McLean, George

George McLean was born in Kamloops, British Columbia, on April 15, 1875. He was the son of Allan McLean, leader of the infamous Wild McLean Boys, who was executed at New Westminster in British Columbia in 1881. Despite that fact, Private George McLean was of 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. The latter gave his name to the Nicola Country, now represented by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District. Also, McLean’s paternal grandmother was the daughter of Louis Clexlixqen, Hereditary Chief of the Kamloops Indian Band.

Like many Aboriginal Canadians, McLean served during the Boer War, in South Africa (1899-1902). He enlisted at Kamloops on April 24, 1902 and served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles for 6 months. After the Boer War, he became a rancher in the Douglas Lake area.

During the First World War, every single man from the Head of the Lake Band aged between 20 and 35 volunteered. Though he was now 41 years old, McLean followed suite, enlisting once more in Vernon, British Columbia, on October 14, 1916. 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 that a party of returned veterans had arrived in Vancouver the day before and that Private McLean was among them. He had made a name for himself in the military annals of the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9-12 April 1917) where he launched a daring solo attack on a large number of German soldiers. During the third day of the battle, one of the officers of Private McLean’s section was wounded. He carried him out of the melee and when he returned, he and a companion found themselves near a German dugout containing about 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. He then stated bombing in earnest. In the face of such determination, the German sergeant-major threw up his hands shouting “Do not throw the bomb”. 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.

For his brave feat of arms, George McLean became one of nearly 2,000 members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) to earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), the second-highest award for gallantry available to non-commissioned officers and privates in the Great War. The private's citation resumes his actions:

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 his return to British Columbia, he eventually became a fireman in the Vancouver region. He died on September 6, 1934 in Merritt, Thompson-Nicola Regional District.

Further Reading

  • Canadian Great War Project. Private George McLean. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2016
  • Mel Rothenburger “Looking for Pvt. George McLean - and honoring a hero of Vimy” in The Armchair Mayor News, Sept. 17, 2014. Retrieved Mar. 7, 2016
  • Mel Rothenburger. The Wild McLeans. Victoria, B.C. : Orca Book Publishers, 1993.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada. Native Soldiers, Foreign Battlefields. [Ottawa]: Veterans Affairs Canada, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2016
Biographical Record
Full Name McLean, George
Heritage Okanagan
Band Name Upper Nicola Band
Band Location Nicola Lake / Douglas Lake, BC
Birth Date 1876-04-16
Birthplace Kamloops, BC
Next of Kin Mrs. Margaret Bono (Guardian of children)
Married before Enlistment Married
Occupation before Enlistment Rancher
Biographical Notes In April 1917, McLean was shot in the arm by a sniper and he returned to Canada for medical treatment. He went back to British Columbia, and eventually became a fireman in the Vancouver region. Cf. Native soldiers, Foreign battlefields, p. 14
Religion Roman Catholic
Conflict Boer, WWI
Service Number 688302
Service Files
CEF Unit 172nd Bn, 54th Bn
Rank Private
Previous Military Experience 2nd C.M.Rs (6 mths) (Boer War)
Date of Enlistment 1916-10-14
Location of Enlistment Vernon, BC
Age at Enlistment 41
Service History Served in Boer War (C.M.R.)
Medal awarded (DCM)
Date Medal is awarded 1917-08-16
Veterans’ Land Grants reference number 1947 (LAC RG10-B-3-e-xvi)
Identifier 3837