Poppy In memoriam Poppy

Lieutenant James Acheson MacLean

 

 

MacLean JA 1

 

James Acheson MacLean was born on 22 December 1885 at The Park, Bushmills, County Antrim, son of farmer John MacLean and his wife Martha Ann (formerly Acheson).

Before the war MacLean worked as a bank clerk for the Belfast Banking Company, first in the Londonderry Branch "where he was a popular figure in hockey and football circles", and then at Sligo.

On 8 October 1914 he enlisted in the North Irish Horse at Belfast (No.1295). He was promoted to lance corporal on 1 June 1915.

The following month MacLean applied for a commission in the Royal Field Artillery. He was made a 2nd lieutenant on 9 August 1915 and soon after was posted to 151 (Howitzer) Brigade. He embarked for France with his brigade on 29 November 1915. On 21 May 1916 MacLean's battery transferred to 150 (Howitzer) Brigade.

In September 1916 MacLean was awarded a Military Cross. The citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry in action. He attempted to save a wounded gunner from a burning gunpit, and successfully saved the gun. During an attack he led two platoons of another unit over the parapet, and handed them over to their officer, who was rallying his men in the open. On another occasion he fought a single howitzer with great determination for seven days under heavy shell fire, although himself wounded.

He was granted ten days leave in December to attend a ceremony at Buckingham Palace where he was presented his award by His Majesty the King.

On his return to the front MacLean was posted to D Battery of 148 (Howitzer) Brigade. He was promoted to lieutenant on 1 July 1917.

On the night of 30 September 1917, MacLean, two other officers and an NCO were killed near Wytschaete when attempting to control a fire in a gun pit. The regimental diary for that day reads:

Enemy artillery quiet during the day but showed considerable activity during the night a bulk of fire being directed on battery areas. At D Bty two 10.5 cm shells set fire to the camouflage of one of the gunpits & caused the charges to explode. In spite of the danger owing to the risk of the shells in the gun pit also exploding, the officers at the battery with Sgt Berry succeeded in putting out the fire & saved the position, but not before a serious explosion occurred which caused the deaths of 2Lts E.E. Bradshaw, J.A. Maclean MC & A.K. Green & of Sgt Berry.

The Belfast News-Letter later reported:

A BUSHMILLS HERO.
Artillery Officer's Gallant End.

A thrilling story of devotion to duty upon the part of a young Bushmills officer is told by Major J. R. Jones, R.F.A.,in a letter describing the circumstances of the death of Second-Lieutenant James Acheson MacLean, M.C.

Major Jones states that on the night of the 30th a gun-pit was struck by enemy fire, the charges immediately bursting in raging flames, and threatening to envelop the whole battery with its vast stores of ammunition. Lieutenant MacLean, two other officers, and a sergeant immediately rushed to the scene, but their heroic efforts to isolate the fire proved unavailing. Several large shells detonated, causing the immediate death of all four. They were last seen, their forms silhouetted against the evening sky, combating the raging flames.

The officer commanding the brigade writes:– "All ranks are heartily congratulated on the record established in their history against the date 30th September, 1917. On the morning of this date the brigade commander addressed a few words to some of the men of the brigade on the subject of 'pride in the unit.' In the evening it was gloriously typified by the action of Lieutenants Bradshaw, MacLean, and Green, and Sergeant Berry, none of whom had been present at the parade in question. The battery commander testifies to the fact that the last he saw of these officers from his battery position was their figures standing out against the intense flames of buring charges on the side of the gun-pit with burning camouflage in their hands."

Lieutenant MacLean was interred with military honours on the 1st October, the funeral being attended by many friends, including the brigade and divisional commanders and his men.

An entry in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour for one of the other officers killed, 2nd Lieutenant Bradshaw, includes the following information:

[Bradshaw's] commanding officer wrote: "... He and his two brother officers died heroes' deaths ... The mere sight of his poor Battery Commander, Major Jones, is a constant pang of grief to me. He feels his loss so dreadfully keenly, and looks so sad and white with it all, that it might have been his own brother, which all goes to show how much your boy, and the other two were to him ..." and his Chaplain: "I very much regret to tell you that your son, 2nd Lieut. E. E. Bradshaw, of 148th Brigade, R.F.A., was killed at about 10 p.m. last night. Some camouflage on the gun-pits caught fire from an enemy shell or bomb, and three of the officers, including your son, and the Sergt.-Major, ran down to prevent the fire spreading. Unfortunately some ammunition was near by, and the fire got to it just as they were cutting the camouflage, and a tremendous explosion took place, which killed them all, your son and the sergeant being killed instantaneously; the other two lived for a few minutes. No one else was actually on the spot, as they had ordered the men to remain under cover. ... I took the funeral at 3.30 p.m. this afternoon. They are buried side by side in the Military Cemetery at Kemmel Chateau, which is some miles back from Messines. A cross will be put over each grave within the next few days."

Lieutenant MacLean was buried at Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery, Heuvelland, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, grave L.26. The gravestone inscription reads:

SECOND LIEUTENANT
J. A. MAC LEAN MC.
ROYAL FIELD ARTILLERY
30TH SEPTEMBER 1917 AGE 31

JESUS WEPT
JOHN XI.35

 

Note: The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records incorrectly show MacLean's rank as 2nd Lieutenant.

 

Gravestone image kindly provided by Steve Rogers, Project Co-ordinator of the The War Graves Photographic Project, www.twgpp.org. Image of MacLean, wearing his Military Cross ribbon, reproduced with the generous agreement of Robert Thompson, from his book Bushmills Heroes.