Henry Mackay was born in Tongue on 04/01/1891, the elder son of James Mackay born in Caithness (1855- 1894) and Christina Mackay from Lower Coldbackie Tongue who were married in Thurso on 28/11/1879. Henry's father died while he was young. In 1911 census Henry is listed at home with his widowed mother and brother James. Henry was employed around Tongue as a labourer on the many crofts in the area. He also worked on the family small holding in Coldbackie, which helped to support his mother and younger brother James.
He enlisted into the Army at Dingwall in the summer of 1917, where he joined the 39 Training Regiment. Once he had completed his training, he was posted as a battlefield casualty replacement to the 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders in France.
In March 1918 the 2 Seaforths were with the 10 Brigade, 4 Division in the battle line close to Arras, when the German Army launched a surprise attack; code-named Operation ‘Michael’. The ‘Michael’ attack was an attempt by the Germans to breach the British line, swing Northwest and split the Allies driving the British Expeditionary back towards the sea.
The enemy attack began at 4:40am on the 21 of March 1918, when the Germans opened fire with a total of 6,473 guns and 3,532 trench mortars for five hours, then attacked across the old Somme battlefield with 62 Divisions of infantry. The 2 Seaforths were in the front line at Arras and received a special commendation in the Commander in Chief’s Dispatch, for its part in the action to hold the German flank.
The German offensive failed because they had no motorised transport, armoured cars, heavy machine guns or tanks. Only nine captured British tanks were available to the Germans and these were unable to exploit the British line. The enemy also had no heavy cavalry units and the ‘Michael’ attack was forced to proceed at infantry pace.
British units were forced to retreat forty miles by the German offensive; some of the most famous British Infantry Regiments were cut off and over-run. The British Commander was forced on the defensive, as the allied armies tried to stem the German onslaught and establish a new front line.
On the 28 of March 1917, the German High Command issued orders for an attack on Arras code named ‘Operation Mars’. The British 1 Army XV11 Corps caused the German Stormtroopers heavy casualties, as the attack on Arras was repelled.
The 2 Seaforth Highlanders were in the front line close to Rouex and Fampoux on the 21 of March, as the enemy offensive was launched. The battalion suffered a gas bombardment and came under heavy shellfire as the enemy attempted to knock out the British gun positions. At 6am on the morning of the 27, the enemy had tried to raid the battalion line but was driven off.
At 3am on the 28 of March, the enemy launched a heavy bombardment on the Seaforths lines and then attacked with massed infantry in thick formation at 7am. The Seaforth Highlanders were forced to withdraw from the front line, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy from the support trenches. Lewis gunners wiped out a German Cavalry patrol of five men, the attack was stopped and the enemy was forced to retire having suffered terrible losses.
Private Henry Mackay was one of approximately, 100 casualties suffered by the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders in action of the 28 of March 1918 near Arras; he was 27 years of age.
Henry’s brother James, who served in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was seriously wounded in the right arm and right eye in August 1918, during the Second Battle of the Somme and at one stage was close to death but he did recover. James died a few years after the war having never fully recovered from his wounds; he is buried in Tongue churchyard.
SCOTTISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL EDINBURGH CASTLE Mackay Henry. (b) Tongue, Sutherlandshire. S/23248. Private. Killed in action 28-3-18. F&F. 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, formerly 1/5172 with the 39 Training Reserve Regiment.
COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION Mackay Private Henry. S/23248. 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. 28 March 1918. Age 27. Son of Mrs Christina Mackay of Lower Coldbackie, Tongue, Lairg, Sutherland. Bay 8
Private Henry Mackay, S/23248, 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders has no known grave and is remembered on the ARRAS MEMORIAL, PAS DE CALAIS, FRANCE.