George William Mackay was born in Skinnet Melness in 1889, the son of Hugh Mackay a crofter at Achimore and Marion Mackay. They were married in Thurso in 1885. Shortly before George emigrated to Canada in 1911 he is listed in the Census at Skinnet with his parents. He joined the Canadian Army at the outbreak of World War One in 1914.
He enlisted into the 16 Battalion, Canadian Scottish alongside other Scotsmen who had lived and worked in Canada, prior to the war (see also Donald Munro, Tongue and David Campbell, Melness). He trained at Valcarter on the Jacques Cartier River near Quebec, then came to the United Kingdom in October 1914 with the rest of his battalion, as part of the 1 Canadian Infantry Division.
On the 3 of October 1914 the 1 Canadian Division sailed from Gaspe Basin Quebec, in a thirty-three ship convoy with an eight warship escort, this was the largest military convoy to have sailed up until that time. The convoy arrived in Plymouth to a huge welcome, once the Canadians had disembarked from the ships they were sent to Salisbury Plain.
The soldiers lived in tents on Salisbury Plain in a quagmire of mud and water; good training for the trenches they would have in the future. Whilst at camp on Salisbury Plain Cameron Company, from the 16 Battalion marched thirty-one miles to the ‘Kirk’ in Salisbury, they told their superiors they had done it to keep fit
The Canadian Division was sent across to France in February 1915 and was immediately moved up to the front, to help the hard-pressed British to hold the lines close to Ypres.
In May 1915, the 16 Battalion Canadian Scottish was in the reserve trenches close to the Ypres to Roulers Railway line, when the Germans launched the first gas attack of the war. French Algerian troops in the front line close to Langemark, had no protection from the gas and were forced to flee from their trenches.
The Canadians then moved forward in to the gap left in the front and held the enemy attack with no protective clothing. In this area today North of Ypres, stands the Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner; a figure of a soldier with his arms reversed dominates the area. An inscription on the memorial states “this column marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians on the British left withstood the German Gas attacks from the 22 to 24 of April 1915, 2,000 fell and lie buried near by.”
In July 1916 the Canadians were tasked with launching diversionary attacks on the enemy lines in the northern part of the front, in preparation for the Battle of the Somme. The 1 Canadian Division attacked the Germans in the Lens area, then on the Souchez River at Avion and took part in the Battle of Mount Sorrel close to Ypres.
Private George Mackay was wounded in action during this fighting and taken to a casualty clearing station at ‘Remi’ Farm near to the village of Lijssenhoek. He died from his wounds in the casualty clearing station aged 27 years, his family in Melness received a letter of condolence from Major General Sir Sam Hughes Minister of Defence for Canada.
George had a brother Alex, who served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Salonika; Alex survived the war and returned home to Melness.