An effort is underway to provide a decorated First World War veteran who single-handedly captured 19 prisoners during the battle of Vimy Ridge a proper military burial.
The body of George McLean — son of Allan McLean, one of the wild McLean boys — currently rests on the Upper Nicola Indian Reserve near Douglas Lake Ranch. His grave is marked with a simple wooden cross.
This doesn’t sit well with Dean McLean, who is no relation to the infamous McLean family. He’d like George McLean to have a war hero’s proper resting place with a gravestone and Canadian flag.
“All our veterans are heroes,” McLean said Friday.
McLean learned of the veteran’s resting spot while waiting for a cataract operation. A member of the Upper Nicola band was also being operated on that day and the two started talking.
A retired teacher and past member of the Kamloops Museum and Archives board of directors, McLean took an interest in the story and George McLean’s final plight.
Retired Daily News editor Mel Rothenburger is a descendent of the McLeans and wrote a book about the family’s exploits. He’s also familiar with George McLean’s heroics.
“He was a true hero and the interesting part, of course, is he came from a family with a sketchy history,” said Rothenburger.
The Wild McLean Gang, including George McLean’s father, were hanged for killing John Ussher, a government agent who pursued the outlaws, in 1879.
George McLean was 44 years old when he enlisted in the armed forces in Vernon in December 1916. He was sent to Europe, where he joined the Canadian 54th Battalion during the First World War.
In April 1917, he launched a solo attack on a group of enemy soldiers at Vimy Ridge. Armed with about a dozen grenades, he single-handedly captured 19 prisoners and killed almost as many troops.
Once he’d subdued the enemy, one of the Germans asked George McLean how many soldiers were with him, said Rothenburger. He told the prisoner he had 150 men.
“Of course, there was just George,” said Rothenburger.
His actions earned him the Distinguished Conduct Medal, the second highest award for bravery available to non-commissioned officers and privates during the First World War.
He died on Sept. 7, 1934.
There are a number of programs that help deceased veterans get a proper burial. Tara Muia, of the Veteran Affairs’ Last Post program, said an unmarked grave program would suit George McLean.
All that’s needed is the soldier’s date of birth and death, proof of service and a family member willing to provide them, said Muia.
Rothenburger said is willing to help his dead relative.