on 12 September 2014
Ewart Alan Mackintosh was an exceptional poet and an extremely brave officer. Wounded in 1915, he recovered and returned to the battlefield where he led a trench raid during a night in May 1916. I have read my fair share of poems (Sassoon, Graves, Owen, Brooke etc etc) but it is Lieutenant Mackintosh (or 'Tosh', as he was affectionally known by his men) who, in my opinion wrote the most powerful poem of the war. It is this poem - 'In Memoriam - David Sutherland', that led me to this book .
The book features most of Mackintosh's poetry but for the purpose of this review I will stick to the one which prompted me to purchase the book in the first place.
Before the raid, 'Tosh' had promised his men that he would leave no man behind whilst they lived. He did not break that promise.
Unfortunately, two men did lose their lives. One died of wounds back in the British lines and the other David Sutherland died in the German trenches whilst his officer, Lieutenant Mackintosh carried him through an inferno of gun fire and shrapnel.
During the action, Private Sutherland was severely wounded from enemy grenades. He had lost his legs and with the raid coming to a close, the men were withdrawaing back to their trench. Mackintosh endevoured to carry the young Private back through the German trenches whilst having to stop at regular intervals to fight back the Germans who were in pursuit. He stubbonly defended his man, attempting to get him out of the trench and back to safety but it was no use. David Sutherland died during this rescue attempt.
Awarded the Military cross for gallantry in the raid, Mackintosh wrote to his sister telling her that rather than the medal, he wanted his men back. The loss of his men had a profound effect of him, in particular Private Sutherland.
As mentioned, the book contains many poems by Mackintosh, all of which are superb. It also has many letters written to and from Mackintosh which help give a clear picture of the mans character and compassion. I have briefly mentioned the raid but this is described in vivd detail in the book and draws on the war diary, Mackintosh's letters and other participants accounts to create a picture of the hell they went through. The book also features photographs and the lay-out is top notch.
I am not giving too much away here as it is widely known and stated on the front of the book but Ewart Alan Mackintosh was himself killed in action in 1917. He was just 24 years old.
I will end with Ewart's poem describing the raid.
So you were David's father,
And he was your only son,
And the new-cut peats are rotting
And the work is left undone,
Because of an old man weeping,
Just an old man in pain,
For David, his son David,
That will not come again.
Oh, the letters he wrote you,
And I can see them still,
Not a word of the fighting,
But just the sheep on the hill
And how you should get the crops in
Ere the year get stormier,
And the Bosches have got his body,
And I was his officer.
You were only David's father,
But I had fifty sons
When we went up in the evening
Under the arch of the guns,
And we came back at twilight -
O God! I heard them call
To me for help and pity
That could not help at all.
Oh, never will I forget you,
My men that trusted me,
More my sons than your fathers',
For they could only see
The little helpless babies
And the young men in their pride.
They could not see you dying,
And hold you while you died.
Happy and young and gallant,
They saw their first-born go,
But not the strong limbs broken
And the beautiful men brought low,
The piteous writhing bodies,
They screamed "Don't leave me, sir",
For they were only your fathers
But I was your officer.