George Mackay was born in Tongue, son of Hugh and Barbara Mackay of Island Roan, Skerray, Sutherlandshire. He lived with his wife Janet and four chidren at Number 7 Henrietta Street, Wick and was the only man from Island Roan to join the Army, he was also the only man from the Island from the nineteen to join up to be killed (See Skerray Roll of Honour).
George enlisted in the Army in Wick at the outbreak of war and was sent to the 7 Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers serving with the 45 Brigade, 15 (Scottish) Division. Initial training for the Division was carried out at the Aldershot Training Centre, before assembling on Salisbury Plain in November 1914. The Division suffered a terrible shortage of weapons and equipment but by improvising with wooden weapons and borrowed uniforms; it soon reached a high standard of military proficiency. In January 1915 the 15 (Scottish) Division was inspected by Lord Kitchener and the French Minister of War, only enough rifles were available to equip the front rank for the parade.
The Division embarked overseas in July 1915, arriving in billets at Tilques near St-Omer France by the 13of the month. The 15th(Scottish) Division was one of the first New Army units raised by General Kitchener to cross over the English Channel and would soon face its baptism of fire in battle.
On the 25 of September 1915 after many days of bombardment, the British attacked the Germans around Loos the attack was assisted by the first British use of poison gas. The 15(Scottish) Division attacked Loos village and then onto Hill 70, taking all objectives. Units on the divisional flanks however failed to keep up with the Scots and the attack was never fully exploited. (See also Piper William D Mackay, Skerrabeg).
The 15(Scottish) Division spent the winter of 1915-16 in trenches at Loos holding the lines at Hohenzollern and Hulluch. The 7 Royal Scots Fusiliers spent most of their time carrying out routine trench holding duties, under heavy shellfire and in the most terrible conditions imaginable.
Battalions would normally take over the trenches during the night so that the enemy would not know that a relief had taken place. As soon as the companies took over the trenches the sections were usually numbered off for guard duty and to prepare to fend off any enemy trench raids or larger attacks. The men in the sections worked one hour on sentry duty followed by one hour on work detail including the digging trenches to make them more secure, they also repaired dugouts and fixed the barbed wire entanglements damaged by shellfire.
The men usually rested during the day trying to sleep on ledges cut along the edge of the trench, standing to at dawn and dusk ready to repel enemy attacks. Once morning stand to was over the men were given breakfast, cleaned their weapons and received an issue of service rum before trying to get some sleep. The days sleep was usually broken up by spells on guard duty, watching over no-mans land with a trench periscope and trying to avoid the constant bombardments lasting from a few minutes to many hours.
Artillery from both sides constantly fired shells on the trenches, a rain of steel that attempted to shatter the morale of the defenders and soften up the ground for future attacks. An enemy artillery barrage usually fell on one end of the British line, working its way along a few yards at a time. The British soldiers waited for the artillery to begin its move along the line then made a dash for the area that had already been shelled, they sat in the shelled area until the barrage died away then returned to their posts.
Battalions usually spent four days in the frontline pulling back to rest billets for the same period, whilst in the billets picture shows, concerts and inter unit football leagues were laid on. A great deal of rivalry existed between the various Regiments, and unit pride rested on those that took part in the football matches. Scottish Divisions were famous for laying on Highland Games behind the lines and many units sent along their finest athletes to compete in the tug of war and sports events.
In March 1916 the 7 Royal Scots Fusiliers were involved in trench holding duties close to Loos village, the battalion spent its time in the trenches improving the general living conditions under heavy shellfire. The battalion remained in and out of this sector of front line trench until August when it was sent to join the Battle of the Somme.
Private George Mackay was killed by shellfire in the trenches east of Loos on the 12 of May 1916 at the age of thirty-five years, his body was not found after the fighting was over. His name does not appear on the Roll of Honour that is inside Tongue church, this may be because he had moved to live in Wick and his family did not inform whoever had made the scrolls that are behind the pulpit.