Date of Birth: January 7, 1886 at Brierly Brook, Antigonish County, NS
Parents: Donald and Janet Mary (Chisholm) MacLean
Siblings: Brothers John Roderick & Daniel; sisters Kathryn, Mary, Margaret Ann, Ellen, Lillian, Elizabeth (Bessie) & Jeanette
Marital Status: Married
Enlistment: February 15, 1918 at Montreal, QC
Units: 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment; 24th Battalion (Victoria Rifles of Canada)
Service #: 3082116
Previous Military Service: None
Next of Kin: Michael Farrell, Charlestown, MA friend)
Date of Death: October 2, 1918 near Tilloy, France
Final Resting Place: Canada Cemetery, Tilloy-Lez-Cambrai, France
Angus Joseph “Joe” MacLean was born at Brierly Brook, Antigonish County, the son of Donald and Janet (Chisholm) MacLean. Donald was the son of John J. MacLean, West River, and grandson of John MacLean. Donald’s great-grandfather, Angus (Pioneer) MacLean, first settled in West River and later moved to Ohio, Antigonish County.
Joe’s mother, Janet Chisholm, was the daughter of Roderick (Rory) Chisholm and Catherine Grant. Around 1838, Rory settled on the “Back Road,” where his children were born. He subsequently became the area’s postmaster. About 1891, Rory and his wife sold the farm to Alex (Big Alex) MacDonald and moved to Massachusetts, where some of his family had already relocated. Interestingly, Big Alex married Flora, the daughter of Angus MacLean—Donald’s brother—and they also raised a large family in Brierly Brook.
Joe’s grandfather, John J. MacLean—also known as “John Jr.”—moved from West River to Brierly Brook and settled on land his father purchased around 1839. John Jr. established a farm and raised a family on the property. His sons, Donald and Angus, remained on the farm, which was located on the both sides of the present-day railroad tracks. The farm is still in operation today. Donald built a home on the other side of the tracks from his father’s home and adjacent to the property of Angus (Shoemaker) MacGillivray. Today, both homes have vanished and the area is covered with trees and fields.
In 1878, John Jr. sold the farm to his son, Angus, for the sum of $ 480. At 58 years of age, according to family sources, Donald tired of farming and responded to a newspaper advertisement, seeking men to work with dynamite in Colorado mining operations. After working there for a period of time, Donald returned home with plans to move his family to the United States. Sometime before 1897, Donald, his wife Janet, two sons and six daughters relocated from Brierly Brook to Melrose, MA—now a suburb of Greater Boston—seven miles north of the city center. Following the move, two more children—a son Daniel (1897) and a daughter Jeanette (1900)—joined the family.
On April 25, 1910, Angus Joseph MacLean married Theresa J. Connor, a native of Fitchburg, MA, and established residence with his new bride at 42 Smith St., Fitchburg. A machinist according to the marriage register, Joe and his wife soon had four children: Bernard J. (January 1911), Ruth Jeanette (November 1911), Kenneth Anthony (July 1915) and Donald Francis (February 1917). Following the American declaration of war on Germany (April 1917), Joe was declared fit for the United States draft, but received an exemption on November 6, as he had four dependant children.
Around the same time, Joe and Theresa had a “falling out” and appear to have parted ways. Shortly afterward, Joe found himself “in arrears” with regard to support payments. Perhaps desperate to resolve the situation, he traveled to Montreal, QC, where he enlisted with the 1st Depot Battalion, 1st Quebec Regiment on February 18, 1918. Joe attested under the name “Angus Joseph McClellan” and gave his marital status as “single.” He listed his next of kin as “friend” Michael Farrell, Charlestown, MA, and stated his occupation at the time as “butcher.” Joe’s date and place of birth on the form, however, were accurate.
Following a brief period of training, Joe embarked for England aboard SS Scandinavian on March 24, 1918 and arrived overseas 10 days later. Upon reporting to Camp Bramshott, he was taken on strength by the 23rd Reserve Battalion (Quebec) and resumed military training. On August 19, Joe was transferred to the 24 Battalion (Montreal, QC) and one week later reported to the unit’s camp near Arras, France.
The 24th Battalion was authorized on November 7, 1914 and recruited by the Victoria Rifles of Canada, a Montreal militia regiment. The unit had embarked for Great Britain on May 11, 1915 and landed in France on September 16 as part of the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Infantry Brigade. By the time of Joe’s arrival, the 24th was an experienced outfit, having served almost three years in the line with its Brigade mates—the 22nd (Quebec’s “Van Doos”), 25th (Nova Scotia Rifles) and the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.
During the late summer of 1918, the Canadian Corps participated in a major Allied counter-attack that commenced east of Amiens in early August and later became known as “Canada’s 100 Days.” In fact, Joe arrived in the 24th’s camp on the same day as its soldiers participated in the Second Battle of Arras (August 26 – September 5), their second major engagement of the month.
During the battle’s second phase, Canadian units broke through the Drocourt-Quéant Line, a section of the Hindenburg defences that German forces constructed during the autumn and early winter of 1916-17 as a “fall back” position, should they be forced to retreat from the Somme at the time. The Allied offensive set the front line in motion as Canadian units advanced toward Canal du Nord, east of Cambrai.
While only in the line for one month, Joe was quickly introduced to the brutality of war on the Western Front. In a letter home to his wife, Theresa, he commented: “I never thought I would ever see so many dead men. I tell you, it is something awful and the sooner the old Kaiser quits the better off he and his people will be.” Joe closed with a wish: “May God bless and keep you all well till I return is my one and only prayer.” The correspondence proved to be his final letter home.
Toward month’s end, Canadian units prepared to cross a dry section of the incomplete Canal du Nord. The Canadian Corps attacked at 5:20 a.m. September 27, the successful advance opening the road to Cambrai. The attack on the strategic city commenced on October 1, with 3rd and 4th Canadian Division units leading the way. The assault occurred to the north of the city, the 2nd Canadian Division following in support.
Early in the afternoon, the 2nd Division attempted to move forward but congestion north of the city, near Tilloy, limited its advance to one battalion at a time. At 5:00 p.m., the 24th Battalion moved from its “jumping off” point to a field northeast of Bourlon. After a three-hour wait, the entire 5th Brigade moved forward during the night of October 1/2, relieving the 3rd Division’s 9th Brigade in trenches east of Tilloy.
By 7:00 a.m. October 2, the 24th had established its headquarters in cellars at Tilloy. Throughout the day, German artillery “incessantly” shelled the sector, its soldiers later repulsing an early evening counterattack. At some time during the day, Private Angus Joseph MacLean was “struck in the forehead by a bullet fired by an enemy sniper and killed instantly.” He was laid to rest in Canada Cemetery on the outskirts of Tilloy.
In his final letter home, Angus Joseph expressed a strong desire to reconnect with his wife and family: “I keep writing you letter after letter, but never receive any answer. I can’t seem to figure out why it is I don’t get word from someone over there. I long to hear from your own dear self. I often wake up in the night thinking of you and the children…. Tell Bernard, Ruth, Kenneth and the baby that daddy sends his love to them and hopes it won’t be long before he will see them.” A Private Thomas Newton, Quincy, MA, was “right behind Joe when he was struck” by the bullet that ended his life and also wrote to Theresa, expressing his condolences on the loss of a husband, father and dear friend.