto Regiment, 1st Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
*Likely at Upper Canada College
Shea, E. Patrick; Gowling, Lafleur, Henderson (Firm); and Highlanders Foundation, “The Great War Law Student Memorial Project” (2014). Digital Texts. 2.