“Sgt. MacKenzie” is a lament written and sung by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie, in memory of his great-grandfather who was killed in combat during World War I. It has been used in the 2002 movie We Were Soldiers.

Joseph MacKenzie wrote the haunting lament after the death of his wife, Christine, and in memory of his great-grandfather, Charles Stuart MacKenzie, a sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, who along with hundreds of his brothers-in-arms from the Elgin-Rothes area in Moray, Scotland went to fight in World War I. Sergeant MacKenzie was bayoneted to death at age 33, while defending one of his badly injured fellow soldiers during hand-to-hand trench warfare. His grave stone states that he died on 9 April 1917….

Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie went to fight in France during World War I and was shot in the shoulder. The military sent him home to Scotland for treatment, where the surgeon wanted to amputate his arm. Sgt. MacKenzie refused, stating that he had to go back to his men. While recuperating in the hospital, he was asked what it was like to kill “the Hun” (as the Germans were called then). He replied, “what a waste of a fine body of men.” His last picture, with him in uniform, was taken on the steps of the hospital. This picture hung in his home above the fireplace. Upon his return to the front, he and his men were engaged in fixed bayonet combat. The composer says,

To the best of my knowledge, and taken from reports of the returning soldiers, one of his close friends fell, badly wounded. Charles stood his ground and fought until he was overcome and died from bayonet wounds. On that day, my great grandmother and my grandmother were sitting at the fire when the picture fell from the wall. My great grandmother looked, and said to my grandmother “Oh, my bonnie Charlie’s dead.” Sure enough a few days passed, and the local policeman brought the news – that Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie had been killed in action. This same picture now hangs above my fireplace. A few years back my wife Christine died of cancer, and in my grief I looked at his picture to ask what gave him the strength to go on. It was then, in my mind, that I saw him lying on the field and wondered what his final thoughts were. The words and music just appeared into my head. I believe the men and women like yourself who are prepared to stand their ground for their family—for their friends—and for their country; deserve to be remembered, respected and honoured. “Sgt. MacKenzie” is my very small tribute to them….

—From Wikipedia (Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License)

Lyrics are below the embedded listening samples.

Lyrics:

Original Scottish Version
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

When they come a wull staun ma groon
Staun ma groon al nae be afraid

Thoughts awe hame tak awa ma fear
Sweat an bluid hide ma veil awe tears

Ains a year say a prayer faur me
Close yir een an remember me

Nair mair shall a see the sun
For a fell tae a Germans gun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Lay me doon in the caul caul groon
Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun

Whaur afore monie mair huv gaun
 
English Translation
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid

Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat and blood hide my veil of tears

Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes and remember me

Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a German’s gun

Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone

Where before many more have gone

In memory of Sgt. Charles Stuart MacKenzie
Seaforth Highlanders
Who along with many others gave up his life
So that we can live free

—courtesy of ST Lyrics

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The featured image is a photograph taken during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916 of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) having a dinner in a dugout in a trench at Contalmaison. This file is in the public domain and appears here courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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