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.
He 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 enemy shelling.
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 captured line.
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.