James Robert Mackenzie was born in Ardgay,
Ross-shire he was the son of Mr and Mrs John Mackenzie the owners of Tongue
Hotel, Tongue. His father employed him at Tongue Hotel as a car
driver, on the Tongue to Lairg and Tongue to Thurso routes. James was known to
his family and friends as Hamish.
In 1916 he joined the Royal Engineers
Wireless Section, once he had completed his military training he was sent to
France in early 1917. The Royal Engineers Wireless Section was the forerunner
of the modern British Army Royal Corps of Signals. The signals units were
equipped with huge radio sets, called the BF (British Field) trench set. The
radio required three men to carry them, under battlefield conditions six men
were required to move the radio and its entire ancillary equipment.
In December 1917, Hamish was home on leave
in Tongue, before he returned to his unit in the front lines in France.
On the 21 of March 1918 the German Army
launched Operation ‘Michael’, against the British lines on the 1916 Somme battlefield. The German attack was launched at
4:30am with the sudden crash 4,000 guns firing a heavy barrage on to the
British frontline. Five hours behind the bombardment enemy ‘Stormtroopers’
battalions hit the British lines like a battering ram, attempting to force
their way through.
first day of the offensive it looked like this might happen, as the enemy broke
through the thinly held line and into the British rear area. The 5
Army, on the Somme suffered a disaster and had
to retire; whole regiments of British soldiers disappeared as the
‘Stormtroopers’ attacked using new tactics where they bypassed strongly held
losses on day one were 38,500 men of which 7,500 were killed; 5
Army alone lost 382 guns, only the arrival of French support troops stopped the
retreat. The German High Command also made some serious mistakes, which robbed
them of the success they required. Enemy units had no armoured cars, no
motorised machine gunners or cavalry available to pursue the retreating British
troops, the advance had to proceed at infantry pace. The ‘Stormtroopers’ soon
began to take heavy losses as the British defence stiffened; casualties the German
High Command could not replace with fresh troops.
British Army now fought with its ‘back to the wall’ and were soon exhausted by
the heavy enemy attacks, some parts of the line was only held by scratch units
of cooks, drivers and other non-combatants. These men were rushed forward from
rear areas to plug gaps in the line; most of them had joined the army never
expecting to meet the enemy with a fixed bayonet.
Private James Robert
Mackenzie was killed in action when he volunteered for a last stand attack
launched on March 26; the attack was to finally stop the German
onslaught. He was told that those men who volunteered for the attack would not
survive, he was killed in action at the age of 20 as his unit of volunteer’s
advanced towards the enemy line to try and stem a German offensive.
His brother Donald Ian Mackenzie was a
piper in the Scots Guards; he survived the war and returned to Tongue. His
Uncle Peter from the Oykell Hotel, Oykell Bridge near Lairg who served in the Canadian Forces, died in Tongue Hotel in May 1918 from the wounds and the effects of gas. He had fought
in France for three years before he was wounded; he was buried at Tomnahurich
cemetery in Inverness with full military honours.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
James Robert. (b)Ardgay, Ross-shire. 182395. Sapper. Killed in action. F&F.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Sapper James Robert. 182395. Fifth Army Wireless Company, Royal Engineers.
30 March 1918.
Sapper James (Hamish) Robert
Mackenzie, 182395, 5 Army Wireless Company Royal Engineers has no
known grave and is remembered on the POZIERIES MEMORIAL, SOMME, FRANCE.