Murdo Mackay was born in Barony
Lanarkshire, the second son of Alexander and Rosina Mackay of 7 Drum Terrace,
High Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire. He was employed beside his father and two
brothers, Alexander and James at the Bonnybridge Silica and Fireclay, Co Ltd.
He enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland
Highlanders in October 1915 at Falkirk, serving alongside other men from Tongue
(See Peter Burr, Dunvarrich and Magnus Mackay, Scullomie). He also served
alongside his cousin William Mackay from Glasgow, the story of his fellow
Argylls appear elsewhere in this book.
Murdo was sent for basic military training to the 13
(Training) Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders stationed in Dorking,
In early 1916, Murdo was on leave and came
to Skerray with his brother Alexander to visit their Aunt Mrs Fairlie Mackay in
Achtoty. Mrs Mackay had just been informed that her husband, Gunner Robert
Mackay had been drowned at sea whilst serving with the Royal Naval Reserve.
Murdo and Alexander remained in Skerray for their Uncle Roberts funeral at
Torrisdale burial ground, Murdo then returned to his unit. (Robert Mackays
story also appears on this site).
He was sent overseas in the early summer of
1916, joining the 11 Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
serving with the 45 Brigade of the 15(Scottish)
Division in France. The 15 Division was on the Somme preparing to
take part in the big push planned for July 1916, which the British High Command
hoped would end the war.
The 15 (Scottish) Division
spent the winter of 1915-16 close to Loos, holding the Hulluch and Hohenzollern
sectors of the line. (See Magnus Mackay, Scullomie). In July 1916 the 11
Argylls were ordered to move to reserve trenches on the Somme and prepare for
action, the battalion then relieved the 23 Division at Pozieres on
the 8 of August.
On August 15 1916 the 11
Argylls were at Contalmaison supplying working parties and preparing for a new
stint in the trenches. The battalion had received a new draft of 100 men on the
16 and by the 18 all preparations for the move to the
front had been made. On the night of August the 19 the 11
Argylls relieved the 10 Royal Scots under heavy shellfire at
At 5pm on August 20, ‘D’
Company filed through a barricade at the head of Welsh Sap trench and entered
Sanderson Trench. No enemy opposition was met as the battalion consolidated its
new positions and prepared to dig a new trench to the Switch Line for a machine
gun post. (See also Peter Burr, Tongue.)
Lieutenant Hutcheson was sent out to
reconnoitre the ground in front and missed his bearing, as he was returning to
the British lines he was shot by a sniper and severely wounded. He managed to
reach a shell hole where Murdo Mackay joined him and began to treat the wounded
officer, caring for him until daybreak the next day.
For his outstanding heroism during the night
and early morning of the 21 of August 1916, Private Murdo Mackay
was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His citation reads -“ For
conspicuous gallantry in remaining all night within 50 yards of the enemy, with
Lt J.H. Hutcheson who had been shot by a sniper. At daylight Private Mackay
crawled back from shell hole to shell hole to fetch assistance. He then
returned to rescue Lt Hitchison with 2 Lt G Beattie and 2
Lt R Irvine, the three rescuers dragging the injured officer back to the
British line on a ground sheet. This action took a total of 5 hours under enemy
fire at close range.” He also received the French medal Croix De Geurre and the
Russian Order of St George Class 3 for his bravery.
The 11 Argylls remained in the
front line until Tuesday the 22 of August consolidating their
positions, building strong points and sniping. The battalion were relieved by
the 6/7 Royal Scots Fusiliers in the afternoon of 22,
returning to Brigade Reserve at the Cutting and Shelter Wood to the North of
The battalion remained in this sector of
line carrying out work details, trench duties and consolidation of the trenches
for the next three weeks. New trenches
were constructed in front off
Martinpuich and assault positions constructed, the British now aimed to capture
more of the enemy line in this sector. The Argylls also received drafts of men
to replace the losses of the previous attack, the battalion now began to build
up and prepare for the next assault on the enemy lines.
In early September the 11 Argylls
were moved to the village of Lavieville behind Albert to carry out training,
receive new drafts and reorganise specialist squads. Lewis gunners were trained
and men were sent to the companies to replace battlefield losses, Murdo and his
cousin William were now with the bombing platoon of ‘C’ Company.
On the 9 of September the
battalion began to train for forthcoming operations in the front line, the 11
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were tasked to attack and take the village of
Martinpuich. The assault would be made in four waves, once the village was
taken the battalion would consolidate its new position on the railway
embankment to the North of the village.
The Argylls moved off up the Amiens to
Albert road on September the 12 to become the Divisional Reserve
Battalion, then relieve the 2/10 Gordons in Brigade
Reserve near Shelter Wood. Two Companies were in an area of trenches called the
Cutting, with two Companies at Shelter Wood , Battalion Headquarters was under
the road at Peake Wood.
On the morning of the 14 as
the battalion prepared to move forward to assault positions all surplus papers,
document, maps etc were handed over to the Quarter Master. The battalion then
began to move into the front at 8pm, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were placed on the
right occupying Ham and Liver Trench. ‘C’ Company was in support of ‘A’ in
Sanderson Trench with ‘D’ Company in Bacon and Egg Trench; Battalion
Headquarters was at the junction of 6 Avenue and Welch Avenue(See
The battalion was in position by 11:30pm
with constant artillery covering fire, at 1am an officer and several men were
killed when a British bombardment fell short. At 6:20am(zero hour) the
artillery began to quicken its fire up to intense, as they did the first wave
of attacking Argylls moved quickly over no-mans land and assaulted Bottom
The attackers met with little opposition
as they swept on and took possession of Tangle Trench, bombing platoons now
began to assault Tangle North and South. Some resistance was met within the
Cutting where several large and deep dugouts were seen to be situated, one well
directed hand grenade exploded in an enemy bomb store. When the enemy bomb
store blew up the occupants of the neighbouring dugouts quickly surrendered.
By 7am, the left and centre of the
battalion had reached its objective on the railway embankment and began to dig
in. Casualties so far were slight and telephone communications had been
established, all reports being quickly passed back.
9am the 6 Cameron Highlanders attacked Martinpuich as a tank
cleared the enemy from Bottom Trench to Tangle Trench; the Gordon Highlanders
then cleared the village of enemy troops by 2pm. Cameron Highlander casualties
were only slight as the village was cleared; they then pushed on to Push Alley
Trench to consolidate and dig in. The tank had managed to reach the Southwest
edge of Martinpuich before returning at midday for fuel; it then returned in
the evening and dropped ammunition at the edge of the village.
The 11 Argylls came under
heavy shellfire as the enemy bombarded the ground between Tangle Trench and the
Cutting. A few hidden German snipers and some isolated machine-guns caused some
casualties, all wounded men were collected by German prisoners on stretchers
and carried to the Field Ambulance. At 4:30pm part of ‘C’ Company moved forward
to assist in holding the left position of the line, all was quiet except for
sporadic 4.2 and5.9-inch shell-fire on the battalion rear lines.
The night of September 15/16
was quiet as the 11 Argylls dug in on the railway line
constructing a formidable trench system. Work on the consolidation of the line
continued with the construction of bomb and small arms ammunition stores,
rations and water was issued as it arrived in the front lines.
Saturday September 16 was a
fine day with the 11 Argylls coming under occasional shellfire,
Martinpuich suffered a heavy barrage between 12noon and 6pm at intervals of one
hour. British aircraft were very active warding off any hostile aerial
observation; one enemy balloon was set on fire and rapidly hauled down. The
situation remained unchanged on the 17 until 8pm, when orders were
received to hand over the line to the 8 Seaforth Highlanders and pull
back to Gourlay Trench
At 2pm on the 18 of September
1916 the 11 Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlander were
relieved in Gourlay Trench by the 12 Battalion Durham Light
Infantry. The Argylls then marched back in the pouring rain to billets at
Millencourt via Fricourt and Albert, arriving soaked through in Millencourt at
Private Murdo Mackay and his cousin
William were both killed in action on the 15 September 1916; Murdo
was killed as he went forward to assist a wounded man. The 11
Argylls casualties were six officers killed, five were wounded, forty-five
other ranks were killed, thirty missing and two hundred and forty-five were
wounded. One of the company officers wrote to the family of Murdo Mackay saying
that “his coolness under fire was a great inspiration to his comrades and that
Private Mackay and his cousin William were his two best men”. (William Mackay's
story appears on this site).
In 1917 Mr Alexander Mackay was invited to
Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh where the Lord High Commissioner for Scotland
presented him with his son Private Murdo Mackays medals. The Falkirk Herald
reported that “in handing over the medals to Mr Mackay, the Duke sympathised
with him in the loss of his son remarking that he would have had greater
pleasure presenting the decorations to the soldier himself.”
Murdo Mackay lost two brothers during
World War One, Alexander was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme
and James killed in action in Gallipoli.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL
D.C.M. (b) Barony Lanarkshire. S/6048. Private. Killed in action F&F
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES
Mackay Private Murdoch.
S/6048. D.C.M. 11 Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 15
September 1916. Age 21. Son of Alexander and Rosina Mackay of 7 Drum Terrace,
High Bonnybridge Stirlingshire. Pier and Face 15.
Private Murdoch Mackay 6048,
11 Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders has no known grave
and is remembered on the THIEPVAL MEMORIAL, SOMME, FRANCE.