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Lest we forget: the story of Thomson Sinclair Mackie

On the anniversary of the Armistice which ended World War 1, the poetry of one New College alumnus brings home the savage cost of conflict.

Black and white photo of Thomson S Mackie in Army uniform
Thomson S Mackie

A book display on show this week in New College Library includes a small gray booklet, War Verses. In the introduction, Rev. John D MacGilp says that when war broke out in 1914, the author - Thomson Sinclair Mackie - was a student at New College:

“Four years previously he had graduated at the University of Edinburgh Master of Arts with first class honours in Economic Science. He was offered the position of first assistant in the class of Political Economy, with a view to entering on an academic career, but he declined the offer, as he had definitely decided to devote his life to the preaching of the Gospel.

“It was neither any alteration of his views with regard to his calling nor any love of war that prompted him to join the Army… In a letter to his mother, intimating the decision at which he had arrived after a great spiritual struggle [he wrote], ‘More than anything else, it is because I was trying to be a servant of Christ that I felt I had to live up to what I had called on other men to do’.”

Thomson Sinclair Mackie joined the 15th Royal Scots as a private, then the 3rd North Staffordshire Regiment, where he became a Lieutenant. 

He was killed in action in France, on 18 November 1916, the last day of the Battle of the Somme.

His name is listed at the Thiepval Memorial for the Missing, which commemorates more than 72,000 British and South African soldiers who died with no known grave, the majority in the Somme offensive of 1916.

On active service, Thomson S Mackie wrote poetry, and four of his poems were published as War Verses soon after his death.

The poem reproduced below was read at this year’s Act of Remembrance at New College.

Peace and War

I was a lover of Peace.

I loved the silence of the countryside,

The hidden beauty of some lonely glen

More than the bartering of restless men

In the market place;

And in the quietness of the eventide

My soul found grace

And bathed itself in the dew of peace.

 

I was a lover of Peace.

I loved the lengthening shadows of the autumn time,

And wandered by the moorland streams that croon

Their tinkling lullaby ‘neath the harvest moon

In islands of the West;

While in my mind I turned some ancient rhyme,

My heart found rest.

I lost myself in the reveries of peace.

 

I am a student of War.

I armed myself to deal with Britain’s foes.

I doffed the scholar’s gown and took up soldier’s arms.

I left the ways I loved for war’s alarms

And bloody strife,

For rush and tumult, for fierce and savage blows

And the avenging knife.

I plunged into the seething horror of war.

 

I am a student of War.

Because there rose an urging fierce within my soul,

Which called me to fight against oppression’s wrong,

Against the powers of darkness and the long

War lust of centuries –

That lust which thwarts the aim and blocks the goal

Of Christ’s last agonies,

Who came to lead the world to ways of Peace.

 

Remembrance display, New College Library

War Verses is one of a collection of publications on display in New College Library this month. Items include:

  • Enrolment Book, Divinity Hall, New College (New College Library Archives ref AA.1.4.4.) A note on the pages from the 1914-1915 session of New College’s Enrolment book specifies the students that left to join the army, or to serve as assistants to the Army Chaplaincy.
  • New College War Memorial (New College Library Archives ref AA.1.15.1). Showing the memorial page for Lieutenant Thomson S. Mackie, student of theology at New College.
  • War Verses by Thomson S Mackie (New College Archives ref Z.h.4/25)
  • The Chaplain and the War (New College Archives ref Z.h.4/26) . This pamphlet, published by the United Free Church of Scotland in 1916, explained the role of the Army Chaplaincy, as well as showing images of camp services.
  • The Church and the War (New College Archives ref Z.h.4/2-19). This series of pamphlets published by the United Free Church of Scotland were prepared “under a sense of the great part which the Christian Church in Scotland will be called upon to play in guiding and sustaining the spirit of the Nation, both in the closing period of the War, and in time for the Reconstruction which will follow” (from the ‘Prefatory Note’).

New College war memorials

Thomson Sinclair Mackie is one of 43 students of Divinity and ministers of the Church of Scotland commemorated in the war memorials outside the General Assembly Hall and in Martin Hall.

Links

Armistice 100: New College remembers

New College Library

New College Archives catalogue