From the Roll of Honour
Was awared MC for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when forward observation officer of his battery. Finding his observation obstructed by long grass, he advanced about 200 yards into Nomansland, moving from shell hole to shell hole until he got a good view. He then returned for his wire and laid it out by himself, observing for his battery for 3 hours, during which he was constantly sniped and in great danger from his own shells. Had served with the Ross Mountain Battery throughout the Gallipoli campaign.
Stornoway Gazette, 17 May 1918
It is our painful duty to record the death in action of 2/Lieut Neil Macdonald, son of Mr Murdo Macdonald, 14 Balallan. The news that this gallant Lewisman had made the supreme sacrifice for King and Country plunged his native village into deepest gloom, as it weighted the hearts of a wider circle of friends who learned the sad intelligence through our columns.
Lieut Macdonald was a most promising student at the Nicolson Institute when war broke out in August 1914. He was at the time attached to the ROss Mountain Battery, went into training with them att Bedofrd, and thereafter served throughout the Gallipoli Campaign both at Cape Helles and Suvla Bay. His tact, daring and skill early marked him out for promotion and he was eventually gazetted 2/Lieut. Latterly he was transferred to the RGA and saw much fighting with the 263 Siege Battery in France.
In July 1917 he won the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery in the field [see above] and at the time of his death (caused by a shell on April 25th) he was on the eve of receiving promotion to 1st Lieut.'s rank. His superior officers and friends predicted a brilliant future for this young hero, and it is sad indeed to think that so promising a career has been prematurely closed.
Lieut-Col. H Kelsall, MA, in a letter dated 27th April writes:
It is with the deepest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, 2/Lieut N. Macdonald. On the morning of the 25th April the Battery position was very heavily shelled and the officers and men had to clear out or get into such trenches as were available. Your son could not be found that day or yesterday, and a further search was made this morning by two officers of the Battery, accompanied by Padre, the Rev (Capt) JD Burns, with the result that they found the body almost completely buried in a trench. It was identified by a Testament in the jacket pocket with the name in it. It was impossible to remove the body, which was buried where it lay. The spot is noted and can easily be identified. It may be some little comfort to you to know that your son was much loved by all, not only in the Battery, but by all the officers of my Brigade. He was a splendid boy, as brave as a lion and a thoroughly good officers, and he died as every good soldier would sih to do, at his post on the guns. The Major of the Battery and a good many men are still missing. I fear that all your son's personal belongings were burnt, as the farm house where the officers and me were lying was set on fire. I will get Capt Burns to send you the Testament that was found in your son's pocket. Please accept the sincerest sympathy of myself and my officers.
In a letter to Mr and Mrs Macdonald, the Chaplain says thei rson was killed outright along with two of his men by a shell hitting the trench in which they were sheltering during a heavy bombardment of the position. Owing to the fact that the place was being heavily shelled when the bodies were found on the 26th, they could not be removed and had to be buried where they lay.
Heartfelt sympathy is expressed to the bereaved parents, brothers and sisters.
A later tribute runs as follows:
"These are days of suddenoverwhelming griefs." When I penned these words a few days ago, I did not know with what awful swiftness I was to realise their truth, for the very "Gazette" that contained them informed me of the death of one of my "boys", 2/Lieut Neil Macdonald, 14 Balallan.
In the old days, quite a number of clever lads passed out from the village school, and none more brilliant than he. A steady determined worker, he brought to bear on all he did a concentration of purpose most unusual and I had looked forward to see him leave the "Nicolson" the first student of his year. But just then broke out the world-war that has blasted many a promising career, and broken many a mother's heart.
At that time just recovering from an accident that had almost cost me my life, I was in a somewhat despondent mood, and I can still remember the thrill it gave me to see the fine enthusiasm and the spirit of high adventure that characterised all those gallant lads. Though of failure or dsappointment never came to them. That Wednesday night, 5th August , is one ever to be remembered in Lewis, for the grey old island gave ungrudgingly of her best and bravest.
Neither the hard discipline of trainig, nor yet the rigours of the Gallipoli campaign had any harmful effect, for he still remained the same light-heard, pleasant-tempered lad he had always been, ready for work or frolic as the case might be. I remember him showing me a photograph in which he and some of his chums were grouped round a gun, and knowing something of official rules and regulations asked him with some curiosity "How did you do that?" He looked at me with a quizzical smile and answered "That photograph cost me my dinner one day". But sometimes in little confidential bursts he would hint of dreadful doings, of that awful night when the 29th Division landed at Helles Bay, of that other night when a gun burst, stretching him and others out senseless and still later of the Suvla Bay adventure. In the end of 1915, he was invalided home, and on recovery was sent into training for promotion.
It was during that period we discussed his future, which of the professions he should adopt after the turmoil and fever or war was over. "What?" he cried, his face all aglow, "do you think I could come back to four musty walls after all that?" and the eloquent wave of his hand was indication enough of the longer vision that was his.
Of the few short months of his later life another pen has written. He has lived his young life to the full, taking from it all that it possessed and now that it is ended who dare say it was not the better, nobler life? He has passed on to the land of the ever-young, to us who remain are the dreary barren years.
"But this we know, dear lad, all's well,
With th eman who has done his best,
And whether he live, or whether he died,
He is sacred high in our memory-
And to God we can leave the rest"
Brigadier G. B. Mackenzie, commanding the 9th Corps Heavy Artillery writes:
"It is with most sincere regret that I write to express my deep sympathy with you and yours in your sore bereavement. I think I first met your son in August or September 1917 and remember telling him that though the Macdonald and Mackenzies had been traditional enemies, I was sure we should get on well together. For I had already been told of the extraordinary bravery he had exhibited in observing the fire of his battery on two occasions in No Man's Land at a distance of 150 yards from the target, when his battery was firing shells the fragments of which rendered his position extremely dangerous. For this he had been awarded the Military Cross. I was therefore proud to have him under my command for a time. His battery soon left me and I remember meeting one of his brothers subalterns and asking him to tell Neil where I had found a little clump of heather - for I also am a Highlanders. On 3 April, his Battery again came under my command. I always looked upon as a pleasure to see him when visiting his Battery, and if I had had a son I would have liked such a one as he... On 25th April, the Germans attacked heavily but after very hard fighting were repulsed. Neil's Battery was the most advanced of the heavy artillery and was subjected to a very heavy bombardment. Every gun was knocked out and the command post was destroyed. It was not for nearly two days that we knew what had become of Neil. He was found partly burned in a shelter trench and was identified by his name found written in the New Testament found in his pocket.
Deeply as I mourn his loss, I can think of no more glorious end for his short career than to fall at his post in the hottest of the fight, successfully resisting the attack of the enemies of the right and to be revealed by his name being found written in the Book of Life. 'How bright these glorious spirits shine'. I look forward to meeting him again some day.