Written by Norman Cramp, Director of the Darwin Military Museum.
McDonald, Boyle and several others were farewelled at the Darwin Town Hall and left on the S.S. Taiyuan on 4th March 1915 to enlist. They travelled to Townsville, Queensland, to enlist, as the Commonwealth government did not allow NT men to enlist at that time and had not established a recruitment centre in the NT.
He returned to Australia on 21st March 1919 and was discharged from the AIF on 9th July 1919. He returned to Darwin in June that year and became the President of the Darwin RSL in September 1919. On the 22nd of that month he received his DCM from the Director, Northern Territory, Mr. H.E. Carey, at a ceremony in the Darwin Town Hall. He was still residing in Darwin in September 1920, but left for a period and was residing at Grenfell, NSW, in December of that year.
The date of his return to Darwin is unknown, but it is known that he became the Caretaker of the Darwin RSL Club in Smith Street in 1946. Later his health started to fail and he was diagnosed as suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis and admitted to hospital in Adelaide. Returning to the Territory he went to live in Pine Creek and died there on 21st November 1951. He was later buried in Katherine.
McDonald's grave in the Katherine Pioneer Cemetery is marked with a headstone on which is inscribed: ‘Brother James Michael McDonald K.O.M., founder of Lodge Paraparap 207 R.A.0.B. G.A.B. Lest we forget.’
At the time of his award of the DCM, McDonald was granted a one-off payment of £20 and was later supported by a war service pension with an additional six pence per day for being a DCM recipient.
McDonald died penniless in a small tin lined hut in Pine Creek. He is commemorated on the Pine Creek War Memorial which was dedicated at a ceremony in that town on 21st April 1989, but the whereabouts of his service medals is unknown.