Centenary of the Battle of Arras
April sees the centenary of the Battle of Arras, where on this day, Fettes’ first Victoria Cross of WW1 was awarded to 21-year-old Lt. Donald Mackintosh. He is today the best-known of Fettes’ VC winners, not least because of the large oil painting of him, donated by his sister, which hangs in the main College building. There is no documentary proof that when the eminent sculptor Birnie Rhind created the school war memorial, depicting a officer of a kilted regiment waving his men on to the attack, he had any individual in mind, but school myth insists that the young man immortalised in bronze is indeed a representation of this particular hero, and the pupils often refer to him as Mackintosh.
A 21-year-old Glaswegian medical lecturer’s son, Lt. Mackintosh is one of the young men staring staunchly from the 1913 photograph familiar to many of today’s pupils of the Moredun house platoon of the Officers Training Corps. He was planning to become a doctor himself so initially enlisted in the ranks of the RAMC, but by February 1915 had joined the Seaforth Highlanders as an officer; the was wounded in France in March 1916, not long after going to the front. On 11 April, the 2nd Seaforths and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers attacked north of Fampoux. Shelled by the Germans, they continued to advance across almost a mile of open ground towards the enemy positions in the chemical works at Roeux, which was something of a fortress and from which machine-gunners and riflemen kept up heavy fire. Of the 432 officers and men of 2 Seaforths who left the trenches that day, only 57 were not killed, wounded, or captured. Mackintosh’s VC citation was printed in the school magazine with great pride:
"For most conspicuous bravery and resolution north of Fampoux, France, on 11th April 1917, in the face of intense rifle fire. During the initial advance he was shot through the right leg, but though crippled, he continued to lead his men and captured an enemy trench. In the captured trench, Lieutenant Mackintosh collected men of another company who had lost their leader and drove back a counter-attack. He was again wounded and although unable to stand he continued nevertheless to control the situation. With only fifteen men he ordered his party to be ready to advance to the final objective and with great difficulty got out of the trench and encouraged his men to advance. He was again wounded and fell. The gallantry and devotion to duty of this officer was beyond all praise."
"He was one of the bravest. The men would have followed him anywhere at any time", Mackintosh's sergeant, from an interview in The Fettesian