LCpl Jamie MacRae was one of the large number of reinforcements who joined the Argylls overseas in 1943. His letters reveal, as Col Alan Earp has repeated often of many Argylls, “another good and gentle man” who was also a fine soldier. I learned of LCpl MacRae during the preparation for Black yesterdays and, happily, we had access to his letters. There have been a number of poppies bought in memory of the late Maj Rob Fead, CD, following his tragic death. After we had done a poppy for Rob himself, we selected Argylls who shared some of Rob’s interests. Young Jamie MacRae and Rob Fead have a lot in common; the former is a most suitable choice for a poppy honouring the later.
“He is cut down in an instant with all his future a page now to remain forever blank.
There is an end but no conclusion.”
– Capt Sam Chapman, C and D Coys
“A tall, husky married man (5’, 10½”; 173 lb) … very good appearance and a mature, good-natured common-sense viewpoint … should make a top-grade soldier.” Such comments recur in the various personnel assessments of MacRae upon his enlistment on 19 April 1943. “Intelligent,” “mentally alert,” “finely balanced,” “a good conversationalist,” and “ambitious” were among the others.
Born on 5 Sept. 1911 in Powassan, Ont., he reached grade 10, having “missed 2 years … because of no school facilities.” He excelled at general repair work and had 2½ years as a pipe-fitting millwright at Defence Industries Limited in Nobel. He loved hunting, fishing, and swimming, and had joined up because he “figured he would have to later.” He married Rena Elizabeth Robertson on 12 Oct. 1940 and they had Elizabeth Gail on 27 May 1942 (d. 2015).
Pte MacRae joined the Argylls and “C” Coy at Riddlesworth in October 1943. As he wrote, “it is quite a change from the holding unit.” His training was “way below,” but he found the “spirit of cooperation and friendliness … [a] pleasant change.” Training was “plenty tough” and “seldom … dull”; his feet were “always cold.” By mid-November, he reported that he had “caught up with my training and have a good knowledge of how to take care of myself.” On leave with his brother, Dougie, he explored clan lands in Scotland. The country was “beautiful” and he sent his dad a book “which might bring back his Gaelic.”
Jamie relished regimental life and its evident spirit. Given his background, MacRae “was with the Pioneers although I eat and sleep with C Coy.” He hoped to be transferred to the Pioneers. In February 1944, during training in Scotland, he was “really in my element” and realized “all the color and adventure of the clans in days gone by.” “Quite satisfied to remain a Pte” with “nothing to worry about or be responsible for,” he was “quite happy” and had “no aspirations for fame or honour.”
In late July 1944, the Argylls were in France and MacRae was shocked by war’s destruction and had “never been so dirty in my life.” By 7 Aug. 1944, he “had a taste of battle and it wasn’t too terrible.” MacRae longed, however, for Deer Lake’s “peace + quiet.” Six days later, there was more action: “It is pretty grim at times” and accounts of mortar fire were “an underestimation of the real thing.” “Young Canada,” he wrote, “is on the prowl.”
Religion provided solace: “I have always tried to be a good christian [sic] and not a churchman.” “The work of God is everywhere and nature is the branch … which appeals to me.” “Faith and Prayer bring much relief and peace of mind to me here.” After being caught by MG fire in “no man’s land,” he wrote, “My courage has never been greater or my safety seemed so certain.” “If either of us [Jamie or his brother] fail to return,” he wrote to his parents, “it will be either that we have completed our mission in this world or because we failed in our endeavour to fulfil our missions.”
On 15 August, “C” and “D” Coys occupied Perrières. In his diary, CSM George Mitchell of “C” wrote: “Enemy resistance terrific … shelling still heavy — Killed, Shiaro, McCrae, Jucbel … Coy losses are getting heavy.” Unbeknownst to Jamie, his brother was killed the day before.
According to Jamie’s son-in-law, John Vigrass, the deaths of their two sons was “devastating” for the MacRae brothers’ parents. Jamie’s wife “decided to remain single” until their daughter, Gail, was grown up and married (in 1962). She had, quite naturally, “little memory” of her father, but he was never forgotten.
It may be said that LCpl MacRae had fulfilled his mission. In August 2005 locals erected a plaque on Wahwashkesh Lake, where the family resided, to honour the MacRae brothers, their service, and their sacrifice. The Huntsville Forester noted, “Few families, however, could have experienced a darker time than the MacRaes of Wahwashkesh Lake in mid-August 1944.”
Between 10 and 15 August 1944, 13 Argylls were killed in action and 36 wounded.
“a history bought by blood” – Capt Sam Chapman, C and D Coys
“In remembrance of Maj Rob Fead – Six Argyll friends”
Note: MacRae’s poppy (with this text) is on the virtual Argyll Field of Remembrance: right cluster, top grouping, farthest poppy on the left. The Argyll Regimental Foundation (ARF) commissioned Lorraine M. DeGroote to paint the Argyll Poppy (at top and below) for the Field of Remembrance.
MacRae with wife Rena and daughter Elizabeth Gail.