Eric William Mackay was born
in Slettle Skerray in 1898, son of Daniel Mackenzie Mackay of Strathen Skerray and Jessie/Janet Mckay of Modsary, Skerray. They were married in 1893 in Tongue. In the 1911 census he is listed at home in Strathen with his parents, brother Donald and sister Jane.
enlisted into the Army in Tongue in early 1917, once he had completed his
military training he was sent as a battlefield replacement to the 4
Battalion, (Ross-shire) Seaforth Highlanders in France.
The 4 Seaforths Highlanders
were serving with the 154 Brigade, 51st (Scottish) Division in
Arras preparing to attack the Hindenburg Line east of the city. The British
plan was to take the enemy lines from the flanks and push on toward the town of
Cambrai; the Canadians were to assault Vimy Ridge on the left of the attack.
At zero hour (4:45am) on the 9
of April 1917, General Allenby’s Third Army attacked Vimy Ridge to the North of
Arras. The attack was well planned and rehearsed, Canadian Engineering units
dug huge tunnels some nearly six miles long, so troops could be moved forward
underground in safety for the attack. The tunnels were tall enough and wide
enough for the heavily loaded soldiers to move forward to the frontlines, whole
battalions of men slept in massive underground chambers safe from the constant
British and Canadian Artillery units fired
1,135,000 shells (50,000 tons), on to Vimy Ridge before the attack, the
attacking waves of troops left their trenches following closely behind the
creeping barrage. The British infantry had been trained to stay close to the
barrage so that the German defenders had no time to man their machine-guns.
The 4 Battalion Seaforth
Highlanders were ordered to attack and capture the enemy trenches to the right
of Vimy Ridge, from Grid Reference A.23. a. 56 to A.23.b.05. The attack would
be made in close contact with the 5 Canadian Infantry on the left
flank and the 1/9 Royal Scots on the right.
At zero hour (4:45am) the battalion moved
off in three waves, the first wave captured the enemy front line trenches with
no casualties. The second wave moved through the first and immediately coming
under heavy enemy machine-gun fire, firing through the creeping barrage in
front of the battalion. All the officers in Number 4 Company became casualties
and the advance was stopped.
Captain Will led Number 1 Company forward and
when British artillery obliterated the German second line, he took his men on
and into the objective, two machine-guns which had been holding up the advance
were put out of action by the bombing platoon. The battalion proceeded to bomb
its way forward and up the trench with opposition being encountered along the
way; Lewis gunners came into action clearing the way forward several times.
At 7:15am the lead company made contact
with the Canadians at a trench junction, the position was then consolidated and
reports on casualties sent to battalion headquarters. Captain Will withdrew his
Company back to the German First line at 8:15am and began to dig in on the
On the left flank Number 3 Company attacked
the Lille Road Salient from a tunnel, with a party of bombers and one Lewis Gun
team emerging from an exit close to the enemy positions. A second party emerged
from an exit thirty yards to the left; both parties encountered no opposition
and were at once withdrawn back into the tunnels.
The remainder of the enemy front gave no
more real trouble, heavy fighting did occur over on the left and it was decided
the two platoons detailed for this operation were insufficient and two more
platoons were led forward by their officers. Fifty Germans were seen in an area
outside the barrage table, they fought hard until Canadian troops worked around
behind them. Two officers and eleven men
from the 4 Seaforths were also killed at this point.
Number 3 Company was withdrawn back into
the tunnels; Company headquarters remaining in communications with 154
Brigade at all times. Lt Scott toured the battalion front at 8:15am to check on
the progress made so far and to ensure the men were digging in to consolidate
the ground taken. Later in the morning thirty casualties were caused in the
frontline by enemy 5.9inch shells.
The 4 Seaforths remained in
the German dugouts in support of the 4 Battalion Gordon
Highlanders through out the day on April the 10. Enemy artillery
was completely inactive as parts of the battalion were relieved by troops from
the 153 Brigade and moved back into the old German line.
The attack on Vimy Ridge had been
outstanding success, the British and Canadians lost 11,000 casualties of which
3,598 were killed. The capture of this prominent position and the loss of 4,000
men as prisoners, 54 artillery guns, 104 trench mortars and 124 machine-guns
dealt the German High Command a severe blow.
The 4 Seaforth Highlanders
took one hundred and sixty-seven prisoners, two machine guns and six trench
mortars during the attack on Vimy Ridge, the battalion lost five officers and
fifty-nine other ranks killed in action. Four officers and one hundred and
fifty-one other ranks were wounded; seven other ranks were posted as missing.
Private Eric Mackay was one of those killed
in action on the 9 of April 1917; he was nineteen years of age and
had only been at the front in France for two months.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
Mackay Eric William, 241831.
Private. Killed in Action. F&F 10-4-17.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Private Eric William Mackay
241831 4 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders is buried in a war grave
at AUBIGNY COMMUNAL CEMETERY, PAS DE CALAIS, FRANCE.