49 - RECORDS OF THE MEN OF LOCHBROOM
2nd LIEUTENANT. ROBERT ALEXANDER CAMERON MACMILLAN,
2nd Bn. The Seaforth Highlanders.
Youngest son of the late Rev. John Macmillan, Free Church Manse, Ullapool.
Lieut. Macmillan was educated at the Ullapool School, the Glasgow High School and the Glasgow University, and was probably the most distinguished scholar of any of those whose records appear in these pages. He took his Degree with First Class Honours in Philosophy, and the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy was conferred upon him in his twenty-eighth year.
His chief literary work was The Crowning Phase of the Critical Philosophy.
In December 1913 he accepted a Call to St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Kensington, and it is said that his wonderful sermons were an inspiration to many who prized his friendship as a gift of God. Then came the War, and from the first he felt the Call. “I cannot see much use in preaching at present,” he wrote from London. “I have nothing to say. How can I stand up and preach courage to young men when I haven’t myself done what they are willing to do? So you must not be surprised if you hear that I have joined.”
For nine months he served as a Chaplain to the 2nd Camerons in France and Salonika, and then resigned and came home to train in the O.C.B.
Received his commission November 1916.
Posted to the Seaforth Highlanders.
For six weeks he was in training at Cromarty. “If I got leave to go up to the top of Ben Wyvis, I could see dear old Ullapool,” he wrote. “I have a great longing to see it, but fear it can’t be managed.”
Before going to the Front his wish was granted. He came to Ullapool and preached to a large congregation in the United Free Church.
Embarked for France early in 1917.
Attached to the 6th Seaforths, but ultimately joined the 2nd Seaforths, the old 78th. On the 9th of April they went into action. On the 11th he was reported missing. Five weeks later he was found, and his body lies in the Cemetery between Fampaux and Roeux.
Amongst many tributes paid to his memory special mention must be made of the address by Col. John Buchan :- “I am glad to have the privilege of paying my last tribute to one of the greatest and most heroic spirits I have known. I think I knew Robiie Macmillan longer than most of you here. He as an intimate friend of my family and myself ever since he first came down from the far Northern Highlands to study at a Scottish University. I knew him as a brilliant scholar, a philosopher who, if he had lived, would have done great things in the world of thought. I knew him, as you knew him, as one of the few living preachers whose lips were touched with the Divine fire. I knew him, above all, as the kindest and loyalest of friends. But I never knew one half of his greatness till the outbreak of War. I remember having many talks with him when he was still struggling to find where lay his chief duty. As you know, he did admirable service as a Chaplain in France and at Salonika. But I always felt that this would not content him. He was one of those who, when they give, must give everything, and he was a happy man when, after the gallant fashion of our Presbyterian Church, he joined the combatant ranks in his beloved Seaforths.
“At a time like this words have little meaning. How are we to speak adequately of those who have made the great sacrifice. He has given his life for his country. Do you realise the tremendous meaning of that phrase? Most of us do not give our lives; they are taken from us slowly, bitterly and unwillingly. But he, and others like him, gave their lives cheerfully and freely, and the gift was greater when a brilliant career lay before the giver. We do not dare to call that a tragedy which for him was a privilege; we cannot call that a loss which for him was infinite gain. He loved and followed his Master, and he now knows Him face to face. He was a seeker after truth, and he has won the great illumination. He thrilled to his country’s glory and honour, and he is now part of it for ever. ‘The paths of glory lead but to the grave’ : it is a famous line from a famous poem (Elegy Written In A Country Church Yard, Thomas Gray, 1716-1771). But it is not true. They are only paths that do not end in the grave. The paths of common pleasure and of common ambition find there their inexorable end, but the brave man, dying in a great cause, is a victor over death. For him the depths of the Valley of the Shadow became the shining and sunlit steeps of immorality.
“I have found sometimes among the French soldiers a curious fancy. They say that on the battlefields, where they have fought so often, the dead must still be reckoned among the combatants, and that they may intervene at some great crisis to turn the fate of the day. It is a strange fancy, but is it not a parable of truth? The world has become, for most of us, nowadays, a very small and empty place. The youngest, the ablest, the bravest and the best are now mostly on the other side. But they are not dead - they do not even sleep. They are still fighting in the old war for justice and mercy and freedom. When Mr. Standfast crossed the River and won the Celestial City, I do not think he remained there. I think he went back to the Wicket Gate and continued to strengthen and encourage faint-hearted pilgrims. We know that Robbie’s gallant spirit is still with us for the rest of the journey. I like to think of his going into battle on that April day at Arras, in the certain confidence that death, if it overtook him, was no more than a little darkness before a great daylight, a short pause in an immortal energy. I like to think of him in the noble words of the ballad, words of another Scottish Hero:-
“Fight on, fight on, . . .
Though I be hurt, I am not slain;
I’ll lay me down and bleed a while,
And then I’ll rise and fight again.”
Sir Andrew Barton, (c. 1466-1511).
“O Lord, Thou knowest how busy we must be this day: if we forget Thee, do not Thou forget us, for Christ’s sake. Amen.”
(Prayer of General Lord Ashley, 1579, before the Battle of Edgehill. Written on the fly-leaf of Lieut. Robert Macmillan’s note book.) .