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Captain Archibald McLay, MC



Archibald McLay was born on 2 February 1887 in Main Street, Strabane, County Tyrone, one of at least five children of Scottish-born parents, veterinary surgeon Ebenezer Browne McLay and his wife Mary (née McIldowie (or McAldownie or McEldowne)). His mother died when he was just two years old. At the time of the 1901 Census he was living in Main Street Strabane with his father, an aunt, and a brother.

Between 1903 and July 1905 McLay enlisted in the North of Ireland Imperial Yeomanry, the regiment that was to become the North Irish Horse in July 1908.

On 20 July 1905 he enlisted in the Dragoons of the Line at Omagh, and was posted to the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons (No.5407). He served in Egypt (from May 1906) and India (from September 1908) before returning home on 26 February 1913. On 25 April that year he was transferred to the Army Reserve. His conduct and character were recorded as 'exemplary'.

The following day McLay sailed for Canada where, after a brief visit to family, he emigrated to Australia. There, he wrote, a cousin who was Town Clerk in the town of Mullumbimby had offered him work, and "I have got splendid testimonials from my commanding officer and a letter of introduction to the Governor of Melbourne's A.D.C. so that I am certain of employment on Landing."

On the outbreak of war mobilisation orders were issued to all reservists. McLay arrived home from Australia on 19 December 1914 and was posted to the 2nd Reserve Cavalry Regiment the following month, retaining the rank of corporal. On 17 February 1915 he was posted to the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons and embarked for France, where he joined his regiment. On 12 February 1916 he was promoted to sergeant.

On 27 June 1916 McLay was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Cavalry) (No.51030).

On 8 November 1916 he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. Although posted to the 1/2nd Battalion, Leicester Regiment, McLay was attached to the 6th Battalion, joining it in the field in February 1917. The Belfast News-Letter of 25 November reported that:

Mr. Archibald McClay, son of the late Mr. E. B. McClay, veterinary surgeon, Strabane, has received a commission in the 6th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. Second-Lieutenant McClay served for some years in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, and spent several years in India. He subsequently received an appointment as military instructor in the Australian military forces. On the outbreak of war he volunteered for service at the front, and came back to England with the Australian Expeditionary Force, when he joined his old regiment and went to France. Second-Lieutenant McClay, after leaving school, was a trooper in the North Irish Horse.

Later that year McLay was awarded a Military Cross, probably for the role he played on 3 May in the action at Fontaines-Les-Croisilles. His citation read:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion in an attack, when he displayed great bravery and powers of leadership in reorganising parties of other battalions and consolidating advanced positions.

He was promoted to lieutenant on 8 October 1917 and on 8 November was made acting captain.

On the eve of the German Spring offensive of 1918, the 6th Leicesters were located near the village of Epéhy. McLay was in command of A and D Companies "in charge of posts & village defence." He was killed in action on the first day of the offensive, 21 March. Captain D.V. Kelly later wrote:

Rearguards fought obstinately in Epéhy to cover the retreat; Captain McLay of the 6th Battalion, one of our best company commanders, was killed there, and I heard the streets were full of German dead.

As he has no known grave, McLay is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, Somme, Panel 29.



Memorial images kindly provided by Steve Rogers, Project Co-ordinator of the The War Graves Photographic Project.


This page last updated 18 September 2023.