The frustration at not being able to locate Alick's final rest place was somewhat appeased with this very touching plaque in honour of Alick's sacrifice he made for his country during WW1.
To further turn me into a blubbering mess of emotion, RSL Sun branch President, Barry McDonald pictured below, also asked me to be a guest speaker at the ANZAC day luncheon to speak about Alick and the research i'd done on him for my book.
I can not thank the RSL enough for this incredible tribute to Alick.
I feel incredibly honoured to be asked here, on such an important day in our history, to talk a little about my connection to a WW1 veteran, named Alexander McLean.
Almost two years ago now, I was given a newspaper clipping of an article titled ‘The Warrell creek tragedy,’ by another local author, Trevor Lynch who many of you would be familiar with from the book, Nambucca ANZACS. During his research, Trevor came across Alex’s story and thought that I may find it interesting. What an understatement that was!
This story stayed with me long after I read it. So much so, that I felt compelled to write a book about it. While it in no way reveals any major evidence as to why this horrible thing happened… I had hoped to give an insight into what was happening in our town during the war years and beyond, in effect, maybe giving Alick a voice.
Alexander McLean was a hero. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in March,1918, ‘for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’. Part of his citation reads; ‘He was frequently called on to perform the duties of an officer, which he carried out with courage, initiative and resource, inspiring the greatest confidence in those under his command.’
Alick enlisted on the 12th of August, 1915.
He embarked from Sydney on board the Warilda on October 8th, 1915. It’s interesting and a little disturbing to note that with barely 2 months training under their belt, these boys were apparently, ready to fight a war.
He returned home on the 9th of December, 1918 after being wounded and losing an eye.
As I began researching, I came across a series of letters which had been found in a second hand store in the Blue Moutains. These letters had been written by a soldier named Alexander McLean, to his mother and sister, some of which, had been written from the trenches in France, dated from 1916 until late 1918, just prior to his injuries.
At this point my somewhat clinical research became a lot more interesting and my fascination with Macksville as it was during the war years, and Alick himself, took on a greater significance.
The description of the man written about in that first newspaper article I had been given to read, was not the man who wrote these letters. Seeing Alick as a brother, son and uncle through his words on paper in the letters he sent home, made me realise there was a very real need to tell his story.
He was respected and admired by his commanding officers and men of his unit alike as seen in one particular letter written from his commanding officer while Alick was in hospital recovering from injuries he sustained to his eye. Dated 17th September, 1918. From a Captain, K M Brock (?)
In part of the letter he writes;
‘I was shown your letters from Brian and I gather from the tone of it you don’t want any sympathy. Glad to see you are so cheerful and I sincerely hope you get a trip to Australia. If ever there was a man who earned it, you have. You will be hard to replace here.
I was pretty near broken hearted when I came back and found all the good men who were gone.
Let me say you have my best wishes for a speedy recovery and let me take this opportunity to thank you most heartily for your loyal support and devotion to duty which have always characterised you throughout your long service and connection with this battery.’
He was a well-respected member of the community before and after he returned to Macksville and in the coroner’s report, time and time again witnesses told the coroner that Alick had seem fine, right up until shortly before he shot and killed Gertie Trisley and then himself, that late November night in 1920.
The coroner made mention of the darkness that returned home with most of these men. He said;
‘We had always regarded Alick as one of the manly men. We remember how he went forth voluntarily to fight for his country and his King; and we know how valiantly he carried out the trust. He fought with such distinction that he gained that very coveted honour, the Distinguished Conduct Medal. We all remember how he returned covered with honour, we hailed him back; we loved him, God only knows what great thing caused him to do what he did; we feel that there must have been something that impelled him to commit such an awful crime. Our sympathies must go out towards those gallant men who fought for the empire and came back with head wounds, or suffering from the effects of gas; they went through hell and we have to make every allowance for them.’
It wasn’t any great mystery as to what had happened to change this man, which I think makes it even sadder. The war changed everyone. The effect it had on these men was nothing short of devastating, and while the community seemed to understand that these men had been through something horrific, no one, it seemed, had predicted that something like this could happen in a town like ours.
For the last 94 years Alexander Mclean was left to fade from memory. It was a terrible ending to a man who, like so many other young men, went off on a grand adventure only to return home, broken. And while the last act of his life can never be truly forgiven, it’s time to let us now remember him as he was before… as a hero.
A few weeks ago I was invited along to the unveiling of a memorial to finally recognise Alick’s contribution to his country and to honour his bravery. I’d like to say a very big thank you to Barry and Roger, the RSL and everyone else involved, for making this happen.
Knowing Alick’s final resting place would have brought his story full circle, but the plaque at the entrance of the cemetery finally gives us all a place where we can stop and remember not only Alick, but all the men who although came home, ultimately scarified themselves for our freedom.
Lest we Forget.