John Mackay was born in Skinnet Talmine in 1888, son of John Mackay of Talmine, and Jessie Ann Clouston from Stromness Orkney.. They had married in 1886 in Orkney. John was one of several men from Melness who joined the Lovat Scouts prior to the outbreak of the First World War.
He was called up in August 1914, when the Lovat Scouts were mobilised and sent to Huntingdon in England. (See also L/Cpl Donald Mackay, Melness.) John Mackay then served with Lovat Scouts in Gallipoli in 1915, seeing action at Suvla Bay. In December 1915 the campaign in the Dardanelles was ended and the Lovat Scouts were withdrawn from the beaches.
The Lovat Scouts arrived in Egypt via Lemnos Island Greece, in January 1916 and were immediately sent to guard the Suez Canal against Turkish attack. On February 11 the Scouts were sent out into the desert, to deal with a threat from a tribe of Bedouin called the Senussi. The battalion spent six months patrolling the desert but did not see many of the Senussi tribesmen.
On the 1 of October 1916 the 1 Battalion, Lovat Scouts was renamed the 10 Battalion Cameron Highlanders and was embarked for Salonika, Greece. The Allies had landed in Salonika in neutral Greece on the 5 of October to try and open a new front, hopefully drawing German forces away from the Western Front. The Bulgarian Army invaded Macedonia and then Salonika, a new front had now been formed which would involve a half million French and British troops. The British Army in Salonika was now involved in trench warfare on a new front in the Balkans, becoming bogged down in its fight with the Bulgarian Army. The German High Command had no interest in what was happening in the Balkans and did not commit any troops to the fight, the British aims were a failure. The 10 Cameron Highlanders landed in Salonika on the 20 of October 1916 and marched North along the main supply route to the Sturma Front, for six days. The battalion carried infantry packs; all transport was by pack mule as they marched until they reached the front line stretching two hundred from Albania to the Gulf of Rendina on the Aegean coastline. At the front, the battalion joined the 82 Infantry Brigade in the 27 Infantry Division supplying six hundred men for road building and bridge repairs. On the 7 of November a mounted patrol led by Lieutenant Cameron, crossed the Sturma River under orders from Brigade headquarters. This was to be the first of many patrols undertake by the battalion towards the Bulgarian and newly arrived Turkish Army lines.
In November, the battalion was told to build a pontoon bridge across the Virhani River, then attack across it. The task proved to be impossible, due to severe weather and the fact the river was to wide and too deep for an attack; the plan was rejected. In December the battalion attacked Tumbitsa but failed to take the objective, losing one hundred and eighteen men, twenty-eight of them being killed.
The battalion now held the line for the next five months east of the Struma between Homodos and Jeminah in conditions of heavy rain and mud, sending out patrols on a frequent basis. The patrols were tasked with harassing the enemy, ambushing enemy patrols and taking prisoners.
In May 1917 the battalion was moved West of the River Struma onto higher ground but suffered badly from malaria. Mosquitoes, which badly affected the valley in which the 10th Cameron’s held the line, caused the malaria; the battalion remained in this area until October and the Salmah offensive.
The Lovat Scout Battalion remained in Salonika fighting the Turkish and Bulgarian Army until the 21 of June when they were sent to the Western Front. Prior to leaving the Salonika battlefield the battalion was renamed the Observer Groups, Lovat Scout (Sharpshooter) Battalion.
Private John Mackay was wounded in action on the Salonika front and evacuated to a field hospital on the Island of Malta where he died from his wounds; he was twenty-nine years of age.