John Donald Mackay was born
in Tongue in 1892, eldest son of Donald Mackay of Torroy, Skerrayand Catherine Ross. They married in Tongue in 1888. He left Skerray prior to the outbreak of war and join the
Edinburgh City Police on the 10th of February 1914, gaining
promotion from constable 5 to 4 class on 4th Aug 1914.
He resigned from the Edinburgh Police in May
1915, enlisting into the Army in Edinburgh alongside David Newlands and John
Angus Mackay. (Who both appear in this book). Once he had completed his
military training he to was posted to the 2 Battalion, Seaforth
Highlanders serving with the 10 Brigade, 4 Division
on the Western Front in France.
The 2 Battalion Seaforth
Highlanders took part in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, fighting
at Beaumont Hamel on July 1 1916 (See John Angus Grant Mackay,
Tubeg). The battalion also fought at High Wood, near Longueval and took part in
the attack on Rainy and Dewdrop Trenches at Les Bouefs. (See D Newlands,
Skerray and Hugh Mackay Torroy).
John was severely wounded during the
fighting on the Somme, returning home to a hospital in England to recover from
his wounds. Once he was fit he spent a period in a workhouse before rejoining
the Army, volunteering to return to his battalion on the battlefield.
He rejoined the 2 Seaforths in
July 1917 as the battalion was moved to Ypres to take part in the latest
offensive and an attempt to break through to the Channel ports. The ground
around Ypres had been turned into a swamp by heavy shelling, destroying the
delicate drainage system in the area.
The opening days of the Third Battle of
Ypres heralded another chapter of death and destruction for the Armies of both
sides. Whole battalions of men disappeared into the mud around Ypres, many
casualties drowned in the water filled shell holes of no-mans land as the
troops fought in the hellish conditions. Battalion attacks were launched
against well-sited enemy bunkers with inter-linked fields of fire, British
soldiers attacking in waist deep mud and water made perfect targets for German
The 2 Seaforth Highlanders less
‘C’ Company, moved up to the village of Aubongite on October the 1
1917. ‘C’ Company was moved straight into the frontline at Eagle Trench with
the remainder of the battalion joining them two days later. The battalion then
began to make preparations for the forthcoming attack with the 1
Hampshire Regiment on the right flank and the Dublin Fusiliers on the left.
At zero hour on the 4 of
October 1917, the attack on Broodseinde to the East of Ypres began, with the
Seaforths moved off one hundred yards behind a creeping barrage. The two
leading platoons in the front assaulting company carried trench boards, to help
them cross the water at the start point in Kangaroo trench.
The attacking troops found it very difficult
to maintain alignment as they crossed no-mans land and were forced North to
find dryer ground. This caused some confusion resulting in the formation of
assaulting troops becoming mixed up, on the left flank the Seaforths walked
into the British artillery barrage and took casualties.
Kangaroo Trench was reached with the
attacking sections still mixed up, the Highlanders got into the enemy trench
and cleared it with the bayonet, passing a total of twenty-five prisoners back
to the troops behind (several of these were killed by an enemy barrage as they
were taken away). The left flank Company met some resistance in heavy fighting taking
few prisoners, Sergeant Major Bain accounting for fifteen of the enemy with his
The battalion assault continued without
heavy casualties until it reached Beek Street trench, where enemy
machine-gunners on the left flank began to inflict heavy casualties on the
Seaforths. A number of officers were lost as fortified houses were taken, the
remaining men took cover in some shell holes, with only two junior officers
left in command
The right hand Company lost heavily as it
took 19 Metre Hill and was unable to keep in touch with the Hampshire Regiment
on their right, only one officer (Captain Wood) and thirty other ranks remained
unwounded. The Company on the right flank sustained heavy casualties and was
unable to support Captain Wood and his men any further.
At 6:20am the 3/10
Middlesex Regiment sent two Companies to advance on Eagle Trench in the enemy
third line to support and to counter-attack any enemy seen, maintaining the
ground already taken. A number of reinforcements were now sent forward as an
attempt was made to consolidate the line and meet any German attempt to re-take
the ground lost.
Later in the day the enemy counter-attacking
19 Metre Hill from the left were repulsed, on the right flank enemy infantry
crossed a road and established themselves on an embankment but were unable to
go any further. Captain Wood in command on 19 Metre Hill was killed at this
time, running to take Lewis Gun ammunition drums to a gun on his right. The two
junior officers in the front line trench were also wounded, leaving the ground
in command of junior NCO’S.
Captain Eggerton of the 3/10
Middlesex Regiment moved his men forward, sustaining heavy casualties as they
did so. Enemy machine-gunners brought heavy fire down on any targets they could
see, the fire coming from high ground on the left making it very hazardous for
runners and carrying parties to operate. The battalion war diary for that day
is full of praise for the men of the 2 Seaforth Highlanders,
especially the ammunition runners who maintained a good supply to the front
At 7:30am battalion headquarters moved up
to Kangaroo trench and found it’s self cut off from the front and rear, the
Headquarters Sergeant and two runners were killed. The Commanding Officer,
finding that he was totally isolated and unable to send or receive any messages
was forced to return to the previous headquarters in Eagle Trench.
The 2 Seaforths held their new
positions until late in the afternoon, orders were then received from 10
Infantry Brigade Headquarters to fall back from 19 Metre Hill to Eagle Trench
and establish a new line. The Seaforths fell back between 5pm and 5:30pm, with
support from the Warwick Regiment on the left and two machine-guns from the 10
Brigade Machine Gun Corps.
The battalion war diary says that nothing of
importance happened on the 5 of October across the Seaforths front
until what was left of the battalion was relieved at 3am, on October 6and
returned to the second line trenches. The 2 Seaforths had achieved
it’s objective and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy but at a heavy cost,
Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries in this area today contain the
remains of many men from the Highlands of Scotland.
Corporal John Donald Mackay was seriously
wounded in the attack on the 4 of October and evacuated by
battalion stretcher-bearer to the Regimental First Aid post. He was then sent
to a Casualty Clearing Station called Dozingham behind the lines close to the
village of Poperinghe, where he died from his wounds aged twenty-five years.
There were two other Casualty Clearing Stations in the same area called
Bandaghem and Mendinghem; you can see from the names the troops who had named
them had a macabre sense of humour.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
Mackay John Donald. S/8136.
(b)Tongue. (e) Edinburgh. Died of Wounds 6-10-17. F&F.
2nd Battalion Seaforth
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Mackay Corporal John Donald
S/8136. 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Died of Wounds on the 6
of October 1917. Son of Donald and Catherine Mackay of Torry, Skerray, Thurso.
Plot VII. Row G. Grave 15.
Corporal John Donald Mackay
S/8135, 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders is buried in a war grave
at DOZINGHAM WAR CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM.
The original grave marker on Cpl J D Mackay's grave in 1917