John Archibald McLean was born in Lingan, Cape Breton, on March 12, 1883, the son of Donald and Mary (née McDonald) McLean. He grew up in South Bar, near Sydney. On November 26, 1914, only several months after the declaration of war, John enlisted in the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) in Halifax. He was assigned the service number 67563. At the time, he was 31 years old, unmarried and his occupation was listed as teamster on his attestation form. He had served for several years in the 94th Victoria Regiment “Argyll Highlanders”, a local Cape Breton militia unit.
The 25th Battalion was an overseas battalion authorized on November 7, 1914. It was headquartered in Halifax but recruited throughout the province. After enlisting, John trained with his new unit in Halifax. On May 20, 1915, the battalion boarded the troop ship R.M.S. Saxonia in Halifax harbour, and set sail for England, arriving at Devonport, nine days later. After disembarking, the men entrained to Westenhanger in Kent County and then marched to their new home at East Sandling Camp in the Shorncliffe area. Shortly after arriving in England, John was promoted to the rank of lance corporal.
After a summer of intensive training, the 25th Battalion was earmarked to join the fighting on the Western Front. On the night of September 15, 1915, they crossed the English Channel to Boulogne, France, and then moved by train, lorry and by route march to an area of the front in the Kemmel Sector of the Ypres Salient in Flanders, Belgium. The battalion entered the trenches for the first time on September 20 and 21, replacing an English unit. They were the first infantry battalion from Nova Scotia to see action as a unit. The next couple of days were spent repairing their trenches, dugouts and parapets, and adjusting to their new lifestyle at the front. According to the 25th Battalion’s war diary for September 25, 1915, “L/Cpl. J.A. McLean was sniping and succeeded in hitting two Germans. He was in the act of taking a third shot when he was hit in the head,” probably shot by a German sniper. He died two hours later. John was the first man of the 25th Battalion to be killed in action. He was 32 years old.
John McLean was laid to rest in La Laiterie Military Cemetery in Belgium.
For additional information on John McLean, refer to the following two online sources:
Service File of John McLean - Digitized personnel file available from Library & Archives Canada in Ottawa.
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial - A website by Veterans Affairs Canada. The page on John McLean contains basic information as well as some digitized images and burial information.
I would like to thank Dolores (Murphy) Tregoning of Hanson, Massachusetts, who contacted me regarding her uncle, John McLean, and graciously donated a large pre First World War charcoal portrait drawing of him. She also provided paper copies of parts of his service record and some digital photos.