Remembering a Seaforth Highlander of World War I

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Corporal John MacKenzie of the Seaforth Highlanders was killed in action in Belgium on 1 August 1917.

His descendants say the 20-year-old from Sutherland had been awarded the Military Medal four months earlier and have letters written by his officers that refer to him as a ‘bold, fearless and inspiring’ soldier and a ‘typical Highlander’.

The Ross-shire Journal reports that John enlisted in June 1915 at the age of 18 and joined the 4th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. He went to the Western Front in October that year and was later placed in charge of his company’s bombing section.

On the evening of 1 August 1917, he and his comrades were digging in at a new position. MacKenzie, 25-year-old lance sergeant Thomas Fraser and a few others from No.9 Platoon were working together when a shell landed among them, mortally wounding MacKenzie and killing Fraser.

The newspaper reports that lieutenant John MacDonald, of 3 Company, wrote to the MacKenzie family: ‘I cannot tell you how sorry I feel at his death, and how I sympathise with you in your loss of such a son. Jock was to us the finest type of solider, bold, fearless, inspiring all his comrades to do gallant deeds which were only natural to him.

‘He was in charge of the bombing section and I can tell you I have no NCO I respected and trusted more than I did your son. His loss will be a big blank in the platoon. The bombers will miss their bold, intrepid leader sorely. He was always ready to cheer and encourage them when everything seemed dark, and they were weary with the water and the mud.

‘His cheery smile and genial atmosphere was enough to dissipate everything that seemed disheartening, and they were ready to follow him in everything that had to be done.’

‘We know the blank there will be in your household, and while we sorrow with you in your sorrow, we are proud, as you are proud, of having had with us the finest soldier the British Army could have had. You have truly given of your best for your country.’

Corporal MacKenzie’s name appears on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing near Ypres. Sergeant Fraser, from Inverness, is commemorated on the Menin Gate. To read the original story, click here.

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