Some time ago this club received an enquiry from a grand son of a former player and as with many of these seemingly routine enquiries, research and investigations can unearth a mountain of information that tell the tale of extraordinary and well lived lives.
One other such tale is the life story of Billy Mackay - a boy from a village in the North East of England who won League and Cup winners medals with Linfield in 1934 and who after surviving some of the horrors of the campaign to liberate Europe in the Second World War, lived to a grand old age of 91 and whose memory and legacy I am proud to promote, celebrate and keep alive for future generations through this tribute article.
It was Billy's grand son Alan Cuthbertson who got in touch with us seeking details about his grand father's football career and it is he who has been able to provide some quite precise details (reproduced below) about Billy's military service.
Linfield's very own military expert Johnny Jamison has also been able to add further archive materials, by way of added tribute to a man whose service for club and country we salute today.
As with all these enquiries, our initial search for information took me to the treasure trove that is the personal handwritten anecdotes and records of the former chairman, the late David Crawford from where the following can be revealed.
William Alexander Mackay was born on March 19, 1910.
Known as Billy, he grew up at Chapel Hill, Togston, Broomhill, Morpeth in Northumberland.
As a footballer, he was 5ft 8 and weighed 12 stone.
He was an outside right or outside left who David Crawford records as being "a noted sprinter".
His football career started as follows
Local clubs - Broomhill Institute (1926-27) and Pegswood (1927-30)
Sheffield Wednesday - 1930/33 - 2 appearances
Tranmere Rovers - 1933 (May-Oct) - 7 appearances and 1 goal
Barnsley - October to November 1933
Billy Mackay signed for Linfield in November 1933 and he made his debut in a 6-1 league win away to Portadown on 25 November 1933. The legendary Joe Bambrick scored a hat trick with Alfie Caiels (2) and Gowdy also on target for the Blues.
When playing for Linfield, Billy lived at 340 Lisburn Rd, near Windsor Park.
He scored his first 2 Linfield goals in a 6-1 home win against Ballymena in the County Antrim Shield on January 31, 1934.
In total, he made 53 Linfield appearances and scored 18 goals and this can be broken down as follows, across his two seasons at this club.
1933/34 - 30 appearances and 8 goals
1934/35 - 23 appearances and 10 goals
In addition, he also made 5 appearances for Linfield Swifts in the 1934/35 season.
With Linfield, he won the following honours
1933/34 - Irish League winners medal - Billy played in 10 of the 26 league games
1933/34 - Irish Cup winners medal - Billy scored once in a 5-0 Cup Final win against Cliftonville at the Oval on April 14, 1934.
The other goals were scored by Bambrick, Caiels, Donnelly and McCracken.
The winning team line up was Eckersley, Richmond, Richardson, Edwards, Jones, McCleery, Mackay, McCracken, Bambrick, Donnelly and Caiels.
1933/34 - County Antrim Shield winners medal - Billy and Joe Bambrick both scored hat tricks in a 7-1 Final win against Ards at Grosvenor Park on April 30, 1934. Caiels got the other goal.
1933/34 - Charity Cup winners medal, following a 4-0 final win against Distillery at Solitude on May 19, 1934.
1934/35 - Irish League winners medal - Billy played in 18 of the 26 League games in that title winning season.
Billy's last game for Linfield was a City cup 4-0 win away to Newry on March 2, 1935.
He was given a free transfer in 1935 and his football career continued as follows
Swansea Town - 1935/36 - 13 appearances and 3 goals
Hull City - 1937/38 - 12 appearances
North East clubs, Ashington (1938) and Amble FC (1938-39)
Billy joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in 1936 and he played football for his army regiment team (1940-45)
War broke out in 1939 and David Crawford's records only have one other line relating to his military career. The line reads "Wounded in France - after convalescing, returned to Germany".
At first glance, this seemed a strange line but as will be revealed in this next section, it would appear that "returned to Germany" refers to Billy's involvement in the campaign to liberate Germany from Nazi rule in the concluding months of the War in Europe.
The following records of Billy's war involvement are reproduced as provided by his grand son Alan Cuthbertson who advises that Billy fought and was injured in the battle for Caen in Normandy in France in 1944.
William 'Bill’ Mackay - Army Career
Enlisted: 26th July 1940
Rank: W/S Corporal (War Substantive) Serial Number: 4277794
Branch: Royal Northumberland Fusiliers Role of Battalion: 7th Divisional M/Gunners Company: A
(Research suggests training for 4 years until June 27th 1944)
Date: 26th July 1940 - 12th October 1940
Attached to: Area command Gosport near Edinburgh. Location: United Kingdom
Role of Battalion: Divisional M/Gunners
Date: 12th October 1940 - 17th December 1940 Attached to: 206th Ind Infantry Brigade (Home)
Location: United Kingdom
Role of Battalion: Unknown (most probably MG) Ultimately overseen by: Scottish Command
Date: 18th Dec 1940 - 17th November 1941 Attached to: ?
Location: United Kingdom
Role of Battalion: Unknown (most probably MG)
Attached to: Training with various Location: Ireland
Role of Battalion: Machine Gunners
Date: 18th November 1941 - 14th October 1942 Attached to: 59th Infantry Div (Staffordshire)
Location: Ireland / United Kingdom
Role of Battalion: Divisional MG Battalion
Date: 2nd Oct 1942 - 27th February 1944 Attached to: 59th Infantry Div (Staffordshire) Location: Folkestone.
Role of Battalion: Divisional Support Battalion
Date: 27th February 1944 - 24th August 1944
Attached to: 59th Infantry Div (Staffordshire)
Location: Shorncliffe Barracks Folkestone January - June 1944.
Training. Location: Normandy June 27th 1944.
Role of Battalion: Divisional MG Battalion
Alan’s research into his grandfathers military service is ongoing and so the above is far from a completed piece of work.
Jonny Jamison who provided the images of war archives below advises "It looks like he was wounded weeks after the Normandy landings. It looks like his battalion would have encountered pockets of heavy resistance as they pushed inland. They would have been fighting in fields and streets of towns as the Allies pushed towards Berlin. On his papers it says D.N.R. which means date not recorded. Billy and his comrades would have been in the thick of it, and witnessed war in the ugliest of forms, as some battalions were involved in hand to hand fighting. and at that time there was a shortage of men. So he wouldn't have got much rest either."
After the war Billy played for Folkestone in 1945 and Broomhill until 1952 in his native North East.
David Crawford's records refer to a visit Billy and other close family members made to a Linfield game at Windsor Park (from England) in November 2000, when he was aged 90. As can be seen from one of the images below, reference was made to his visit in the following issue of 'Look at Linfield'. Ironically, the same issue also featured a photo of a statue of Jackie Milburn, another former Linfield star from the North East of England.
Billy must have thought highly of his time with Linfield for him to want to return on a visit to Belfast, 65 years after his playing career at the club and of course with him being at such an advanced age at the time.
Billy Mackay passed away in his home town of Morpeth on November 4, 2001, aged 91.
The funeral service for Billy took place at the crematorium at Cowpen cemetery in Blyth, with his final resting place being alongside his late wife Georgina.
In recent times Linfieldfc.com has told the stories of other North East players Tommy Thompson and Arthur Wright who won honours with Linfield and who served in a military capacity in Northern Ireland during the Second World War.
As with all these tales of players from yesteryear, Linfield FC salutes all their achievements and I trust that this article can do justice to and prove to be an adequate tribute to the memory of a man who won medals with Linfield and then earned medals on the bloody battlefields of Northern France.
These players helped bring major silverware to Linfield and their successes have helped make Linfield the great club that it has become today.
Linfield FC salutes the memory of Billy Mackay today and it’s great that his grand son Alan Cuthbertson is passing down details of Billy’s life story to his own 10 year old son so that his memory and legacy can be kept alive in future generations.
It is always great when descendants of our former players get in touch with the club to discover details of their ancestors and one day it would be nice to welcome Alan Cuthbertson and other family members to the redeveloped Windsor Park - on the same site where his grandfather won back to back league winners medals 85 years ago.
The omission of Billy Mackay (as with other similar recent “discoveries”) from the clubs war records was unfortunate and unintended and some belated recognition can hopefully be given to him by this article and by the addition of his name to the club’s war memorial in due course.
Linfield FC remembers with pride and fond affection the service of Billy Mackay (and all his colleagues) and trusts that their souls are resting in eternal peace.
Audaces Fortuna Juvat
Footnote - family members listed below
Mavis Cuthbertson (Eldest daughter nee Mackay)
Irene Lowes (Youngest daughter nee Mackay)
Neil Cuthbertson (Eldest Grandson)
Alan Cuthbertson (Youngest Grandson)
Joanne Lowes (Eldest Granddaughter)
Suzanne Rowlett (Youngest Granddaughter nee Lowes)
Between Grandchildren he also has 5 Great grandchildren
Billy was married to Georgina for just over 50yrs before she passed away.
Below - Mackay, Caiels, Donnelly and Gowdy.
Linfield FC was delighted to receive the following email from Billy’s grand daughter which is added to this article with her permission.
To the person or people that worked on the article and research.
I just wanted to thank you. I found out about this through the family grapevine. It’s filled in some blanks about his time at your club. Although he spoke about his time there a few times (especially when we visited) he never went into specifics. He spoke more about enjoying his time and making good friends. Generally the only thing he said about football and his time playing was how heavy the old style footballs were to head (especially when wet).
When he had the chance to go back to your club for his 90th there was no hesitation whatsoever. He was so excited and honoured to get the chance to return. I can still remember sitting in the box with him and the rest of my family on a typical November Saturday (weather was a bit cold, overcast and drizzly). My Granda however, had the biggest smile on his face the entire day. It’s a day and trip that’s stayed with me. One I’m very thankful to have experienced with him and one I know meant a lot to him as well.
In your article I saw your paragraph about us visiting. I hope my reply about that visit helps with how he viewed that trip.
Granddaughter of Billy Mackay