Private D. Sutherland

killed in action in the German trench,
May 16, 1916, and the others
who died

—-------------------------------------------------

So you were David’s father,

And he was your only son,

And the new-cut peats are rotting

And the work is left undone,

Because of an old man weeping,

Just an old man in pain,

For David, his son David,

That will not come again.


Oh, the letters he wrote you,

And I can see them still,

Not a word of the fighting,

But just the sheep on the hill

And how you should get the crops in

Ere the year get stormier,

And the Bosches have got his body,

And I was his officer.


You were only David’s father,

But I had fifty sons

When we went up in the evening

Under the arch of the guns,

And we came back at twilight -

O God! I heard them call

To me for help and pity

That could not help at all.


Oh, never will I forget you,

My men that trusted me,

More my sons than your fathers’,

For they could only see

The little helpless babies

And the young men in their pride.

They could not see you dying,

And hold you while you died.


Happy and young and gallant,

They saw their first-born go,

But not the strong limbs broken

And the beautiful men brought low,

The piteous writhing bodies,

The screamed ‘Don’t leave me, Sir’,

For they were only your fathers

But I was your officer.

E. Alan Mackintosh

from A Highland Regiment
(John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1917)

Summary

The war poems of E. Alan Mackintosh are imbued with a sense of duty to his fellow soldiers and a deep sympathy for the sufferings of all the men at the Front.  

Full Biography

Ewart Alan Mackintosh was the son of Alexander Mackintosh, from Inverness-shire, and his English second wife, Lilian Rodgers. He was the youngest child of the family, born in Brighton, where he attended Brighton College, and won a scholarship to St. Paul’s. At St. Paul’s his attainments were adequate rather than excellent, but he edited the school magazine, The Pauline, and won a classical scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. Early poetry related to both of his countries – to Sussex and to the Highlands, as well as to possible young romance.

Mackintosh began his studies at Oxford in October 1912, and as at school, his natural talent for literature rather than assiduous application to work got him by. What he did apply himself to was his growing interest in all things Highland. He began to learn Gaelic and to play the bagpipes. Fishing trips with his father to the Alness area and Highland holidays with two university friends nurtured his sense of Scottishness.

When war broke out and his Oxford contemporaries were accepted into the army, Mackintosh was rejected because of poor eyesight. He joined the university Officer Training Corps, and was eventually accepted by the 5th Seaforth Highlanders at the end of 1914. He served in France from July 1915, appointed battalion bombing officer (hand grenade expert). In March 1916 the 51st Division took over a sector north of Arras previously held by the French, where the opposing trenches were close together. In May Mackintosh led a successful raid on a German trench, during which three of his men had arms or legs blown off; despite his struggles to carry them back in, they all died. The action brought him the Military Cross, though he wrote that he would ‘rather have the boys’ lives’. It also inspired his best-known poem, ‘In Memoriam’, which shows the depth of the love for his men and the sense of responsibility which was to urge him to return to the Front. He was himself wounded and gassed at High Wood in August 1916, and sent back to England. Once recovered, he spent eight months at Cambridge training cadets, and while there became engaged to a VAD nurse. Nevertheless his determination to return to active service was strong, and he joined the 4th Seaforths near Bapaume at the beginning of October 1917. Mackintosh was killed in the fighting around Cambrai on 21st November.


The two soldiers from the battalion listed as killed on the day of the raid maentioned (right) can be confirmed as Privates John McDowell and David Sutherland. Research into the details of these two soldiers has established that Private McDowell's body was retrieved and taken back to the British lines because he has a grave at Maroeuil British Military Cemetery.

‘The Bosches have got his body’

Private Sutherland, however, who is the soldier ‘David’ in the poem, does not have a known grave and his name is inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing at Arras at the Faubourg d'Amiens British Military Cemetery. It can be assumed that “the man left dead in the German lines” mentioned in the battalion war diary is David Sutherland: “And the Bosches have got his body”. The Germans may well have buried him in a marked grave at the time, but the whereabouts of his body are now no longer known and he is listed as missing by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

It is not known if the relationship between the two men was that they were friends. But, as the junior officer in command of Private Sutherland at the time, Lt Mackintosh would have come to know him through his duty of having to read outgoing letters from his men for censorship reasons. David Sutherland was from Achreamie in Caithness, a rural region in the far north of Scotland. The type of letter David would write to his father is reflected in the words of the second verse: “Not a word of the fighting, Just the sheep on the hill”. David was aged 19 when he died.

This background detail came from the superb The Great War website - click here to pay this website a worthwhile visit


In Memoriam