About noon on 21st November 1917, on the second day of the Battle of Cambrai, a company of the 4th Seaforth Highlanders was inserted between the 4th Gordons and the 7th Argylls who had diverged from each other. They faced the Cantaing Line, which held up the advance. Mackintosh was beside and slightly ahead of a Lewis Gun team, sheltered in Rue de Graincourt. Mackintosh advised the Lewis gunners ‘to keep their heads down’, then raised his own to observe and was struck through the mouth by a bullet.
The late Richard Holmes, military historian, thought In Memoriam, To Private D Sutherland, killed in action in the German trench 16th May 1916, and the others who died ‘one of the most moving First World War poems’ (Tommy, p578). It was read at the Western Front Association’s commemoration at the Cenotaph in 2016. His poetry strides the whole range of human emotions in peace and in war. Like most soldiers in France he knew that death was always imminent.
At his grave on 11.11.2017 these words of his were read:
‘This is our Earth baptized
With the red wine of War.
Horror and courage hand in hand
Shall brood upon the stricken land
In silence ever more.’
Remembrance Day, 11th November 2017, saw a special event in northern France in honour of E Alan Mackintosh. After lunch the UK participants, including Mackintosh's great-nephew, Rev Charlie Cleverly; Councillor Margaret Paterson of Dingwall; and Robert Shanks of the Seaforth Highlanders Association, visited Mackintosh's grave at Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquieres, accompanied by the Maire of Cantaing.
The first formal ceremony was the laying of wreaths at the Cantaing-sur-Escaut village war memorial, where the village children sang the Marseillaise. Then everyone followed the Battle of the Somme Pipe Band, re-enactors and standard bearers to the St.Hubert Chapel on Rue d'Anneux, where the Mackintosh Memorial was inaugurated.
The crowd returned behind the band to the village church where children recited verses of Mackintosh's poems in French, Mackintosh's life was described in French, the local civic leaders spoke and the Battle of the Somme Pipe Band played.
The Mackintosh exhibition, recently seen in Dingwall and Thurso, was on display, with French summaries of the text. A video showed the restoration of the St Hubert chapel.
The afternoon was rounded off with typical French hospitality!
Report from French television, with an appearance from our own Colin Campbell:
Compilation of video and photos from the event:
Video footage from inside the church:
Today we remember the life and death of E Alan Mackintosh, and all those who died in the First World War.
These lines are taken from Mackintosh's poem Ghosts of War, sent from France in October 1917, shortly before he died. It was published in the posthumous collection “War, the Liberator”, available to read online here.
The image is is Poppies by Maggie A-Day/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.