William (Munro) Mackay was born in Tongue on the 12 May 1887, the second son of Mr John Burns Mackay (often known as Burns Mackay) and Mary Ann Sutherland who had married in 1882, from BraeTongue, Tongue. He was a trainee shoemaker with Mr John Mackay until he enlisted in to the Army under the Lord Derby Scheme, in 1915.
The Lord Derby Scheme was set up so that men in reserve occupations or under apprenticeship, could sign up for the Armed Forces yet remain with their employers until required for service.
He initially joined the Lovat Scouts, where he trained as a marksman; he then transferred to the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. In the Seaforth Highlanders he was a machine gunner, with the Lewis Gun section.
On the 9 of April 1917, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders were in Arras, to take part in an attack on the German lines. The British attacked the northern end of the Hindenburg Line, in an attempt to breakthrough onto the flat land beyond the villages of Fampoux and Rouex.
Scottish Regiments were at Arras in great numbers and the Battle of Arras has become known today as the ‘Battle of the Scottish Regiments’. The battlefield today around Arras is littered with memorials and plaques to the heroic exploits of famous Scottish Regiments, as they took part in the fighting. The area can be view from the Seaforth Highlanders Celtic Cross on the crest of a ridge north of Fampoux; the problems faced by the soldiers can easily be seen.
At 5:30am on the 9 of April, the 2 Battalion Seaforth Highlanders attacked under a creeping barrage, within the hour they were inside the enemy frontline system, seizing the village of Fampoux. On April the 11, they attacked the Chemical Factory at Rouex, but were unable to take the objective due to the failure of units on the flanks. Lieutenant Donald Macintosh was awarded the Victoria Cross during this action as the 2 Seaforths took heavy casualties, reducing the battalion to two composite companies.
On May the 3 1917 the Seaforths again attacked the enemy line south of the Rouex Chemical Factory, losing all officers; the battalion took grievous casualties in an attempt to take the objective. The attack failed, due to the units on the flanks taking heavy losses, the remnants of the battalion were forced to fall back to Crete Trench.
The heavy losses of officers led to Company Sergeant Major Fraser taking command of the battalion until an officer was sent up from 1 Line Transport at 6:30pm. The front line was then established in Corona and Ceylon Trench, up to the junction of Cox Trench and Rouex Cemetery.
Private William Mackay was killed in action fighting, during the fighting around Rouex on the 3 of May 1917; he was 29 years of age. (See also the story of ‘A Tongue Soldier’)
He was one of 150,000 casualties, suffered by the British Army during the Battle of Arras between the 9 of April and the 18 of May 1917, for no real gain. The Chemical Works at Rouex was finally taken on the 14th of May, the Germans then launched desperate and ferocious counter attacks on the area, but the British held their ground.Private William Mackay was killed in action fighting, during the fighting around Rouex, near Arras on the 3 of May 1917; he was 29 years of age. (See also the story of ‘A Tongue Soldier’) He was one of 150,000 casualties, suffered by the British Army during the Battle of Arras between the 9 of April and the 18 of May 1917, for no real gain. The Chemical Works at Rouex was finally taken on the 14th of May, the Germans then launched desperate and ferocious counter attacks on the area, but the British held their ground.
William had a brother Robert who served in the Army Service Corps in World War One; Robert survived the war and returned home to Tongue.