...........................

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance - Stonewall's Alan "Buster" McLeod, VC


Alan “Buster” McLeod was born in 1899 to Dr. Alexander and Margaret Arnett McLeod of 292 Main Street, Stonewall, Manitoba. From an early age he displayed a fascination with all things military, (his mother was an historian which may have been an influence).

At 14 he joined up with the
Fort Garry Horse and did odd jobs like tend to the horses. When war broke they left the young teen behind. At age 17 he tried enlisting in the Royal Flying Corps but was rejected due to his age. Three days after his 18th birthday, though, an acceptance letter arrived at his home. He immediately quit high school to join the war.

The death rate for 'flyboys' was high and new blood was needed so after just 50 hours of air experience he was off to England. By January 1918 he was flying missions in an Armstrong-Whitworth A.K 8 biplane.

On March 27, 1918, the 18 year-old McLeod and his observer A.W. Hammond were attacked by enemy planes while 5,000 feet in the air. This is the official account of what happened that day
:


The plane landed in 'no man's land' and the two were initially considered missing. Dr. and Mrs. McLeod received notice from the war office that “It is with deep regret that I have to advise you that your son, Lieut. A.A. McLeod has been missing since yesterday morning…” (source). Thankfully, the wreckage was soon discovered and the two men were transported to a first aid station then to a British military hospital.


McLeod recovering in London (Source)

McLeod appeared in good spirits. He wrote from his bed that "My wounds are absolutely nothing, though. they don't hurt a bit.....I'm as fit as a fiddle" (source.) He wasn't fine. He spent over four months in hospital, much of it in critical condition. His father, a medical doctor, traveled from Stonewall to be at his bedside.



September 7, 1917, Regina Leader

On May 1, 1918 it was announced that McLeod and Hammond, who also survived, were to be awarded the Victoria Cross. It wasn't until September 5, 1918 that McLeod was well enough to be discharged from hospital to receive it from King George at Buckingham Palace.



September 30, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

After a reunion with his parents and a brief stay in Toronto it was time to return home.

On September 30 at 10:20 pm the McLeods arrived at the CPR depot on Higgins Avenue. Out front a crowd of thousands had gathered to get a glimpse of the man.


At the request of the family and officials from Stonewall there was to be no ceremony in Winnipeg. Instead, a delegation made up of the municipal councils of Stonewall and Rockwood and officials from the regional IODE and Returned Soldiers' Association would greet them privately on the platform and take them to a chartered streetcar bound for Stonewall.


VIPs, being what they are, couldn't help but line up for some impromptu speech-making from the steps of the depot. Former Mayor Waugh, Mayor Davidson and Brigadier-General Ketchen all spoke. When asked for his words, McLeod said only:



"I am no speech maker, you know. I want to thank you very, very much for your welcome. I only hope I deserve it."
(Winnipeg Free Press, October 1, 1918)

From there it was to the streetcar and Stonewall. Despite arriving well after midnight, hundreds turned out to greet him. The McLeods were loaded into a car and paraded around town behind a pipe and drum band.



Stonewall ca. 1910 (source)


The streets were well lighted, while flags and bunting floated everywhere. Coloured lanterns brightened up the whole town and every house and building made a splendid showing of flags and colours.
(Winnipeg Free Press, October 1, 1918)

When they arrived home there was an official greeting, cheers, and a fireworks display. People could then return home to sleep in as Tuesday, October 1, 1918 was declared a municipal holiday in Stonewall.

October 1, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

While recovering at home McLeod contracted 'Spanish' Influenza that was sweeping the world. Ironically, the above headline shared the same front page of the Free Press as the news of his arrival home.

It is likely that a recently retruned soldier passed it on to him. Spanish Influenza was still new to Manitoba at this time. It just recorded its first two deaths on October 3, 1918, the victims were a pair of soldiers who fell ill on the train ride home to Winnipeg.




November 7, 1918, Winnipeg Free Press

This particular strain of influenza was most dangerous to young men and in his weakened condition McLeod was no match for it. He died of pneumonia, a complication of the influenza, on November 6, 1918, just five days before the war ended. He was 19 years old.


His funeral took place on Saturday, November 9th.

McLeod was brought to Thomson Undertakers, at that time located at 501 Main Street across from Winnipeg's City Hall. After a private service R.C.A.F. officers carried his coffin to a gun carriage a block away. A Procession of the Dead continued to Main and Selkirk. From there, his body was transported to Kildonan cemetery by vehicle.

Alan Arnett McLeod is the youngest Canadian, and the youngest airman in the Commonwealth, to earn the Victoria Cross.

Stonewall, Manitoba

Related:

Alan Arnett McLeod VC For Valour (includes a video)
Canada's V.C. Heroes The Regina Leader March 1919
Alan Arnett McLeod, VC

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Fun fact: Arthur Hammond (a recognized flying ace of the English RAF, Military Cross with a bar) and McLeod became fast friends when they were paired. Their harrowing ordeal brought them even closer and McLeod invited Hammond to move to Canada. An adventurous sort, Hammond took him up on the invitation and moved to Stonewall. After McLeod's death Hammond resided in Winnipeg and worked for years here before retiring to Victoria BC. He also played a role as a training officer in the RCAF in WW2. This is an interesting read as to his letters home to family, typed and transcribed. They were digitized by the Comox Air Museum to which it appears he or his widow had donated it. Where the originals are is unknown. The last few pages address the infamous battle. An interesting read.

https://www.scribd.com/doc/207170268/Arthur-Hammond-Letters0001

Search for Comox Air Museum to read up more on Hammond. I also have some of his observer photo notebooks, journal from the hospital recuperation and several articles with research I have done. Hammond married my great-aunt.