Scotland

The Scottish war poet who should rival Wilfred Owen

Ewart Alan Mackintosh
Image caption Ewart Alan Mackintosh died 100 years ago at the Battle of Cambrai

The words of Ewart Alan Mackintosh are inscribed on one of Scotland's most prominent war memorials but his name is largely unknown.

Aberdeen University lecturer Neil McLennan wants to put that right.

Mr McLennan, who has a personal connection to the Scottish poet, is a leading scholar of one of the most celebrated poets of World War One, Wilfred Owen - who wrote his most famous works while being treated for shellshock in Edinburgh.

The lecturer says the poetry of Mackintosh, a young Seaforth Highlanders officer who died exactly 100 years ago, is as "powerful" as Owen's and other respected war poets such as Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves.

Image caption The Scots American Memorial in Edinburgh is one of Scotland's most prominent war memorials

Mackintosh's poems convey a deep sympathy for the sufferings of all the men at the Front and a sense of duty to his fellow soldiers.

Mr McLennan says there is a "real strong connection to humanity" in the poetry.

He cites the example of In No Man's Land, which ends with the line:

Oh, damn you, get back to your trench, you blighter,

I really can't shoot a man with a cold.

Mackintosh was born in Sussex but his father's roots were in Alness in Ross-shire.

After studying classics at Oxford, Mackintosh joined the famous Scottish battalion, the Seaforth Highlanders.

In May 1916, he led a successful raid on a German trench near Arras, 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".

One of them, David Sutherland, inspired his most famous poem "In Memoriam" in which Mackintosh describes the heavy responsibility an officer feels for his troops.

Although only 23, Mackintosh regarded himself as a father to his men.

You were only David's father,

But I had fifty sons

When we went up in the evening

Under the arch of the guns

Mackintosh was himself wounded and gassed at High Wood in August 1916 and sent back to Cambridge to train cadets.

He rejoined the 4th Seaforths near Bapaume at the beginning of October 1917.

A month later, Mackintosh was the officer in charge of the platoon looking for targets in no-man's land during the Battle of Cambrai.

His eyesight was apparently poor and, lifting his head momentarily, he was shot and killed.

Image caption Aberdeen University lecturer Neil McLennan has a personal connection to Mackintosh

The man standing next to him at the time was Neil McLennan's great-grandfather.

Roderick McLennan was just 18 years old at the time but returned to Dingwall and lived to be 90.

Later in life, he talked of the young officer and the poetry he had written.

His great-grandson says he hoped one day the poet would be remembered.

Mr McLennan says Wilfred Owen had "connections" that allowed his poems to be published and widely circulated.

It was not until the 1960s that his legacy was finally cemented in the public consciousness.

The lecturer says the Scottish war poets seem to have been forgotten over time, but interest has been resurrected recently.

"I certainly hope that Mackintosh becomes a significant figure," he says.

Image caption Mackintosh's lines appear on the frieze of the Scots American Memorial in Edinburgh

The poet's words are remembered on the The Scottish American Memorial in West Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, which was erected in 1927.

It shows a kilted infantryman looking towards Castle Rock.

Behind the main statue is a frieze showing queues of men answering the call by following a kilted pipe band.

It contains lines from Mackintosh's poem 'A Creed'.

If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered,

If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.

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