Thomas N Mackay was born at Strathen Skerray in 1882 son of George Mackay and Christina Mackay who had married Wick 1862 ; Skerray War Memorial says that he came from Strathen and the Skerray Roll of Honour in Tongue church confirms this.
He enlisted into the Army in Fochabers, once he had completed his military training he was sent to the 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. The 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders was a regular battalion in the British Army, Thomas may have been a regular soldier before the outbreak of the First World War, again I have been unable to confirm this.
On the 22nd of April 1915 the 2 Seaforths were near the village of Bailleul in France when the Germans launched the first poison gas attacks of the war North of Ypres. (See also Angus Clarke, Tongue). The Seaforth Highlanders were quickly put on alert to move forward and reinforce the line at Ypres, to prevent an enemy breakthrough. At 11:30am the battalion received an order from 10 Brigade Headquarters, to hold in readiness to move forward at short notice.
At 7:30pm on the 23 of April, the 2 Seaforth Highlanders moved from Bailleul Northeast to Dranoutre and then onto Keve Coten, arriving in Keve Coten at 9am on the 24. The men were billeted in huts to rest until 3:30pm, then moved off towards Ouderdom, halting only to issue 100 rounds of ammunition per man, 100 hundred grenades were also issued, each man was also given two empty sandbags to carry.
The battalion moved off towards Ypres, halting at a crossroads north west of Ypres at midnight, then moving into the village of Wieljte via St Jean. The Highlanders were only carrying basic equipment and waterproof capes they left all their backpacks, greatcoats and waterproof sheets in Bailleul. The 2nd Seaforth Highlanders had now moved a distance off approximately 50kms (30 miles) over the previous two days and were ready to go on the offensive.
By 4am on the 25, the battalion was in position to attack but under heavy shellfire in the pouring rain. The battalion attack began at zero hour (5am) towards a wood near the village of St Julian; the Seaforths were west of the road to Poelkapelle from Ypres. The 1 Warwickshire Regiment was on the left, with the 2 Dublin Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers on the right. The battalion began to advance in pouring rain but due to heavy machine gun fire was unable to achieve its objectives and had to retire to a hedge line for cover.
Battalion casualties were heavy during this attack; five officers were killed including two Company Commanders and the battalion senior Major. The Commanding Officer, Lt Colonel Vanderleur was wounded along with fourteen of his officers many dying from wounds, sixty-one other ranks were killed, two hundred and thirty-nine wounded, thirteen died of wounds and sixteen men were missing. On the 26 of April 1915, the 10 Brigade attacked the German lines east of Ypres at Wieltje near St Julian; the Seaforths held their ground as other battalions attacked through their positions. The French Army attacked the enemy line on the 27 as enemy gunners heavily shelled St Jean, Ypres was heavily shelled on the 28 and an enemy aeroplane was brought down on the Royal Irish Fusiliers trench.
At 5:30pm on the 2 of May the enemy launched a gas attack on the battalion with a strong infantry attack taking place immediately behind it, the attack was repulsed with heavy enemy losses. The Seaforth Highlanders having no gas masks or protective clothing were forced to tie gauze pads soaked in urine around their noses and mouths to try and prevent the choking gas from reaching their lungs. This protection was totally inadequate and many men from the battalion were totally incapacitated by the gas at this point.
The battalion was heavily shelled between 3:30am and 8am on the 3 of May and the field dressing station was set on fire. At 9:30pm the Seaforths received orders to retire to the GHQ Line, the battalion carried all ammunition supplies to the new line and retired to new positions at 2:15am as dawn began to break.
On the 4 of May the 2 Seaforth Highlanders were in trenches around Burnt Farm field dressing station under occasional shellfire. The battalion war diary says the place was dirty, with the men trying to recover from the effects of gas poisoning. Twenty- four men had already died from the effects of the gas and three hundred and twenty one were sick, a substantial number of the battalion. The casualties caused by the chlorine gas had decimated the 2 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders over the previous three days and it was no longer an efficient fighting force.
Private Thomas N Mackay was evacuated from Burnt Farm dressing station on the 4 of May 1915 by battalion stretcher-bearers and taken to a casualty clearing station close to Ypres. He was then taken to a base hospital, close to the town of Bailleul in Northern France where he died; there was no real effective treatment that could be given for this terrible new weapon of war.
In one month between the 25 of April and the 25 of May 1915, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders suffered casualties of around 1,000 men killed or wounded. The battalion was totally decimated during the 2 Battle of Ypres and at the Seaforth Cemetery on the road to Langemark today there are 101 graves of men killed defending this area from German attack.