30 November 2017
After two recent visits to Cambrai for ceremonial events, today has been a day for special personal and private visits. As every 10thyear, this day has started with a dawn visit to the shell-cratered field at the north-east edge of Bonavis Ridge, between Masnieres and Rue des Vignes, where my great-uncle was killed. It is so cratered that it is small wonder few survived this ferocious start of the German counter-attack. The 100th year visit, to the day and the hour of the start of the bombardment, is of course a very special moment.
Our next stop was Marcoing British Cemetery on behalf of the community of Rigolet (Newfoundland), to remember William McKenzie and the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, who was killed 20 November 1917 at the start of the Battle of Cambrai. It was striking that about half of the graves contain an unknown body – sometimes the regiment or the rank had been discerned. A hint at the ferocity of that encounter.
We followed part of the Cambrai Battlefield self-tour created by Philippe Gorzinski of Hotel Beatus, passing thorough small villages and British Cemeteries and memorials too numerous to list, to Flesquieres. Here we aimed to see both the new Museum for Tank D51 “Deborah”, rescued by Philippe (but alas firmly shut), and the grave of poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed 1 November 1917) – where the wreaths we so recently laid remain in place.
We continued on to Louverval – the Cambrai Memorial to the missing. For me, this is the hardest place to go. It always feels so cold. Whilst perhaps that is emotion, today the weather echoed 100 years ago – and snowed. Today the Tank Regiment wreaths lie on the Altar, and behind them - against the semi-circle of panels of the names of the missing – lie the family crosses and wreaths. My wreath for my great-uncle – Cpl Gilbert Howe Coles – lies there from my recent visit, and is joined by so many more. It was good to see several other families here today, and to find from the Book of Remembrance how many have recently made this journey.
The next leg of our journey was west to Bapaume, a place I knew only from the Great War battles, and had never seen. And thence to Hamel, and the extensive Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. Here we could see the extensive network of trenches as well as the Memorial and Museum commemorating the Somme battles. Particularly we sought the panel for the missing, so as to leave a remembrance cross for Lance-Corporal John Shiwak on behalf of his great-niece Inez. Like William, John had volunteered with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and was also killed 20 November 1917.
Having returned with light failing, tomorrow we have further journeys to make – to see EAM’s newly restored Memorial Chapel again, and over to Ors Cemetery for the grave of Wilfred Owen. And perhaps Deborah if we can ...
Linn Phipps, 30 November 2017
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.
by Linn Phipps
I recently visited Rigolet and the Net Loft Museum – in Labrador, Canada – with my husband. I was extremely moved to find that, from this tiny community, four men went off to fight in the First World War and did not return. Incredibly, two died in the Battle of Cambrai November 1917. This was of course very moving, and of particular interest to me as both poet Ewart Alan Mackintosh and my own great-uncle died in the same Battle.
This is a little of the history that I learnt in Rigolet, and I am including some photographs with the museum’s kind permission. The four men who were killed in action all died in 1917, and their names were:
Daniel Groves (b 1892)
William McKenzie (b 1894)
Charles Mesher (b 1893)
John Shiwak (b 1889).
The two men who died in the Battle of Cambrai were Private William McKenzie and Lance Corporal John Shiwak, both of the of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, who were both killed on the same day, 20 November 1917.
These in brief are their stories:
William McKenzie was the son of Finlay James and Jane McKenzie. He was exempt from military service by virtue of being the sole supporter of his aged mother. But peer pressure persuaded him to enlist 11 November 1916. After nearly a year of training in Newfoundland, and the UK, William joined his battalion in France on 6 November 1916. Only fourteen days later, he was killed in action.
John Shiwak was the son of John & Sarah Shiwak of Rigolet. He enlisted 24 July 1915, reaching Rouen 10 July 1916. He greatly missed his distant home, his family and sisters, and his Inuit hunting companions, and longed to return to his huskies and traps. John was killed by a chance shell along the canal near Masnieres, and was described as a matchless marksman and the Regiment’s leading sniper.
William is buried at Marcoing British Cemetery in France. John, like my great-uncle, has no known grave, and his name is enscribed on the Beaumont Hamel Memorial.
In November of this year, my husband and I will be visiting the place where my great-uncle was killed, to mark the day and the hour of his death in the German counter-attack at the end of the Battle of Cambrai. On our visit, we will now also go to Marcoing, to find William’s grave, and Beaumont Hamel Memorial, and leave a remembrance cross.
Today we mark the 101st anniversary of the death of Private David Sutherland, killed in action on May 16, 1916. It was to him that the poem In Memoriam, perhaps E Alan Mackintosh’s best known work, was dedicated.
The poem was published after Mackintosh’s death in A Highland Regiment, available to read online here. The full text may also be found on our Poems page.
The photo is Peat Bank by nz_willowherb/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons licence.
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.