Hugh McKenzie was born in Liverpool, on 5 December 1885. He came to Canada in 1911 and settled in North Bay, Ontario with his wife Marjorie. An original, he enlisted in Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry as a private soldier in August 1914. He became an expert machine gunner. As a corporal, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal while leading his machine gun section.
Promotion followed quickly. In September 1916 he was promoted Sergeant and a year later became a Company Sergeant Major. On January 28, 1917, he was commissioned in the field and seconded to the 7th Brigade Machine Gun Company. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre from the French government.