In Memoriam – thinking of all those who died in wars.

In Memoriam from t website 



by Ewart Alan Mackintosh (killed in action 21st November 1917 aged 24)

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,
They screamed “Don’t leave me, sir”,
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.

Inspiration for the Poem

On the evening of 16th May, 1916 Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh and Second Lieutenant Mackay of the 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders led a raid on the German trenches in the sector of the front line north-west of Arras.

By the end of the night there were sixteen British casualties, which included fourteen wounded and two killed. One of the two dead soldiers was Private David Sutherland.

Private David Sutherland has no known grave. His name is commemorated in Bay 8 of theArras Memorial to the Missing at Faubourg d’Amiens military cemetery in Arras.

Find out about the background to the poem at:Inspiration for In Memoriam

Inspiration for Ewart Alan Mackintosh’s poem – In Memoriam

On the evening of 16th May, 1916 Lieutenant Ewart Alan Mackintosh (1893-1917) and Second Lieutenant Mackay of the 5th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (of the 51st Highland Division) led a raid on the German trenches in the area north west of Arras. The experience of the raid clearly had a profound effect on Lt Mackintosh and, in particular, the death of one of his men, David Sutherland, inspired him to write the poem ‘In Memoriam’.

The entry for 16th May in the Battalion War Diary reads as follows:

“Bn [battalion] employed in working parties. In the evening at 8.10pm after an artillery preparation 2 raiding parties under Lts Mackintosh and 2 Lt Mackay entered German lines on both sides of Salient at pt 127. 7 Germans were killed by being either shot or bayonetted and 5 dug-outs full of Germans were bombed. Also 1 dugout was blown up by RE [Royal Engineers]. All our party returned except one man who was left dead in German lines. It is estimated that German casualties must have been between 60 and 70. Our casualties were 2 Lt Mackay slightly wounded, 2 men killed and 14 wounded. Two of the wounded have since died.”(1)

The two soldiers from the battalion listed as killed on the day of this raid 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.

In a recently published book about E A Mackintosh, Can’t Shoot a Man with a Cold (2), the authors have discovered that David was not an only son, as he is described in the poem. He was in fact one of two sons. Their father was named Sinclair and their mother was the late Williamina Sutherland. Williamina had died in 1908 when David was 11 years old. David’s brother also served in the Great War and returned home.

An Award for Gallantry

The Military Cross awarded to Lt E A Mackintosh. (3)

About heavywhalley.MBE

After dinner speaker Lecturer and Mountain Rescue Specialist. Environmentalist. Spent 36 years with RAF Mountain Rescue and 4 years with a civilian Team . Still an active Mountaineer and loves the wild places.
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