The Macleay family of Yorkton, Saskatchewan, lost one of its sons in the first World War, and another son returned, lungs damaged from being gassed.
If you recognize the name “Macleay”, yes, these are relatives of Thomas Macleay, who is Charlie in the POV opera ”Mary’s Wedding”. And the song “Mary’s Wedding” is a bridal song from the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, where the Macleay family lived before emigrating to Canada. The Macleay family was a family of 6 strong young lads.
I’m a second cousin of Thomas Macleay. He does not yet realize that this is being posted, but I wished to honour his inherited connection to this tragic war, and to honour a family member whom he never met, but who would have been his father’s uncle.
My mother, Marion Macleay, would often tell this story of the family’s loss, especially around Remembrance Day, which she faithfully observed. Oh how I wish I had written down more of what she told us, but we have cobbled together this writeup from notations on photos, online from Veterans Affairs Canada, Canada Library & Archives, the Cameron Highlanders of Canada’s website, etc., and from fragments of memory.
Duncan Allan Macleay, not the oldest in the family, was the first to join the forces. Born in April, 1898, he joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry on Sept 14, 1915, giving his birthdate as Aug 26, 1897, in order to be old enough for service, so eager was he to be part of the overseas forces. (On Duncan’s “Attestation Paper” form on the back, it uses the term “Apparent Age” !) Duncan spent his 18th birthday in front line trenches, was at the battle of the Somme, and also suffered in a gas attack, and returned to Canada in 1918, a survivor of the war, but with lung damage.
Donald Colin Macleay was the eldest son, born July 20, 1896. He had been a member of the 79th Batallion of the Cameron Highlanders, and he signed up for overseas duty on Aug. 7, 1916. He went over with the 174th Battalion Cameron Highlanders from Winnipeg, Manitoba, then a member of the Canadian Infantry - Manitoba Regiment – 43rd Batallion. A quote from the Cameron Highlanders website: “The Amiens offensive began on 8 August. The 43rd Battalion occupied a position of honour, on the right of the British line and penetrated two miles into enemy territory.” Donald Colin Macleay was killed in action there at the Battle of Amiens in France, August 8, 1918, 2 years and a day from the day he enlisted.
My mother, Marion Macleay, a toddler at the time, clearly remembered the day when the “Letter Edged in Black” was delivered to the Macleay house. Our grandmother, Annie Macleay, whose 2 sons were overseas, could only say to the delivery person, that dread-filled question – “Which one?” It was Donald Colin Macleay, her eldest son, her first-born, the first to help support the family by being a book-keeper, gone at 22 years of age. We have pictures of Annie a few years later, and this grief and loss is etched on her face.
It has been a comfort to our family to know that Donald’s service and sacrifice are not forgotten We have found his name through Veteran Affairs Canada website, and they also have a record through the Commonwealth War Graves Commision about where he is buried in Hourges Orchard Cemetery in France.
We have located Donald’s name on page 462 of the First World War Book of Remembrance.
In 2008, there was a wonderful “Vigil” project, spearheaded by actor R H Thomson of “The Road to Avonlea” , in which soldiers who had died in World War I were honoured. The name of each soldier was projected on walls at various locations across Canada, the National War Memorial in Ottawa, and even on Canada House in Trafalgar Square in London, with each name showing for 25 seconds. It took 93 hours for all the names to be shown. There was a listing of exactly what time each name would appear, through live streaming on the web, and we were on our computer at just the right time and photographed Donald Colin Macleay’s name.
It was a heart-wrenching thing to see the massive numbers of lost young Canadians, 68,000 of them, and particularly poignant to see one of our own family.
On November 11, we will again honour all who served.
Lest We Forget!
– and a quote from the Cameron Highlanders’ Website:
What is a Veteran?
A Veteran – whether active duty, retired or reserve – is someone who at one point in his/her life, wrote a blank check made payable to 'The Country of Canada', for an amount of 'up to and including my life.' -- Author Unknown