Ewart Alan Mackintosh was the son of Alexander Mackintosh, from Inverness-shire, and his English second wife, Lilian Rodgers. He was the youngest child of the family, born in Brighton, where he attended Brighton College, and won a scholarship to St. Paul’s. At St. Paul’s his attainments were adequate rather than excellent, but he edited the school magazine, The Pauline, and won a classical scholarship to Christ Church, Oxford. Early poetry related to both of his countries – to Sussex and to the Highlands, as well as to possible young romance.
Mackintosh began his studies at Oxford in October 1912, and as at school, his natural talent for literature rather than assiduous application to work got him by. What he did apply himself to was his growing interest in all things Highland. He began to learn Gaelic and to play the bagpipes. Fishing trips with his father to the Alness area and Highland holidays with two university friends nurtured his sense of Scottishness.
When war broke out and his Oxford contemporaries were accepted into the army, Mackintosh was rejected because of poor eyesight. He joined the university Officer Training Corps, and was eventually accepted by the 5th Seaforth Highlanders at the end of 1914. He served in France from July 1915, appointed battalion bombing officer (hand grenade expert). In March 1916 the 51st Division took over a sector north of Arras previously held by the French, where the opposing trenches were close together. In May Mackintosh led a successful raid on a German trench, during which three of his men had arms or legs blown off; despite his struggles to carry them back in, they all died. The action brought him the Military Cross, though he wrote that he would ‘rather have the boys’ lives’. It also inspired his best-known poem, ‘In Memoriam’, which shows the depth of the love for his men and the sense of responsibility which was to urge him to return to the Front. He was himself wounded and gassed at High Wood in August 1916, and sent back to England. Once recovered, he spent eight months at Cambridge training cadets, and while there became engaged to a VAD nurse. Nevertheless his determination to return to active service was strong, and he joined the 4th Seaforths near Bapaume at the beginning of October 1917. Mackintosh was killed in the fighting around Cambrai on 21st November.
These lines from Mackintosh’s poem ‘A Creed’ are engraved on the Scottish American War Memorial in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh:
If it be life that waits I shall live for ever unconquered,
If death I shall die at last strong in my pride and free.