Robert Mackay was born in Tongue, son of Roderick and Isabella Mackenzie of Erribol Tongue, the War Memorial says that he came from Torrisdale in Skerray. He enlisted in the Territorial Army at Golspie sometime before the outbreak of the First World War, he was then called up by his battalion, 5th (Sutherland & Caithness) Highlanders on mobilisation.
The 5th Seaforths left Wick on the 5 of August 1914, joining the 1 Highland Territorial Division near Bedford England. The 1 Highland Division was renamed the 51 (Highland) Division before it crossed to France in April 1915. (See also A Clarke, Tongue.)
On the 2 May 1915, the 5 Seaforths arrived in France and spent so time in reserve near Richebourg during the 2 Battle of Ypres. On the 15 of May the 51 (Highland) Division was moved close to Estaires and attached to the Indian Corps, for the attack on Festubert.
The attack on Festubert took place over a 3,000yard front after a short artillery bombardment, the attack failed with heavy British losses.
The British suffered a loss of16,000 men against enemy losses of 5,000, this shows that the intention of the British High Command to wear down the enemy by inflicting heavy casualties on him was doomed to fail.
At 6:15pm on the 15 of May 1915, the 5 Seaforth Highlanders charged the enemy line in front of the village of Festubert. The enemy wire was found to be uncut by British artillery fire, German machine-gunners decimated the Highlanders as they bunched up trying to find a way through. The enemy line was finally taken to a depth of six hundred yards, losses were heavy with the 51 Division suffering casualties of 1,500 dead, wounded and missing.
For the next month the Division took over the line near Laventie about 10 kilometres North of Bethune, remaining in this sector of the front until the 26 of July and a transfer South to the Somme. On the 1 of June the 5 Seaforths were stationed in Billets West off the village of La Couture, carrying out routine training in bayonet fighting, weapon handling and gas warfare drills.