The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

A/758 Lance Corporal Hector McLean

33rd Overseas Battalion
1st Canadian Infantry Battalion

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR

Hector McLean was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 13 Aug 1880.

McLean attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (C.E.F.) with the 33rd Overseas Battalion at Windsor, Ontario, on 29 Jan 1915. A 34-year-old grocer, McLean was described on his attestation paper as 6 feet 1/2 inch tall, weighing 180 pounds, with a 38-inch chest, a fresh complexion, grey eyes, and brown hair. His religious denomination was Presbyterian. McLean identified his wife, Mrs. C.C. McLean, 7 Blair St., Shettleston, Glasgow, as his next of kin. On attesting with the 33rd Battalion, McLean was given the regimental number A758. (When the soldiers recruited into the 33rd Battalion were later assigned a C.E.F. service number block, McLean's number would have changed to 400758, but this was never effected.)

The 33rd Battalion, C.E.F., authorized on 7 Nov 1914, was an infantry battalion recruited and was mobilized in London, Ontario. The unit embarked for Great Britain on 1 April 1916, Reinforcing Drafts recruited by the unit sailed on 17 Jul and 17 Aug 1915. It was redesignated the 33rd Reserve Battalion on 6 Apr 1916 and provided reinforcements 6 Jul 1916 when its remaining personnel were absorbed by the 36th Bn.

Hector McLean initiated a pay assignment beginning July 1915. This would send &dol;16.00 of his pay each month to his wife. In addition, she would receive &dol;20.00 monthly as a separation allowance.

The 33rd Battalion produced and sent overseas two reinforcing drafts for the C.E.F. before the battalion itself sailed for England. Hector McLean left Canada with the 1st Reinforcing Draft on 17 Jul 1915, sailing from Montreal aboard the S.S. Scandinavian.

On 27 Jul 1915, McLean was taken on the strength of the 12th Reserve Battalion at Shorncliffe and posted to No. 2 Company. The 12th Battalion, C.E.F., began its service as an infantry battalion authorized on 10 Aug 1914. The unit sailed for England in September, 1914, where it was redesignated the 12th Reserve Infantry Battalion on 29 Apr 1915. As a Reserve battalion, the unit provided reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field until it was reduced during the summer of 1916 and ultimately dissolved. The unit's remaining troops were absorbed on 4 Jan 1917 into a new 12th Res. Bn. when the reserve infantry units of the C.E.F. were reorganized.

McLean was promoted to Lance Corporal in the 12th Res. Bn. on 13 Jul 1915. he would have to relinquish this rank before proceeding to France. This was a common measure as the units in the field preferred to promote from within their own ranks, and to take in new reinforcements as Privates, regardless of the rank they may have achieved in the reinforcement system.

While at No. 3 Canadian General Base Depot, McLean joined a draft to proceed overseas to the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion on 29 Aug 1915. Reaching France, he joined the unit in the field on 4 Sep 1915. As a soldier of the infantry, McLean would experience the front line trenches, support trenches, reserves, marching, and training that were the perpetual cycle of the infantry battalions on the Western Front. Few tours of the front lines were without casualties, and even when out of the most forward trenches, the reach of enemy artillery could take its toll. McLean was re-appointed to the rank of Lance Corporal in the 1st Battalion on 1 Mar 1916.

On the night of 17/18 May 1916, the 1st Battalion relieved the 8th Canadian Infantry Battalion in the front lines near Zillebeke, south-east of Ypres. Experiencing shelling and gas alerts each day, the War Diary entry for 20 May 1916 is typical for the unit's tour in the front trenches:

"May 20th.

"Weather fine, wind South Easterly. Gas Alert still on, casualties 1 O.R. killed, 1 wounded, sniper. Heavies bombarded enemy's mine shaft 3-5 p.m. Retaliation on New Year [Trench] and Gordon Post.

Hector McLean was killed in action 20 May 1916. His Circumstances of Death record held by Library and Archives Canada reads:

"Killed in Action. He was killed during a heavy bombardment of our positions at Hill 60, Zillebeke."

McLean was buried at Chester Farm Cemetery. The grave register for the cemetery contains the following entry:

"McLEAN, Lce. Cpl. H., A/758. 1st Bn. Canadian Inf. (Western Ontario Regt.). Killed in action 20th May, 1916. Age 35. Son of Hector and Annie M. McLean, of 133, Dalmarnock St., Parkhead, Glasgow. II. A. 4."

The personalized inscription at the base of McLean's gravestone reads:

"Till the Day Dawns, And Shadows Flee Away"

McLean's widow was granted a Pension as of 21 May 1916. Although the Pay Assignment from McLean's pay had stopped when he was declared Killed in Action, she continued to receive Separation Allowance until November, 1916. She would, however, have to repay the Separation Allowance sent to her after McLean's death, a note in McLean's service record stated that &dol;126.70 would be recovered from the Pension.

Caroline McLean was entitled to receive a War Service Gratuity granted to Dependents of Deceased Soldiers. The form for this was completed on 15 Jul 1920 and confirmed that she was entitled to receive &dol;180.00, a sum that was reduced by the amount of a &dol;64.00 Special Bonus which had been previously paid. A cheque was issued for her the same date.

For his service in the C.E.F., McLean was entitled to receive the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal. These were despatched to his widow, Mrs. Caroline C. McLean, 82 Old Shettleston Rd., Shettleston, Glasgow, Scot., on 2 Dec 1921. She would also receive the Memorial Plaque and Scroll and a silver Memorial Cross. McLean's mother, Mrs. H. McLean, 6 Dechmont St., Parkhead, Glasgow, would receive a second silver Memorial Cross. The plaque and crosses would be despatched in 1920 and 1922. The Cross for McLean's widow was first sent to her Blais Street address and returned, it was subsequently sent again to her new address.

Pro Patria


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