2/Lt. B G H Maclear MC, 4th. Battalion Grenadier Guards
Date of birth: 11th October 1885. Date of death: 26th July 1916
Killed in action aged 30.
Buried at Essex Farm Cemetery Plot II Row Z Grave 19
Near a village called Boezinge, north of Ieper in Belgium is Essex Farm Cemetery where more than 1,000 servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated. One hundred and three (103) of the burials are unidentified but special memorials to commemorate 19 casualties known or believed to be buried are among them.
Essex Farm Cemetery was not far from the Yser Canal, which formed the front line in this part of the Salient between April 1915 to August 1917.
He was born in Canterbury on the 11th of October 1885 the second son of the Reverend Canon George Frederick Maclear DD, Clerk in Holy Orders and Warden of The Lodge, St Augustine’s College Canterbury, and Eva Jemima (nee Purcell) of The Lodge, Canterbury. He was christened at St Paul’s Church, Canterbury on the 24th of December 1895.
He attended the King’s School (OKS) Canterbury from January 1899 to October 1902. He went on to University College Reading from 1903 to 1904 and later that year he moved to South Africa where he purchased a fruit farm at Plaisa De Merle (now known as Plasir De Merle), Simondium in Cape Province. He was admitted as an Associate of the University College Reading in 1905.
In September 1915, at the age of 29, he handed over management of the Farm to Nick Gray and returned to England to enlist aboard the SS “Kildonan Castle” at Durban. His sister Eva Mary Gertrude Maclear travelled with him and they landed at London on the 17th of September 1915.
Also on board were 671 members of the South African Field Artillery.
On 24th of September 1915 he applied for a commission in the Special Reserve of Officers for the Grenadier Guards while he was staying at the Regent Palace Hotel, Piccadilly.
On 5th of October 1915 he was commissioned as a probationary 2nd Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards and received orders on the 15th of October to join the regiment at Buckingham Gate with immediate effect. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 26th of January 1916. He embarked for France on the 16th of December 1915 where he joined the No. 2 Company, 4th Battalion of his regiment in early 1916.
On 24th of March 1916 he rendered a report of a patrol he had undertaken that night and as a result of the information it contained he led a further reconnaissance patrol the following night which, if successful, would result in a bombing attack on the enemy trenches at a later date. In the event the patrol was seen by the enemy and a fierce fire fight broke out which meant that, with all surprise lost, future plans for a raid were abandoned.
On 19th of April 1916 the Germans occupied the village of Wieltje in front of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards who were holding the line in front of the village but only thinly. The Germans then attacked and captured six hundred yards of British trenches and then began bombing their way up towards the Scots Guards. Basil Maclear was sent forward and put in charge of a strong patrol to assist the Scots and, in spite of the German grenades which “rained” down on the group, they were successful in clearing the enemy from the positions and taking one enemy soldier as a prisoner.
For his part in this action Basil Maclear was awarded the Military Cross. The citation appeared in the London Gazette of 31st of May 1916:
“For conspicuous gallantry and ability. When ordered to establish communication with another battalion, he did so over 250 yards of ground in the face of very heavy shell fire, establishing bombing posts as he proceeded.”
In the same action the following also received awards for gallantry:
Private R Abell – Distinguished Conduct Medal
Private’s F G Madaley, J Corcoran and R Docking, the Military Medal
Private J Grundy was Recommended for the Victoria Cross, the coveted decoration, however, did not come his way, and for his bravery he received the D.C.M.
His sister, Eva Mary Gertrude Maclear, received the following telegram dated the 29th of July 1916:At 1.10am on the 26th of July 1916 a party of enemy troops raided front line trenches held by No. 2 Company near Ypres. Some half a dozen of the enemy jumped over the parapet and bombed a working party who were taken completely by surprise. Basil Maclear, hearing the noise, rushed to the spot and was killed instantly by a bomb thrown at close range. Further reinforcements rushed to the spot and ejected the raiders, who escaped and disappeared into the darkness.
“Deeply regret to inform you that 2nd Lieut. B.G.H. Maclear 4th Grenadier Guards was killed in action July 25th (sic). The Army Council express their sympathy.”
The battalion war diary recorded: –
“The loss of 2/Lt Maclear, who was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry on the night of April 19th/20th, will be very greatly felt by all ranks. He was absolutely fearless and self reliant.”
Military Cross (MC): Awarded for an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land, to captains or officers of lower rank up to warrant officers. (NCOs or other ranks instead received the Military Medal.)
First established by King George V, 28 December 1914, ‘We are desirous of signifying Our appreciation of such services by a mark of Our Royal favour We do by these Presents for Us Our heirs and successors institute and create a Cross to be awarded to Officers whose distinguished and meritorious services have been brought to Our notice.’ (Gazette supplement 29024)
His brother, Lieutenant Geoffrey D’Olier Maclear MC (OKS) 2nd Battalion 39th Garhwal Rifles, died on the 29th of January 1919.
His Cousins Captain Basil Maclear, 2nd. Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers and Lieutenant Colonel Percy Maclear, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Commanding 2nd Nigeria Regiment, W.A.F.F. also fell in WW1. They were all related to Sir Thomas Maclear (17 March 1794 – 14 July 1879) who was an Irish-born South African astronomer who became Her Majesty’s astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope.
Basil is also commemorated on the war memorial at University College Reading.
Many thanks to John Hamblin for the use of information from his research: