Alexander James ‘Hamish’ Mann was born in Broughty Ferry in April 1896. He was educated at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, and owing to illness, under private tuition. During the early months of the war he assisted at Craigleith Military Hospital, where he joint-edited The Craigleith Chronicle.
Mann was commissioned in July 1915, and drafted to France in August 1916, joining the 8th Battalion Black Watch near Bethune. He survived several battles of the Somme, but was wounded while leading his platoon during the advance at Arras in April 1917, and died on the 10th, five days after his 21st birthday.
Mann had contributed to The Craigleith Chronicle and other Scottish publications under the pen-name ‘Lucas Cappe’. In the brief year he was in service in France, he wrote a good two dozen poems. His parents collected his poetry, adding to what was written in the trenches some pre-war work and other poems written before he saw active service, and published it as A Subaltern’s Musings in 1918.
Several of the poems in the collection describe the horrors of the battlefield, and a few more are humorous, but most muse upon the nature of war, and the likelihood of his own survival. He manages to face up to death with a matter-of-fact attitude, as in ‘Weep Not For Me’:
Let memories of me be brave and true:
I would not like to think the Life I gave
Had brought you woe. Be proud, not bent
With gloom, as though some frightful shame had spent
Its fury on your house.
I die …. What then?
I am but one ‘mongst countless finer men.
Also of interest are the poems which admit that war brings, too, a heightened sense of life: ‘At least I live!’, and that it has given him a chance to prove himself:
I have done nothing more worthwhile before…
My hour, my chance, my crisis, are to-day!