Ninety-nine years ago today, on 21st November 1917, the 51st (Highland) Division was advancing on the village of Fontaine-Notre-Dame. The lead battalions were 1/4th Gordon Highlanders on the right and 1/7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the left. They were drawn apart as they engaged the enemy and the gap between them was filled by Captain Gray’s No. 4 Company of 1/4th Seaforth Highlanders, in which Alan Mackintosh was a platoon commander. They were held up by enemy fire from Cantaing and Cantaing Mill and took cover in a sunken road. Eighteen-year-old eyewitness Roderick Mclennan was the loader in a two man Lewis gun team. He had just replaced the ammunition pan when Alan Mackintosh said ‘Keep your heads down,’ then raised his own to observe the enemy. A bullet entered his mouth and killed him instantly. He is buried at Orival Wood Cemetery.
Lest we see a worse thing than it is to die,
Live ourselves and see our friends cold beneath the sky,
God grant we too be lying there in wind and mud and rain
Before the broken regiments come stumbling back again.
From Before the Summer, written in Corbie, 1916.
The collection A Highland Regiment, in which Before the Summer was published, can be read online here.
The background photo in the image is Lonesome Tree by Eryl/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons Licence.
Today marks one hundred years since the capture of Beaumont Hamel (see note), about which E Alan Mackintosh wrote the following poem:
Captured, November 16th, 1916
Dead men at Beaumont
In the mud and rain,
You that were so warm once,
Flesh and blood and brain,
You've made an end of dying,
Hurts and cold and crying,
And all but quiet lying
Easeful after pain.
Dead men at Beaumont,
Do you dream at all
When the leaves of summer
Ripen to their fall?
Will you walk the heather,
Feel the Northern weather,
Wind and sun together,
Hear the grouse-cock call?
Maybe in the night-time
A shepherd boy will see
Dead men, and ghastly,
Kilted to the knee,
Fresh from new blood-shedding,
With airy footsteps treading,
Hill and field and steading,
Where they used to be.
Nay, not so I see you,
Dead friends of mine;
But like a dying pibroch
From the battle-line
I hear your laughter ringing,
And the sweet songs you're singing,
And the keen words winging
Across the smoke and wine.
So we still shall see you,
Be it peace or war,
Still in all adventures
You shall go before,
And our children dreaming,
Shall see your bayonets gleaming,
Scotland's warriors streaming
Note: The capture of Beaumont Hamel took place over a number of days, and was part of the Battle of the Ancre of 13–18 November, 1916.
It also features in the moving poem From Home (To the Men Who Fell at Beaumont-Hamel), which is dedicated to those who died on 13 November. You can read it online here.
The battle was clearly very important to Mackintosh, making a further appearance in the poem Three Battles, on our website here.
All these poems were later published in the posthumous collection “War, the Liberator”, available to read online here.
The background image is Texture Violet No. 35 by Elné/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.
“If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered.
If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.”
These are the final lines of E Alan Mackintosh's poem A Creed, and are carved upon “The Call 1914”, the Scottish American Memorial in Edinburgh.
Today we remember all those who died in the First World War, and the armistice of 11 November 1918. Fittingly, we will be marking Remembrance Day with the first of our events celebrating the life and work of E Alan Mackintosh and commemorating his death in 1917. We will be participating in You're Wanted, Lads: Frontline Voices from WWI at the Scottish Storytelling Centre. Tickets are now sold out, but we hope to see some of our Edinburgh friends there tonight.
The full text of A Creed is on our Poems page.
The photo used in the image is Poppies by Susanne Nilsson/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.