Clan hon­ours a hero 5,000 miles from home

The Oban Times - - News - SANDY NEIL sneil@oban­times.co.uk

A CANA­DIAN war hero, de­scended from In­dian chiefs and an out­law fam­ily orig­i­nally from Mull, was hon­oured by his rel­a­tives at last month’s Clan Ma­clean Gath­er­ing at Cas­tle Duart – de­spite book­ing a ho­tel in the wrong Tober­mory.

Pri­vate Ge­orge McLean, whose an­ces­tors hailed from Keng­harair, near Der­vaig, was awarded the Dis­tin­guished Con­duct Medal (DCM), the sec­ond high­est award for gal­lantry in the field, for his ac­tions dur­ing the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge in 1917.

To mark the cen­te­nary of Pte McLean’s act of bravey, two of his rel­a­tives – Freda and Emma Louie He was born into the Wild McLean out­law gang” from Kelowna in Bri­tish Columbia – made a pil­grim­age to the fam­ily’s an­ces­tral home dur­ing the is­land’s Clan Ma­clean Gath­er­ing.

How­ever, at the last minute they dis­cov­ered that their travel agent in Van­cou­ver had booked them to stay in Tober­mory, On­tario – a vil­lage 200 miles north-west of Toronto – but for­tu­nately their clans­men were able to find them ac­com­mo­da­tion in Tober­mory, Mull, for their trip.

Ge­orge McLean was born in Kam­loops, Bri­tish Columbia, on April 15, 1875, the only son of Al­lan McLean, leader of the in­fa­mous Wild McLean out­law gang, who was hanged for mur­der at New West­min­ster in Bri­tish Columbia in 1881.

Ge­orge did not talk of his fa­ther as he grew up work­ing as a cow­boy in Ni­cola Val­ley, but on his other side he did at least have no­ble lin­eage: his mother, An­gele, was the daugh­ter of Johnny Chilli­hetza, chief of the Dou­glas Lake In­dian band, and the niece of Ni­cola, grand chief of the Okana­gan peo­ple and chief of the Ni­cola Val­ley peo­ples.

Like many aboriginal Cana­di­ans, McLean served dur­ing the Boer War, where he be­came known as a fair shot and a good horse­man.

He was awarded the South Africa Medal, and set­tled back down as a rancher in the Dou­glas Lake area, with his wife, Theresa Ashton, with whom he had four chil­dren.

Aged 41, with the First World War well un­der way in Oc­to­ber 1916, Ge­orge en­listed once more in the 172nd (Rocky Moun­tain Rangers) Bat­tal­ion, in Ver­non, Bri­tish Columbia. Sail­ing for Great Bri­tain al­most im­me­di­ately, he was in France with the 54th Bat­tal­ion of the Cana­dian In­fantry (Koote­nay bat­tal­ion) as early as De­cem­ber. An is­sue of the Van­cou­ver

Daily Sun dated Oc­to­ber 7, 1917, re­ported Pte McLean had made a name for him­self in the mil­i­tary an­nals of the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge (April 9-12, 1917), where he launched a dar­ing solo at­tack on many Ger­man sol­diers. On the third day of bat­tle, Pte McLean re­turned from car­ry­ing a wounded of­fi­cer out of the melee to find him­self and a com­pan­ion near a Ger­man du­gout con­tain­ing around 60 men.

Armed with about a dozen Mills bombs – small grenades nick­named ‘pineap­ples’ – he was about to throw the first one when his com­pan­ion was killed by his side.

Ge­orge’s bi­og­ra­pher, Mel Rothen­burger, wrote his friend did not want his share of the rum handed out to sol­diers be­fore they went over the top.

As he handed it to Ge­orge, a sniper bul­let ended his life. That in­ci­dent is said to have spurred him into the ac­tions that won him the DCM, as he be­gan bomb­ing in earnest.

In the face of such de­ter­mi­na­tion, the Ger­man sergeant-ma­jor threw up his hands shout­ing: ‘Do not throw the bomb.’ Pte McLean paused and the Ger­man asked how many sol­diers were in his party. McLean an­swered that there were 150.

The Ger­man then handed over his au­to­matic and called to his com­pan­ions who emerged with their hands up. McLean then marched the sur­vivors to the Bri­tish lines un­der cover of the Ger­man au­to­matic weapon.

Ge­orge McLean be­came one of nearly 2,000 mem­bers of the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force to earn the DCM. His ci­ta­tion reads: ‘For con­spic­u­ous gal­lantry and de­vo­tion when deal­ing with en­emy snipers.

‘Sin­gle-handed, he cap­tured 19 pris­on­ers, and later when at­tacked by five more pris­on­ers, who at­tempted to reach a ma­chine gun, he was able, al­though wounded, to dis­pose of them un­aided, thus sav­ing a large num­ber of ca­su­al­ties.’

Af­ter returning to Canada, Ge­orge even­tu­ally be­came a fire­man in the Van­cou­ver re­gion, and died on Septem­ber 6, 1934, in Mer­ritt, Bri­tish Colom­bia.

Ear­lier this year, a cen­tury af­ter his brave feat of arms, the Clan Ma­clean Her­itage Trust and the Okana­gan Na­tion ar­ranged for Pri­vate Ge­orge McLean to be remembered in his home­town of Mer­ritt, and a mes­sage was sent for the cer­e­mony by the chief of Clan Ma­clean, Sir Lach­lan Ma­clean.

Sin­gle-handed, he cap­tured 19 pris­on­ers ” Ci­ta­tion for gal­lantry for Ge­orge McLean

Pri­vate Ge­orge McLean.

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