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Robert Mackay was born in Tongue, son of Roderick and Isabella Mackenzie of Erribol Tongue, the War Memorial says that he came from Torrisdale in Skerray. He enlisted in the Territorial Army at Golspie sometime before the outbreak of the First World War, he was then called up by his battalion, 5th (Sutherland & Caithness) Highlanders on mobilisation.

The 5th Seaforths left Wick on the 5 of August 1914, joining the 1 Highland Territorial Division near Bedford England. The 1 Highland Division was renamed the 51 (Highland) Division before it crossed to France in April 1915. (See also A Clarke, Tongue.)

On the 2 May 1915, the 5 Seaforths arrived in France and spent so time in reserve near Richebourg during the 2 Battle of Ypres. On the 15 of May the 51 (Highland) Division was moved close to Estaires and attached to the Indian Corps, for the attack on Festubert.

The attack on Festubert took place over a 3,000yard front after a short artillery bombardment, the attack failed with heavy British losses.

The British suffered a loss of16,000 men against enemy losses of 5,000, this shows that the intention of the British High Command to wear down the enemy by inflicting heavy casualties on him was doomed to fail.

At 6:15pm on the 15 of May 1915, the 5 Seaforth Highlanders charged the enemy line in front of the village of Festubert. The enemy wire was found to be uncut by British artillery fire, German machine-gunners decimated the Highlanders as they bunched up trying to find a way through. The enemy line was finally taken to a depth of six hundred yards, losses were heavy with the 51 Division suffering casualties of 1,500 dead, wounded and missing.

For the next month the Division took over the line near Laventie about 10 kilometres North of Bethune, remaining in this sector of the front until the 26 of July and a transfer South to the Somme. On the 1 of June the 5 Seaforths were stationed in Billets West off the village of La Couture, carrying out routine training in bayonet fighting, weapon handling and gas warfare drills. 

The battalion remained in billets training until June 4 then moved to reserve trenches in front of an area called Indian Village, ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies entered the old German trench with ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies in the old British line. A communication trench was constructed during the day on the 5 and 6 of June with working parties supplied to improve trenches in the front line.

The 7 June was a quiet day with sporadic shelling by enemy guns, very little damage was caused, some repairs were carried to the trench line. On the 8 of June the battalion was shelled for most of the day, the casualties list shows two men were killed and twenty-two wounded, one dying from his wounds later. The Seaforths were relieved that night by the 6 Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to return to billets near La Tombe Willot.

Private Robert Mackay was one of the two soldiers killed by shellfire on the 8 June 1915; he was twenty –two years of age. Skerray War Memorial and the Roll of Honour in Tongue church both say that he was awarded the Military Medal, I have been unable to discover how or when he was honoured with this medal.

SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL EDINBURGH CASTLE Mackay Robert 3641. Private. Killed in action F&F 8-6-15. 5 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION Mackay Private Robert. 3641. 5 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Killed in action 8 June 1915. Age 22. Son of Roderick and Isabella Mackenzie Mackay of Erribol, Tongue, Sutherlandshire. Plot IV. Row E. Grave 11.

Private Robert Mackay 3641, 5 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders is buried in a war grave at WOBURN ABBEY CEMETERY, PAS DE CALAIS, FRANCE.

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