He Came Back
In those flames he lives it again
and again. The kindled pine’s lick
and spit and crack take him back,
to the charges at Marne and Aisne,
Private John Mackintosh, Serial No. 12539, was a Piper in the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards who, at the age of 17 went off to fight at the outbreak of the First World War. Little is known of his activities but as his Battalion are known to have fought in a number of significant battles throughout the conflict, it can be assumed he was fully engaged, and in January, 1916, his name was included in a Casualty List issued by the War Office that referred to him being, ‘entitled to wear a wounded stripe’ on his uniform. When the war ended, he returned to his Highland home bearing the physical scars. He died five years later at the age of 26.
John Mackintosh was my Great Uncle. Many years ago, I was told by an elderly relative that when John came home at the end of the War, he was suffering from what was referred to at the time as ‘shell shock’, now of course medically recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder, and that during one desperately cold and snowy night, with too much whisky in his system he ventured outdoors. The following day, his frozen body was recovered.
However, that version of John’s passing has since been questioned by another relative, so I could no longer pursue my thought-to-be ‘factual’ piece about his sad but dramatic post-war death in the snow-covered Highlands.
My additional research included reading reports of the 1st Battalion’s activities and movements during the period of the War; accounts from some of those who survived, and photographic evidence of the horrors that these young men endured.
As with most of my writing, the facts merged with my research and my imagination and the seed of an idea developed.
The subject of my subject is a fictional young man of a similar age to John Mackintosh who, like him, came home to the Highlands bearing the scars of war. I cannot say with any authority that John Mackintosh suffered from PTSD, but the character in my centena does and, as many did, he numbs the memories and self-medicates with alcohol.
My Great Uncle was raised by and lived with his Grandmother in her rural cottage, and I assume that when he came home, he came home to her. So, my fictional character comes home to his mother who, while very happy to have him back, is pained to witness his continued suffering.
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