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A Veteran of Two Wars

Indigenous soldiers also served in South Africa – during the Boer War. British Columbia's George McLean served with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, shown here in the march on the Transvaal in 1902. A member of the Head of the Lake Band, McLean enlisted during the First World War as well. (William E. Athawes / Library and Archives Canada / PA-113028)

Soldiering was not new to Private George McLean. A rancher from the Head of the Lake Band in the Okanagan district of British Columbia, McLean had served with the Canadian Mounted Rifles during the South African (or Boer) War at the turn of the century. More than a decade later, he became one of nearly 2,000 members of the CEF to earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for distinguished conduct in the field, the second-highest award for gallantry available to non-commissioned officers and privates in the Great War.42

McLean enlisted in Vernon, British Columbia, in October 1916, and sailed for Great Britain almost immediately. He was in France with the 54th Battalion in December.

In April 1917, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, McLean launched a daring solo attack on a group of enemy soldiers. He was armed with about a dozen Mills bombs—small grenades nicknamed "pineapples," which exploded violently.

McLean's attack was extremely effective. The private's citation describes the results:

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.

During this action, McLean was shot in the arm by a sniper and was returned to Canada for medical treatment. He went back to British Columbia, and eventually became a fireman in the Vancouver region. He died in 1934.

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