William McLean was the son of David McLean, the Great-Grandfather of parishioner Isabel Bryce. David spent all his life in Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, where he married Jane Campbell. They had three children. Sadly, Jane died when she was 33 leaving her children: Sarah 9; William 7; and Elizabeth 5 years old.
In 1914, David’s son, William, left home at the outbreak of war, to enlist as a soldier in the Royal Field Artillery.
In 1915, tragedy struck the McLean family, when David’s younger daughter, Elizabeth, Isabels’ grandmother, died at the age of 25 leaving an eleven month old daughter.
On 11th November 1916 more sad news was reported:
Dumfries and Galloway Standard
It has not been possible to find any other information from the War Records about William McLean, apart from his Medal Card, which indicates that he received the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the. Victory Medal – ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’. As he was discharged from military service, he also received the Silver War Badge.
William McLean did eventually come back home to Ruthwell. He was engaged to be married, but this came to an end when he returned blind. He spent the rest of his life living with his father and step-mother.
On 20th May 1932 William died, aged 46. At that time his occupation was given as ‘Matmaker’. In the following year his Father, David McLean died.
An extract from his obituary in the local paper ended…..
In undertaking her research, Isabel began to feel very close to the great grandparents she never met, and her great uncle William, soldier No.7671. She thought her story of William McLean’s life was as complete as she but to her delight a final Google search for “William McLean soldier 7671” gave a missing chapter.
It seems that William was taken from Etaples Hospital in France to London, and to St Dunstans. Many soldiers of the First World War were blinded by shell shot or gas and the VADs at St Dunstan’s played an integral role in their rehabilitation and recovery. On William’s death certificate, his occupation was given as “Matmaker”, one skill, of many, Isabel is sure he developed during his stay here.
This blog post of April 2014, from the Blind Veterans UK site, was a blessing!
William McLean was a Bombardier in the Royal Field Artillery who was blinded in the First World War and came to our training centre in London’s Regent’s Park.
Here we have reproduced an article he wrote for the July 1920 edition of the Review about The Roses of No Man’s Land and his experiences. The roses he referred to were of course the VADs and nurses at St Dunstan’s
“I wonder how many of us ever think how true those words are?
I was standing on the ground where one of the greatest battles of England was fought some years ago, and as the scent of the Rose came to me, my mind travelled back to when we were in France. We were advancing, and the Hun was well ahead of us.
There were streams of villagers coming along the road, glad to be free from the Hun, and amongst these was a young woman, carrying a large bundle on one arm, and in her other hand she carried a small book. She sat down to rest, and we got into conversation with her, and she showed us a small rose that she had in the book. She had kept this since the beginning of the War. It was given to her by a sister who had gone to nurse the French soldiers, and who had not been seen or heard of since.
I thought then of this Nurse — perhaps in an unknown grave in what was once known as No Man’s Land, and this brings the words of another song to my mind: “For You a Rose — For Me there’s just a Memory.”
And I wonder to how many other people today, especially soldiers, these words would convey the same meaning. It is only those who were wounded who know what it was to hear the soft voice of the Sister who dressed his wounds and cared for him during his days of sickness and pain. The soldier received the loving care of “The Rose of No Man’s Land” and for her — “There’s just a Memory.”
Today there are many of these roses who are loath to fade, still giving their fragrant scent to us at St Dunstan’s…
These words, written by the man himself, say so much to me about Isabel’s great uncle William McLean Soldier 7671.
She feels very privileged to have found him, and very proud.