War, the Liberator, and Other Pieces/Memoir



THE only surviving son of the late Alexander Mackintosh, formerly of Teaninich House, Alness, Ross-shire, Alan Mackintosh was born on 4th March 1893 at Brighton. He was the grandson of Dr Guinness Rogers. He received his early education at Brighton College, from which he won a scholarship at St Paul’s, going straight into the Middle VIIIth. He was already a writer of verses, and for a period he edited the Pauline. Two years later, in October 1912, he came to Christ Church as a Classical Scholar. At Christmas 1914 he joined the 5th Seaforths as a subaltern, and after training at Golspie he crossed to France with his battalion in July 1915, and bore his share of fighting. In May 1916 he carried out a successful raid, which was described in the Press at the time, and which brought him the Military Cross. He returned to England in August 1916, having been wounded and gassed at High Wood. For eight months he taught bombing to the corps of cadets at Cambridge; and while at Cambridge he became engaged to Sylvia Marsh, daughter of a Quaker family, with whose traditions and ideals he had much in common. They planned to make their home in New Zealand. In October last he returned to France, joining the 4th Battalion of the Seaforths, and on 21st November, in the fighting about Cambrai, he fell, shot through the head.

Alan Mackintosh looked the Gael he was, loose-limbed, muscular, tall and dark. He carried a fine head well. His roving eye, merry, tender, cautious, penetrating, bold by rapid turns, epitomised the richness of his nature and his still rarer force of self-expression.

He spent two happy years at Oxford. For study, and especially the routine study of the schools, he cared little. Native power and a felicitous exuberance in literary things gained him his place in honour classical moderations. He played with Socialism, to the point of having scruples about the possession of wealth. He read poetry enthusiastically, and notably French poetry, in which his répertoire was very large. Both in term and out of term he cultivated, above all, the sentiments and the arts of the Highlands. He learned to play the pipes and to speak Gaelic, things which later endeared him to his regiment. His friendships were many and ardent. Of his bosom friends, Andrew Fraser of Christ Church was reported wounded and missing in the same Cambrai fighting, E. J. Solomon of Exeter College, who is commemorated in “Gold Braid,” was killed in August 1917, while Ian M‘Kenzie of Balliol has fallen in the present battle.

In the army the Gael in him, artist and man, ripened quickly. With growing strength and health he grew in the control and the use of his own powers and in influence over other men. He cherished political ambitions, whether to be fulfilled in the Colony or in England he scarcely knew. As a soldier he united brilliant courage with gentleness, and humour with resolution. His vivid and affectionate nature remained undulled through the years of warfare.

The present volume contains a number of pieces, some early and some late, which the author, had he lived, might have omitted. His many friends, and those who will know him only through his two books, will alike feel that from a last volume as little as need be should be excluded. It is difficult for one who knew him very intimately to estimate his work, for in each poem the author’s personality speaks with engaging and engrossing clearness. There is much in this volume and in “A Highland Regiment” (1917) that is already peculiarly complete and rounded in idea and also finished in form. There is much, too, of great promise. “The Remembered Gods,” which was written at Oxford, shows his poetic power with the great spaces, the long-ranging time, the brooding significance which are as a home to the highland imagination. In this direction, perhaps, his work might have developed notably. The shorter pieces exhibit remarkable concentration of mood and mastery of technique. The keynote varies: here the lightest play of fancy, there the broadly comic, again a haunting pain, sentiment, reverie, grimness, and unforced irony, but everywhere melody and sure movement and a delicate rightness. The war pieces, unlike many that have been written since 1914, evade the circumstance and horror of war. There is strangely little, indeed, about the war in any of them, but much about the minds and hearts of those who wage it. There shines through them a very triumph over war. This much loved gallant poet is of those whose living martyrdom rises whole-souled above the storm of violence and is humanity’s true victory. And not that martyrdom only.


Christ Church, Oxford

April 1918