James Alaister C MacKay – Seaforth Highlanders
By the 22nd of July 1916, the Battle of the Somme was 22 days old. Shortly after the 22nd, the family of J Alaister Culbard Mackay would receive the news that they had dreaded.
James Alastair Culbard Mackay was born in 1891 in Rathven, Banffshire, the son of Robert Young Mackay and his wife, Edith Culbard. His father Robert had been the Procurator Fiscal for Dumfriesshire – later to be the same in Banffshire and died in 1929. From the collection of family memorials in Linkwood Cemetery, Elgin, so much can be learnt about the Young family and the people who they married. Two large ornate memorial stones are attached to the boundary wall, with several others forming an ‘honour guard’.
It appears that one of the Mackay’s, a doctor, lived at The Tower, Elgin, and probably ran his practice from the building. My parents were married in the building in the early 1950s when the building was a hotel. The Doctor Mackay, according to Castleuk.net, remodelled the house and all that remains of the original building is the three-story 1600 tower.
At the time the 1901 census was taken, James was 9-years-old, his younger brother Robert had been born 14 days earlier. Could it have been due to the recent birth that Edith’s sister Alice was in the house on the census night? Also at 6 Seaview, Buckie was a visitor (sick nurse), housemaid and cook. His father Robert, as a solicitor and would, had the means to pay for the extra staff.
James joined the army, initially as a Lieutenant in the 6th Seaforth Highlanders before being promoted to the rank of Captain. The 1/6th Battalion was a Territorial Force known as the Morayshire Battalion. This Battalion landed in France in May 1915 as part of the 51st (Highland Division) – the same period that James landed in France.
As James as an officer, had no service number – it was not until he 2nd World War that a soldier retained his service number after a transfer and an officer had a serial number. Due to James being an officer, his service records are available to view at the National Archives, Kew. Other records appertaining to James service can also be found at the NA or on many pay-per-view websites. One of the available records is his Medal Card which tells that he was eligible for the 1915 Star, Victory and British Medals. Unusually enough, there is a small amount of information on the reverse of the card – application dates for his father and his father’s address (Procurator Fiscals Office, Dumfries. Home, Mayfield, Welltown, Dumfries).
The medals previously mentioned were not the only ones given to James. In early June 1916 in the King Birthday Honour List – His Majesty, the King had been graciously pleased to approve the award (Military Cross) for the Distinguished Service in the Field.
The 51st Division took part in defence of Ypres during the late spring of 1915 before moving to an area north of the River Somme where they relieved the French near Hamel. By now, the 51st were starting to build a reputation for themselves as a hard-fighting lot! In 1916 they took part in attacks on High Wood and the Battle of Ancre in which the 51st captured Beaumont Hamel. During this time they captured over 2000 prisoners. It was more than likely during the battle that James died. The cemetery where he rests is only a short distance from the River Somme and the centre of Ancre. The CWGC cemetery (La Neuville British Cemetery) is slightly off the beaten track, accessible via the Route de Daours, Corbie. Surrounded by fields, the cemetery is the final resting place of over 890 casualties of war.
The Book of Remembrance, available at each site of commemoration, tells James, aged 25 Died of Wounds and also gives his farther’s details. His headstone shows the badge of his regiment and a simple cross along with his identifying information.
The Probate Calendars for Scotland include James, now of Bemreay, Banff. The information – his regiment, that he died on active service, date of Will and Grant, to who granted and the amount of £772 11s 10d.
The website FindaGrave includes a photograph of James’ headstone plus a picture of a very handsome young man wearing a Glengarry Bonnet.