The Battle of Arras had the highest concentration of Scottish troops fighting in a single battle during World War One, with 18,000 of them sadly losing their lives. Descendants of two of those who fought at Arras have come forward to share their stories.
The first is from Margery MacKay, who has shared the final letter her family received from her uncle, Private Donald Gunn Mackay, which he penned 17 days before he was sadly killed during the Battle of Arras on the 28th April 1917.
Before joining the 15th Battalion of the Royal Scots at age 29, Mr MacKay worked at George Harrison Textiles and resided at 40 Buccleuch Street, Edinburgh, with his father, mother, five brothers and sister, who were all devastated by his death. Ever since, the family have cherished the last letter he sent to them.
Here, in an excerpt from the letter, Donald talks about sharing food parcels from home with comrades and family news.
“Many thanks for your letter of the 8th of April, also for the bundles of papers and for the parcel, all of which I received after coming out of the advance. The parcel was a treat and we fairly tore them open. We were all so hungry and I had one from Selkirk two days later.
… I am glad that John has been kept on even though he is at Gretna. I am glad that aunt Lizzie is a little better. I hope she will improve. I had letters from Aunt Joan and Willie. I saw Archie McMillan in the trenches and he was asking for you.“
Margery finds his letter very moving, as it shows that all they longed for was news of home and the dream that one day they would be reunited with friends and loved ones.
Alasdair Hutton OBE has also told of his grandfather, Lieutenant George Hutton, who served in the 9th Battalion of the Royal Scots. Before enlisting, 38-year-old George Hutton was a butcher and spice merchant who left behind a successful family business in the Glasgow Gallowgate to join the war effort.
On 9th April 1917, the very first day of battle, Lt Hutton suffered a grave injury when he was wounded by shrapnel in his upper back. Fortuitously, he survived the offensive and was repatriated back to the UK, where he made a good recovery. According to Alasdair, the horrors of that day were never spoken about by his grandfather:
“I recall seeing a wound in my grandfather’s right shoulder when I was young, but he never spoke about his war to myself or the family. I was only young then so that is not surprising.”
Following his recuperation, Lt Hutton went on to operate the Officers’ Mess of the Third Battalion at Glencorse Barracks in Penicuik, where fellow officers awarded him the ‘Order of the Boiled Egg’. It serves as a great testament to Lt Hutton’s character, as well as the humour and comradeship that existed among the troops – a tremendous piece of legacy for his descendants to preserve.
Alasdair has explained that there is still a lot that he does not know about his grandfather’s time in service. He plans to deepen his knowledge about him and his regiment’s involvement in Arras through his war service record, which is held at The Royal Scots Regimental Museum in Edinburgh.
Alasdair is the narrator of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and he will also narrate the Beating Retreat taking place in the Place des Heros in Arras on Sunday 9 April to commemorate the battle.
You can learn more about WW100 Scotland’s Battle of Arras commemorations here.