ANGUS [GALBRAITH] McLEAN ~ A lonely death in a distant land is remembered as a Scotsman’s NZEF war medal is delivered in person to his home in the Outer Hebrides.

73359 ~ Angus [Galbraith] McLean

73359 PTE Angus McLean’s British War Medal, 1914-18.

The return of this particular medal has taken the best part of three years, but unlike the ‘voyage of discovery’ that resulted from the  return of Matron Sylvia Brown’s medal in my previous post, this story is quite brief.

A Nelson resident, Jane L.** enjoys the challenge of genealogical research and had been trying to reunite some medals that were among her late father-in-laws possessions.  The medals were named to three NZEF soldiers, none of whom Jane or her husband recognised as having any connection to their family.  The first was a medal named to, 2/1769 DVR John Dods – NZFA.  Through a good deal of effort on their part, Jane and her husband were able to locate a descendant of John Dods and returned his medal to them.  As for  the second two soldiers, 10/570 PTE Alfred Udy Millard – WIB** and PTE Angus McLean, Jane’s research had come to a grinding halt.  It was at this point Jane learned or MRNZ and so bought the medals to me (a pair for Millard and a single medal for McLean) to see what I could do. 

Having just arrived in Nelson at that stage, I was part way through demolishing the interior of a house I had just bought and so was not quite in a position to sink myself into tricky research cases.  I never say “no” to any request to research a NZ soldier’s medals to return, but some cases have to wait for more pressing priorities to be completed – like having a liveable residence.  That was just after Anzac Day 2015.  Since then we have reunited Pte. Millard’s medal Trio ** (refer previous post) which left me with just one more medal to return, a British War Medal 1914-18 named to, 73359 PTE. A. McLEAN N.Z.E.F.

Note:  ** The medals that were to be reunited with Pte. Alfred Millard’s descendant family were the British War Medal and Victory Medal.  Millard had been award a trio of WW1 medals, the 1914-15 Star was missing.  A medal collector noted from the MRNZ  website our request for the missing medal and offered up the Star from his collection to complete the Trio, before the medals and Millard’s Returned Soldier Badge, were reunited with his nephew in Christchurch in Jan 2016. 

A long way from ‘Bonny Scotland’ …

My search for Angus’s descendants started with his military service and a check of census/electoral rolls.  This resulted in my finding that Angus was a Scottish national who had been working in NZ before the war, had survived the war but unfortunately had died at a relatively young age.  Whilst not that unusual for soldiers who had suffered from their first exposure to the horrors of war, much of it found to have been the result of delayed ‘battle shock after the war.  What I felt particularly moved over was the fact Angus had died alone, thousands of miles from his home or any contact without his family.  Did they even know he had gone to war, where he was or that he had even died?

The other interesting aspect I discovered early on in the research was that “Angus McLean” was not his birth name.  Angus’s file had made mention of him also being named “Galbraith” which proved to be helpful in locating his correct descendant line later on.

The southern-most inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides is the Isle of Barra (flagged).  Also known as the West Isles, these islands are part of Inverness-shire, Scotland.

A Barra ‘Laddie’

Castlebay, Barra – home of Angus McLean (Galbraith) parents in 1910, Malcolm and Marion Galbraith.

The Isle of Barra is an island in the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles), part of the county of Inverness-shire, Scotland.  Barra is one of the two largest occupied islands in an archipelago of fourteen.  The adjacent island of Vatersay is connected by a short causeway.  Looking at Barra on Google Earth is enough to give one a sense of, whilst beautiful and green when in full sun, its utter remoteness and apparent desolation.  The islands are also plagued by midges.  In 2011, the population was 1,174 – today it is 1,078.  Gaelic is widely spoken, and at the 2011 Census, there were 761 Gaelic speakers.  Barra has an area of approx 58 sq km (or about 8 miles long and 5 wide) with around 20 people per sq km.  It is accessed by a regular ferry service that makes the five hour trip from the Port of Oban on mainland Scotland, near the Isle of Mull to Castlebay on Barra. 

In 1427 the lands of Barra were granted by the Lords of the Isles to Clan MacNeil – hardly surprising given the number of MacNeils on the island today.

Flag of Barra.

Angus McLean [Galbraith] had not cited any of his parents names on his NZEF enlistment application as his was of the type that only required the soldier to state where they had been born – no names were required on this form!  It was also apparent after I had received new information, Angus had either not been aware of where he was born, or may have thought “being remote, who would know irrespective of what I put down?”  He had stated that both he and his parents had been born at Castlebay, Scotland.  no indication of where Castlebay was and certainly not in the Outer Hebrides as I later discovered.  His parental location may have been correct at the time Angus enlisted but as anyone who has tried to research Scottish families from this period knows, every second person seems to have the same first and last name – there was little  to differentiate between them, save dates of birth or death (notoriously fuzzy) or a specified hamlet/village/town.  Invariably they were recorded as areas with ill-defined boundaries.  In the Outer Hebrides hamlets tended to be defined by a name applicable to a small area with a collection of 3-5 croft dwellings, or less, making pinpointing a specific person within a family with same or similar names, very difficult.  This was the case with Angus’s parental description and location.  Castlebay is not only a town, it is a region of several hamlets/villages, and it is the harbour that services Barra from Oban on the mainland (Inverness-shire, Scotland).  


Castlebay harbour in 1890 – the herring fleet surrounds Kisimul Castle.  Note the traditional fishermen’s houses in foreground in which the Galbraiths lived!  Angus was 3 years old when the Galbraith’s moved from Brevig to live in one of these.

Angus Galbraith was born on 27 July 1888 (03 August**) at Brevig, the home of his father and grandfather’s birth.  Angus’s grandfather Angus GALBRAITH (1828-1876) and grandmother Catherine NICHOLSON (1827- ?) had been crofters in Brevig since the 1700s.  Brevig is a small hamlet about 4 km NE of Castlebay on the east coast of Barra.  A Crofter is one who has tenure and use of the land, typically as a tenant farmer, especially in rural areas.  The croft is a fenced or enclosed area of land, usually small and arable, and usually, but not always, with a crofter’s dwelling thereon.  The Galbraiths croft was complete with a dwelling.  Crofting was the main employ of islanders together with herring fishing, yarn spinning and the manufacture of Harris Tweed cloth.

Grandfather Angus’s son Malcolm GALBRAITH (1852-1920) married Marion MacLEAN (1854-1934) of Borve in Feb 1885 at the “mother church of the island”, St Brendan’s Church in Craigston, Borve which is situated opposite Brevig but on the NW coast of Barra.  Malcolm succeeded his grandfather on the croft which was where the Galbraith’s first three children were born – Mary (1886), Margaret (Maggie, 1887) and Angus Galbraith [McLean] in July 1888.  By 1891, Malcolm (38), Marion (35) and their three children had surrendered the croft and moved into Castlebay into a fisherman’s house.  Castlebay was the centre for the supply of herring however Malcolm had joined the ranks of the Cockle (shell) Gatherers.  A minor industry on Barra at the time, cockle shells were mined for sale to the Belgian glass industry.  The shells went incinerated to produce lime, an essential ingredient for glass.  It was also used in lime mortar in building crofts and for making lime-wash, a white water based, whitewash for the interior and exterior walls of crofts and other buildings.  Apparently a short lived occupation for Malcolm, by 1901 the local census shows the Galbraiths were living back at Brevig where Malcolm (48) had become a merchant and  running a grocery business.

Barra today and the view over Castlebay looking southwest.  The 1890 fishermans’ houses were situated to the left of the picture, above the exposed rocks.  

Note ** There is a discrepancy over Angus’s birth date as there were two ‘Angus Galbraith’ births recorded only one week apart.  The first was at Brevig on 27 July 1888 and the second at Cleat on 03 August 1888.  Both locations were occupied by the Galbraith families however since Angus’s family appeared to be living at Brevig over the period he was born, it is reasonable to assume Marion Galbraith had been in Brevig with Malcolm at that time, unless she had returned to her family home of Borve which is adjacent to the hamlet of Cleat?

Emigration to NZ

In looking for evidence of Angus’s arrival in New Zealand, the nearest was an immigration record that showed he had arrived in Sydney from Liverpool aboard the Sussex (1901) on 12 December 1910, having come via Capetown.  Angus was 23 years of age and his occupation given as ”Seaman.”  This also explained how he arrived in new Zealand, and perhaps what he had been doing from the time he left Barra (unknown), probably from an age he could join the herring fleet as a fisherman, or the merchant ships as a sailor, the two main occupations for young men who did not remain as crofters or within a family business.   

The first appearance of Angus McLean in a NZ record was the 1911 Electoral Roll in which he was listed as a Labourer in Wellington.  In 1914 he had moved up to Whakatane, also labouring, and then in 1916 was listed as a Flax Cutter at Paengaroa in the vicinity of Maketu in the Bay of Plenty.   Angus’s preference for a wee dram or three got him into trouble on a number of occasions, the first was in Te Aroha near Hamilton.

Te Aroha News – 16 Jun 1915

Angus McLean, who evidently has a preference for the alleged Scotch national beverage, used obscene language when arrested for being drunk in Whitaker Street, and the Government benefited accordingly to the extent of £l. 

Again he appeared (with numerous other offenders) just after Boxing Day, 1915: 

New Zealand Herald


The sitting of the Police Court on Friday – Angus McLean, charged with drunkenness and committing a nuisance, was fined £1. 

Angus had registered for military service, as was required nationally of all men between the ages of 17 and 60 in 1915.  Whilst he had not been selected to serve initially, conscription ensured he would be required to serve at a later date.  Obviously not enamoured with the thought, he perhaps saw his holiday break in December 1915 as his last?  But it would seem by a number of newspaper articles that Angus, alcohol and trouble were not too far apart, as the Te Puke Times reported after he returned to the Bay of Plenty from Auckland:

Te Puke Times – 7th January, 1916

A flax mill hand named Angus McLean, who had just returned from celebrating the Christmas holidays at Auckland, and whose brain was evidently affected by drink, created quite a sensation on the Maketu beach, on Sunday, by attempting to commit suicide by drowning himself.  The, man, whose act was, witnessed by several spectators, rushed into the sea beyond, his depth, but was brought to the shore in an unconscious condition by Messrs Houston and Robertson.   News of the occurrence was sent in to Constable Stackpoole and Dr MacFarlane, who on their arrival, found that McLean had just been restored to consciousness.  He was brought to Te Puke, and later on was taken through to Rotorua, where two doctors certified to his being insane.  As the lapse, however, was probably, caused through drink, and might be only temporary, the man was committed for a short term to the Hamilton gaol.

Shannon and “Miranui”

In October 1916, the Military Service Act empowered the government conscript those between the age of 20 and 45  for military service abroad or at home, subject to their physical fitness or the outcome of an appeal.  Angus McLean was duly balloted for service, his name being published on First Division Reserve Roll for 1916.  This meant he would be highly likely to be sent overseas within the following 12 months. 

At some point in 1916, Angus moved further south to the Manawatu where he obtained a position at another flax mill that was rapidly expanding and paying very attractive wages – the Miranui Flax Mill at Shannon. 

A & L. Seifert’s “Miranui Flax Mill” north of the Shannon township.

During the early years of the the 20th century, flax milling became one of the most lucrative and important industries in New Zealand, and in particular the Manawatu region. When farmers began to drain the swampland to establish pasture in the late 19th century, they found the process stimulated the growth of the flax that was growing naturally in the area.  From this chance discovery, flax milling grew steadily from the 1870s until reaching its zenith as an industry in the 1920s and 30s.   Manawatu’s Makerua Swamp (also known as the Opiki Plains) was festooned with wild flax that covered an area of some 14,500 acres and stretched from Linton to Shannon along the Manawatu River.  

Brothers Alfred & Louis Seifert owned and operated the A. & L. Seifert Flaxdressing Company Ltd and in 1906 built a new flax processing mill just north of the town of Shannon, to process the acres of wild swamp flax they had purchased.  A 5.6 km tramway was also installed across the swamp to transport the harvested flax to the mill.  The Miranui Mill (Miranui meaning “big mill” in Maori) was opened in 1907 and destined to become the largest flax mill in New Zealand.  At the peak of its production – from 1910 to 1918 – 300 men were employed to work in the mill, and to harvest the flax (harekeke) which was cut by hand with a machete, while continually in swamp water.  It was as a flax cutter that Angus McLean was employed from . 

Flax Cutters in the swam, cut and bundled the raw flax before loading it onto the “swamp railway.”

Shannon flax-cutters in the Makerua Swamp which stretched from Linton near Palmerston North to Shannon







The harvested flax was transported on flat deck wagons of the narrow gauge rails however even the small steam engines proved to heavy for the flimsy  tracks across and were replaced with horses and trams to haul the loaded wagons to the mill.  here the flax would be hand-fed into seven steam-powered stripping (scrutching) machines which would remove the outer green surface material of the flax leaves to expose and separate its fibrous interior.  The flax fibres were then washed, bleached and dried in the sun before being bundled into hanks and transported by either riverboat or horse drawn wagons, to a and overseas port, Wellington or Whanganui.  The Miranui Mill supplied nearly two thirds of New Zealand’s total output of flax, most of which was shipped to Australia where it was made in to rope.   The resulting incomes and money spent in the formerly quiet, rural village of Shannon, boosted it into a bustling town with shops, hotels and eateries catering for the workers and the numerous visitors.  There was even an annual Miranui Ball – a major event in the area.

Source: Manawatu – Our Region, Manawatu Standard

Miranui Flax Mill locomotive with a load for the stripping/scrutching machines, c.1908.

Horses replaced the engines which proved to heavy for the light, narrow gauge tracks across the swamp.

One of the steam powered scrutching machines at Maranui.

The stripped, and bleached flax fibre drying in paddocks around the mill.

Hanks of bleached, and dried flax fibre read for transport to the port.

A typical “flaxies” camp at Tokomaru, near Shannon, c 1910.



















Angus had been living and working at the Miranui Mill for almost two years when he was finally called up to enlist at Palmerston North on 7 November 1917 and attested for service in His Majesty’s New Zealand Military Forces.  

The Rimutaka Hill route march.

Six weeks later on 15 December, twenty nine year old 73359 Private Angus Galbraith reported to Trentham Camp with the 37th Reinforcements to start his military indoctrination and training as an infantry soldier.  At Trentham he underwent another medical check, was inoculated and issued a uniform and the kit he would need for training at the infantry and reinforcements training camp at Featherston in the Wairarapa.  At the conclusion of the training, Pte. McLean would become one of the 60,000 soldiers who were required to route march with pack and rifle from Featherston Camp back to the Trentham Camp via the infamous Rimutaka Hill climb, a distance of around 36 kilometers.   

To France and the thick of battle

73359 Private Angus McLean, 7th Company, 2 Battalion WIR – 37th Reinforcements was attested at Featherston Camp on 15 Dec 1917 at the age of 29 years and 3 months.  He finished his indoctrination and basic infantry training in May 1918.  Obviously he intended to make the most of any chances given for leave an AWOL charge (being late returning from leave) in March and was fined 4 days pay, awarded 3 days Confined to Barracks (CB) and further 4 days Forfeiture of Pay.  CB and a loss of pay (by fine and forfeiture) were the usual punishments for such and offences prior to embarkation.  The officers had been briefed not to be too hard on the men for such offences prior to embarkation as some would be departing New Zealand’s shores for the very last time.  Besides, the men would be required to fight for their lives in fairly short period, and with much gusto when ‘attacking the Hun’ and so the commanders were encouraged to not suppress that enthusiasm by imposing too harsher discipline at this early stage of their deployment.  It was a different matter for those who committed more serious offences, e.g. for those who went AWOL (absconded with no intention to return), they were meted out punishments that the full force of military law could impose – imprisonment and forfeiture of pay. 

It would seem that Pte. McLean had also ‘arranged’ for a telegram to be sent to Featherston Camp (probably containing a compassionate story) which necessitated his applying for three weeks Leave Without Pay (LWOP) prior to embarkation which had been approved.  This was revoked.  Unfortunately for Pte. McLean, he blotted his copy book again by being AWOL.  He overstayed his leave pass by 18 hours the day before the 37th Reinforcements were due to embark HMNZT 103 Manganui at Wellington.  The Maunganui left Wellington on the 9 May 1918 and two days out at sea, Pte. McLean was tried and punished for his AWOL offence –  another 9 days pay was forfeited.  

Manganui arrived at Liverpool on 24 June 1918.  The 37th Reinforcements entrained at Liverpool for Salisbury Plain and marched into Sling Camp the next day where thousands of Kiwi soldiers had come and gone before them.   On arrival the reinforcements were posted to the Reserve Battalion in preparation for six weeks of training before proceeding to France.  Pte. McLean and the reinforcements who were destined for the 2nd Wellington Infantry Battalion left for France on 30 Sep 1918, arriving at the Etaples Base Depot the following day, before being moved almost immediately up to the front line where the two Wellington battalions were.

At this stage of the war the 1st and 2nd Wellington Battalions and remainder of the NZ Div, had been acting as the Corps Reserve after a fairly torrid time fighting in the Halpincourt Wood area during the final stages of the Battle of Harvincourt.  The two battalions were at Biefvillers on two hours notice to move forward when the reinforcement personnel for both battalions started to arrive; Pte. McLean joined the 2nd Battalion.  During this time the Wellingtons had had an opportunity to play baseball against the Americans as well as some inter battalion rugby while awaiting orders, and her they would remain in Reserve until the 9th of October.

Pte. Angus McLean and the reinforcements joined their respective battalions in the field on 8 Oct 1918; they had just been relieved in the line five days prior to his arrival.  Early on the morning of the 9th, the 1st and 2nd Wellington battalions were under orders to be ready to move at half an hour’s notice.  At mid-day both battalions commenced the march forward.  There was over an hour’s halt near the canal for dinner before they were soon on the march again, moving with one hundred yards distance between companies, passing through Crevecour and north of Esnes.  Late in the afternoon, the battalions halted again and bivouaced for the night. 

Over the next few weeks the battalions would repeat this advance, through trench lines and pulverised villages, part of the general in that sector towards the French town of Le Quesnoy where the German resistance was known to be stiff.  The ‘assault by stealth’ on the town of Le Quesnoy would be the NZ Division’s last successful major battle action of the war.  The New Zealanders took the town, not without casualties of their own, but did so without a single loss life of the French townsfolk.

Pte. McLean came through the last months of the war unscathed and returned to Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain to join the WPD – Wellington Provincial Detachment, a holding unit for soldiers waiting for a ship to take them back to NZ. 

Pte. McLean applied for LWOP from 9 May–6 Jun 1919 which would be the only opportunity he would have to get to Scotland so he could catch a ferry from Oban out to Castlebay on the Isle of Barra to see his parents and family.  His application was initially approved but then at the last moment stopped by the Senior Provost Marshall in London (maybe because of his former AWOL offences?)

Predictably “idle hands makes the devils work” and Pte. McLean got himself into strife, but I suggest not without some justification.  He went AWOL so he could get to Scotland and out to the Isle of Barra.  To do this Angus had to get to Glasgow in Scotland and then to the Port town of Oban on the west coast of Inverness-shire.  From here it was another five and a half hours by ferry boat to Castlebay, his home on Barra.  It was 18 days before he was arrested on 19 September when he returned to London however, there was a further complication.  Pte. McLean was charged not only with being AWOL but also for “Travelling on a Comrades Warrant with Intent to Defraud.”  Whether he had bought the travel warrant from another soldier or ‘borrowed’ it is not recorded.  The result of his subsequent trial was: for being AWOL from the WPD, 01–19 September 1919, he forfeited 46 days pay.  He forfeited another 2 days for his alleged intent to defraud by using the travel warrant, a total of 48 days for which he would receive no pay.  Angus was in some ways was fortunate, fortunate the war was over, that perspectives had changed, as did the application of leniency for offences.  Angus’s punishments clearly indicate his offences, given the circumstances, was treated a lot less seriously than if he had committed the same offences in peacetime in NZ, or while in France for which the penalty could have been death!  The soldiers by this time were tired, run down and wanted nothing more than to go home and get out of the Army, back to their loved ones and civilian life.  Angus had seized the only opportunity he was ever going to get (or be able to afford) to see his family while he was in the UK.  Little did he realise at that time it would be his last! 

Pte. Angus McLean embarked HMNZT 293 Arawa for NZ and arrived in Wellington on 11 Nov 1919, exactly one year after the Armistice had been signed.  As most of his demobilization administration had been completed in England, there was little else to do but some final discharge administration and medical checks at Trentham Camp, before Pte. Angus McLean was officially discharged from the NZEF on 14 December 1919.

Awards:  British War Medal, 1914-18 and Victory Medal

Service Overseas:  1 year 192 days

Total NZEF Service:  2 years


Once Angus was back in New Zealand and officially discharged from the NZEF he seems to have drifted around the North Island for the next few years.  In 1919 he was recorded as being in Whakatane (possibly with mates he went overseas with), listed as a Labourer,  and picked up labouring jobs whenever he could. 

‘Playing with fire’ ….

In 1920 Angus was in Palmerston North and was taken into the employ of a local travelling showman, one John Frederick Cabot (1891-1960), known as “Jack,” shortly after his marriage to Olive SCHLAGER.  In the course of travelling the North Island over the next few years, Angus and Olive had a secretive affair over a period of some three years.  The details of this affair were revealed in a 1924 court hearing in which Jack Cabot was petitioning Olive for a divorce.  Cabot told the court that whilst the trio were in Auckland in 1921, he (Cabot) had uncovered Angus and Olive’s attraction for each other whereupon he promptly sacked Angus.  However he forgave Olive for her indiscretion, and so they continued on as a couple.  By the time Cabot and his wife reached Rotorua, Olive told her husband that she was leaving him, and left.  Cabot decided to secretly track his wife’s movements and followed her to Hamilton where he surprised both Olive and Angus in the early hours of the morning, in a boarding house.  Cabot again forgave his wayward wife and even arranged for her to return to Palmerston North.  However any possibility of reconciliation was crushed when it was revealed that Angus and Olive had actually been married in Auckland in January 1921, and since then had lived together both in Auckland and Wellington.  The last straw as Cabot told the court, was once back in Palmerston North, Olive had approached Cabot at the Winter Show and asked him to put up bail for Angus who had been arrested for theft!  Upon hearing this string of events, the Judge promptly granted the decree nisci (end of the marriage) to take effect at the expiration of three months.  It was not contested; it is also unknown what Angus’s fate was for his indiscretion.

The next written record regarding Angus McLean places him back at the Miranui Flax Mill in 1925 (presumably without Olive of whom there was no further mention) where he would have had the security of an income by taking up his flax cutting job again.  But much had changed at Miranui since he left to go to war, and would change considerably more in the next 12 to 24 months. 

By mid 1927 the NZ economy was falling rapidly and workers were being laid off country-wide in all sorts of industries as the demand for products slowed.  The flax industry boom which had started before the war, started into a sharp decline.  In 1914, a disease called “yellow leaf” had began to infect flax crops across the country, cutting production in half.  A partial cure was effected by careful harvesting rather than slashing the flax to ground level, and recovery looked a distinct possibility.  But the onset of the Great Depression as a result of the Wall Street Crash in Feb 1929, just 10 years after the end of the First World War, together with a dwindling demand for flax sealed the fate of the flax industry in New Zealand.  There was evidence from dockyards and sailing ships that flax rope swelled in wet weather, would not stand splicing, and wore badly and so was being superseded by the more popular and hardy sisal from Mexico, and Manila from the Philippines.  The Miranui Flax Mill closed in 1933.

Miranui Flax Mill entrance, 1977 – all that remains.

Angus left Shannon and headed down to Wellington in 1934.  Here he joined the crew of the trans-Tasman and coastal cargo ship Limerick as a casual crew member, and filling the gaps in voyages with the odd labouring job around Wellington when he was not required at sea.  Unfortunately for Angus he became embroiled in another court appearance while Limerick was in Auckland.  The incident involved Angus and two other sailors from the Limerick.  To confuse the issue, two of three so called ‘friends’ were named Angus McLean – there was Angus [Galbraith] McLean – seaman, Angus McLean – the boatswain, and a 57 year old seaman, Jack McMillan.  On 20 April 1936, Angus G. met McMillan in town at a hotel and they had drinks together.  They were later joined by Angus McLean the boatswain, and another man named McRae whose home they later went to and spent the night drinking there.  Around midnight, all three had caught a taxi back to the Princess Wharf where Limerick was tied up, and an argument ensued among them on the wharf.  The boatswain and McMillan had come to blows and were punching each other, the effectiveness of their punches being debatable given all three were in similar states of significant intoxication, according to the Engineering Officer who saw the three getting out of the taxi.  The boatswain left the fight and went aboard about 15 minutes before the others.  Angus and McMillan being similarly drunk, separated whereupon McMillan left Angus and headed in the direction of the ship’s gangway.  The discovery of McMillan’s hat on the edge of the wharf sometime later, indicated he had walked over the edge and fallen between the wharf and the Limerick, some 30 metres from the gangway, and had drowned.  His body was not found until some days later. 

M.V. Limerick (later torpedoed by the Japanese and sunk off the Queensland coast in April 1943)

The local newspaper reported the start of the inquest into McMillan’s death on 23 April 1936, noting that whilst the motor-ship Limerick took its name from an Irish county, the seven witnesses attending the inquest created a distinctly Scots atmosphere in that two were named Angus McLean, while three of the remaining five all had names prefixed with “Mc”, and “to complete the national picture, one witness admitted having two glasses of “whusky” at the home of a man named McRae.”  The inquest started without the body.  After several days of hearing, the Judge ruled McMillan’s was a “death by misadventure occasioned heavy intoxication.”  The Judge also commented, somewhat unfairly I believe, that he thought Angus G. had been a somewhat less than responsible “friend” implying Angus had allowed McMillan to fall into the water!  The Judge made no reference to any degree of responsibility of the boatswain whom had been punching McMillan on the wharf before leaving, the result of which when combined with his McMillan’s state of intoxication may well have occasioned McMillan’s inability to control himself.  

Angus had ‘dodged a bullet’ with the inquest and returned to Wellington.  He had a part-time residence where he boarded when back in Wellington, at 18 Frederick Street in the Te Aro Valley, an area renowned at the time for being a depressed area, populated by tramps and men and women of limited means, seamen and stevedores, drunks and alcoholics, criminals and women of ill repute.  

Many miles from home

Holloway Road in the Aro Valley, c.1924

The next official record relating to Angus [Galbraith] McLean in New Zealand, was the last.  Barely two months after the Limerick incident, Angus McLean died in Wellington’s Porirua Mental Asylum on 26 June 1936.   The Coroner’s Report is slightly more revealing, and says in part: “….. Body was that of a well built, muscular middle aged man. ……. he was admitted to Wellington Hospital on Saturday the 20th June 1936 and transferred to this hospital (Porirua Mental) the same evening.   He had been seen to behave in a peculiar manner on the (Wellington) wharf that morning and fall into the water.  When admitted he was in a confused mental state, had abrasions to his scalp.  His mental condition cleared somewhat and the last two days, patient appeared to be in satisfactory bodily health.  Patient had some vomiting last night, 25th June, but this morning was taking and retaining fluids by mouth.  At 12.05 pm on 26th June, patient suddenly collapsed and died in the presence of Attendant J. Brown.”

Te Aro backyards, c.1924

The autopsy report stated: “…. body was that of a well built, muscular middle aged man. (48yrs)  There was haematoma (blood seeping from broken vessels) on the vertex of the scalp (edge of the back of skull where vertical meets horizontal, about midway along) …… some splintering of inner table of the skull with underlying ….. contusion of the brain…. Lungs showed patches of bronchio pneumonia …heart muscle pale.  All valves healthy, coronary vessels not thickened or occluded, kidneys normal …. evidence of toxic change in spleen.”  

Coroner’s opinion: “Death due to heart failure following toxic exhaustion with acute confusion.  It is also my opinion that patient’s action in entering the harbour was done in a confused state and without conscious suicidal attempt.” 

Without saying as much, the Coroner was describing a substantial blow to the back of Angus’s head.  Whether it occurred as he fell off the wharf into the harbour or at some other time earlier is not stated, however his behaviour bore similarities to that he had demonstrated previously while at the beach in the Bay of Plenty.  The comment regarding changes in spleen toxicity can be indicative of ingesting a range of substances which could accumulate toxic levels of metallic based trace elements (as is found in benzine based liquids).  It can also indicate prolonged neglect of suitable diet, excessive and/or contaminated alcohol intake, and manifestations of harmful levels of bacteria in the blood.  It can also be representative of acute liver failure and anaemia.  The coroner did not note a definitive cause or causes, one way or the other.


Angus [Galbraith] McLean was accorded a burial in the Soldiers’ Section of the Karori Cemetery in Wellington, on the 29th of June.  His grave was suitably marked with the standard pattern WW1 soldier’s headstone.  The shame of Angus’s death was that other than being in a hospital, he died alone, 18,251 kilometres from his home on the Isle of Barra without ever having had the opportunity to see any of his family again.  It is believed by those who had knowledge of the family, none had any idea where Angus had gone when he left Barra, or that he had even died.  A sad end to a hard and probably quite lonely life …. many miles from home. 

‘Air ar sgàth gu bheil sinn a ’Dìochuimhneachadh’

(Lest We Forget)

Pieces of the puzzle

My search for any possible connections to Angus in New Zealand started with the obvious.  On his Attestation form, Pte. McLean was required to nominate his Next of Kin in the event of a notifiable event – hospitalisation, injury or death.  In the absence of immediate family, Angus had nominated not his mother or father, but a “Mrs Moynihan – Friend, Shannon.”  The electoral rolls of Shannon residents for this period showed “Mrs Moynihan” to be wife of a public house licensee, Irish immigrants Michael (Mick) and Mrs Ellen (Ellie) Moynihan. 

The Moynihans had come from Wellington with their family in 1892 to take over the license of the then named “Wellington Manawatu Club Hotel” on the corner of Ballance and Main Street in the rural Manawatu town of Shannon.  The first of two hotels built in Shannon, the Club Hotel (as the name was shortened to in 1911 when rebuilt after a fire) was built the same year Angus was born (1888) while “The Albion” hotel was built a year later in 1889.  The Club hotel is still open for business to this day while The Albion finally met its demise after it was destroyed by fire in 2011 having been closed and neglected for a number of years.

Original Wellington Manawatu Club Hotel built in 1888, at the time Mick & Ellie Moynihan had the licence – c.1896 

Known as the “Flaxies” pub, the Club Hotel would have been a regular haunt of Angus’s and through this, have would have come to know not only Mick and Ellie, mine hosts at the Club, but also their three sons living at the hotel, William (Bill), Thomas (Tom) and youngest brother Rewi Moynihan.  Angus was about the same age as Thomas and five or six years older than Rewi.  The Moynihan boys, like most men of working age in Shannon, also worked at the Miranui Mill. 

In the early days the Club Hotel was a popular venue for “flaxies” and locals alike to drink, dance and generally have a good time.  The Albion was the preferred haunt of the “bushwackers,” men who lived and worked in the bush, clearing it and milling timber.  Regular rugby games were played by opposing hotel teams, Flaxies vs Bushwackers, which often developed into fights, the horse troughs being a useful facility for ‘cooling off’ frayed tempers.  It was here that Rewi Moynihan came to prominence as a fine rugby player and one destined for great things in the future.

The Club Hotel in the same position in Shannon, as it is today.

“Flaxies” worked and socialised together, be it at the Mill, in the hotels, at parties, on the sports field, church or at and village events and so the looming national conscription in October 1916 which would affect the whole country, would have had the young men of Shannon talking of the war and their likelihood of having to go.   Angus would also have likely had a kindred bond with the Moynihans in that fact that both he and the Moynihans were from a similar part of the northern hemisphere, both were immigrants to a foreign country, and many miles from their native homes.  I have researched a number of cases of immigrant and somewhat transient men who were in NZ at the time the war broke out, had enlisted for war service and since they had no immediate family on hand to entrust with their private affairs (and will), often nominated a only local person they had known reasonably well, particularly if they had boarded with them.  That person(s) was often a friend, publican or boarding house owner, a husband or wife – which is exactly what Angus had done.  He had nominated Mrs Ellie Moynihan to be his “next of kin.”  Generally women/mothers were nominated as next of kin since they were more often younger than their male counterparts. 

Shannon Post Office – built 1911.

The fatalists among soldiers who believed they would not be coming back, cared little for who they nominated as their “next of kin” and were inclined without much thought, to nominate anyone (sometimes without telling them!) – friend, acquaintance, girlfriend, shop proprietor, supervisor, employer, lawyer, landlady/lord etc.  For some the excitement over the prospect of travel overseas was all consuming and any consideration of not returning alive, remote from their thoughts.  One of the flow on effects after the war of the slap-happy nominations of reliable next of kin was in evidence by the large number of medals returned to Defence, marked – “ADDRESS UNKNOWN.” 


By the time Angus was called up for service in November 1917, Rewi Moynihan** had already gone overseas.  He had volunteered for service immediately enlistments began in 1914 and had left with the Main Body of the NZEF in October 1914.  His brother William was conscripted in July 1917, and William in Feb 1918.  All three returned to Shannon, two with the on-going effects of their time in the trenches.  Rewi and Tom took over the running of the Club Hotel from their father while Bill returned to farming.

In March 1922, Ellie Moynihan died aged 63 and barely a year later, her husband Mick Moynihan died in March 1923, aged 65.  In  1927 at the age of 32, their son Rewi Moynihan, star rugby player with a great future in the sport ahead of him, succumbed to the effects of his wounds and Gallipoli war service, and died.

Private Rewi Moynihan ~ Featherston Camp  1914.

Note:  **10/448 Private Rewi Michael Moynihan – 1st Wellington Infantry Battalion, NZEF – Main Body ~ A farmer, Rewi Moynihan was still 19 when he embarked for war service in Egypt with the Main Body of the NZEF  in October 1914.  A ‘First Day Lander’ at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, Rewi was wounded twice.  On 14 May he was shot through the right thigh from which he recovered sufficiently to return to the line on Gallipoli.  He was wounded a second time, a gunshot that severely damaged his left shoulder in August 1915.  Rewi was the first wounded soldier to be invalided back to NZ, and the first to return to Shannon, after 1 year and 11 days service overseas.  He was discharged from the NZEF on 19 April 1916.

Rewi Moynihan – Manawatu Rugby Union player, c.1912 (jersey –  green & white hoops)

Born in Wellington in 1895, Rewi moved to Shannon with his parents at six months of age. He went to Shannon School, and afterwards to Palmerston North High School, where he began an illustrious rugby career.  He left school to start farming, but enlisted when war was declared.   After recovering sufficiently to return to farming, he took over while his two brothers, Bill and Tom Moynihan, went to the front.  When they returned, Rewi and Tom took over the running of the Club Hotel from their father.

Rewi represented Shannon both as a junior footballer, and in the seniors from which he was selected to play for the Manawatu Rugby Union.  He played for the Manawatu-Horowhenua team against the Springboks in 1921, and was included in the North Island All-Black trials, and represented Wellington-Manawatu-Horowhenua against the All-Blacks before they left to go to England in 1924.  Regrettably, a potentially great rugby career was cut short when Rewi Moynihan died suddenly in 1932. 

53047 Private Thomas Patrick Moynihan – 3rd Bn, Otago Infantry Regt, NZEF – 27th Reinforcements ~ a single dairy farmer, 21, Tom Moynihan embarked for England in July 1917 and arrived in France Oct 1917. Within a month of being in the field, Tom contracted a bacterial infection which hospitalised him for a number of months – he was diagnosed with “Trench Fever” (a highly contagious rickettsial disease transmitted by lice, that infested soldiers in the trenches in the First World War); he did not return to the field and was employed in the Etaples Base Depot until discharged from the NZEF on 21 Mar 1919.  

75785 T/Sgt. William Joseph Moynihan – NZ Engineers, NZEF – 43rd Reinforcements ~ a farmer, 27 and married with two children, Joe Moynihan embarked for England in April 1918 and served in England only.  He was discharged in June 1919. 

Galbraith or McLean/MacLean ?

Given Angus’s birth name was Galbraith, the first thing I needed to establish was what the significance of McLean was.  Through Facebook I attempted to enlist the help of a Barra Residents page.  It was a Closed page for current and former residents of the Isle so I sent a message explaining what I was attempting to do and whom I was looking to make contact with thinking that on a place the size of Barra, with a population of only 1,078 it would be a breeze to find the appropriate family descendant (provided any were still alive).  Wrong!  As I perhaps should have guessed, unknowns from the other side of the planet are probably viewed with degree of suspicion in these days of computer scams, viruses and hacking – my attempts to make contact went unanswered and so ended that avenue.  I next made an approach by email to the Barra Heritage Centre (museum) at Castlebay.  I received an assurance by a chance respondent who was only there by chance to collect mail, that the woman who ran the centre was indeed a ‘Font’ of knowledge for all things Barra and its inhabitants – she was the person I should speak with.  That was all well and good BUT … I had made the mistake of attempting to make contact mid-winter!  Barra I discovered virtually ‘hibernates’ for the winter and in so doing, tourist facilities such as the Heritage Centre are closed for the duration – as there are none.  Having left a message for the ‘Font’ come spring, it was eventually answered however I had to abandon that avenue also due to a frustrating lack of contact forthcoming.

Making contact with Barra

My next attempt to establish a line of communication was via an Ancestry family tree.  Now if you ever have to trace a Scotsman in a remote place such as the Outer Hebrides, you will quickly find the residents are largely related, and in my case every other person was either a Mac Neil, McLean or a Galbraith, or so it seemed.  Family trees had oodles of men named Angus and family structures that included the same names over and again, and many born within weeks or months of each other.  First names (only one) were generally perpetuated from great-grandfathers and grandfather to father and son – what a nightmare for genealogists.  Worse still for me was that on Barra, there were three families that had almost identical names, all of a similar period in time, and all with sons called Angus – any one which could have been Angus’s family.  Two of the families had lived in Castlebay and one in Brevig, a rural settlement on the east coast of Barra, 4 kms  from Castlebay.  There was no possible way for me to single out one as being Angus’s family as the birth dates of all the ‘Angus’ males were so similar.  The only real differences between these families were the maiden names of the wives.  One of these was Marion MacLean – I was sceptical because of the spelling variation to Angus’s and who knows haw the Scots approached  naming, particularly in remote areas like the Hebrides – there may be some special significance attached to spelling? 

What I needed was someone on the ground with local knowledge who could provide some hard information and confirm whether we were on the right track with regard to Angus’s family, or this medal return was likely going to be a no-go.

Through Ancestry I made contact with David P. another amateur genealogist who happened to have several McLean and Galbraith families from Barra mentioned on his family tree.  After several emails back and forth clarifying names, families and following up suggestions, the net result was that none of David’s connections were apparently related to Angus’s family.  David very kindly offered to see what more he could find out for me and produced a spreadsheet with the possibilities on it.  This helped greatly to narrow the possibles and probables.  David also suggested he would speak with a local farmer he knew, Alasdair C., who had historical connections to Barra with the same names – Angus, Galbraith, etc etc and may have been able to help further.  David did warn me that Alasdair was fairly busy and that he was not too quick responding to his email.  Understatement – after nearly three months Alasdair had looked into the connections and unfortunately there were none that connected to Angus’s  lineage.  More email attempts to establish a contact on the Isle again led to nought.  

A research reinforcement … 

At this point the search had ambled over 18 months or so through 2017 and 2018.  Being a foreign (non-NZ) medal case I knew from experience they tend to be lengthy and respondents slow to reply.  These cases often result in becoming my ‘back burner’ cases, those I leave simmering and dive into every now and then when either new information comes to light or I have an inspirational moment to make another attempt to connect the dots – Angus McLean’s medal became a ‘back burner’ case for the time being. 

And then in Feb 2019 ….. a chance breakthrough, not in Scotland but in Christchurch.  Linda P. had made contact with me last year regarding the research of a WW2 identity bracelet of a female soldier.  As a result of this contact, Linda had expressed an interest in what I did and in particular, was keen on the research aspect and would like to help.  As my plate was rather full with progressive cases, I slipped her the ‘back burner’ case of Angus McLean (aka Galbraith) to see what sort of headway she could make.  All went quiet for about six weeks and then an email from Linda.  Talk about being on the case like a ‘seagull on a sick prawn’ Linda had grabbed the case with both hands and despite a number of negative results, had finally made contact with Carron MacInnes, a Glasgow based amateur genealogist Linda had made contact with via Ancestry,  Carron knows the Isle of Barra well and offered to help Linda with her inquiries.  Carron coincidentally also knew the ‘Font’ and offered to make contact as she was considered the person most likely to know the heritage of the Galbraiths/MacLeans, and who to contact.

The emails continued back and forth and finally Carron came through with a gem from the ‘Font’ – Mairi Ceit MacKinnon – at long last we had a family branch to zero in on.  Whilst I had been focused on the location that Angus’s parents had lived prior to their deaths which had been in Castlebay, not known to me was that the family had originally been crofters (small holding farmers) at Brevig, a settlement just over 4 km NE of Castlebay on the coast.  Mairi also mentioned to Carron she believed that there was still a Galbraith descendant occupying the original family croft dwelling.

Tracing the Galbraiths

Several weeks later Mairi MacKinnon came through.  Carron passed on the results to Linda, and was able to confirm Angus’s parents names, which were one of the three families originally singled out as being possible contenders.  Malcolm Galbraith (1852-1920) was the one who had originated from Brevig while Angus’s mother, Marion MacLEAN (1855-?) hailed from Borve on the opposite coast from Brevig.  This was Angus’s descendant family that Mairi was able to connect us with through Carron.  Mairi’s information also helped to clarify the places of birth for each, with the exception of Angus.  Angus’s entry of “Castlebay” on his enlistment paper referred to the generic area of Castlebay only.  Although Angus’s spelling of “McLean” had been marginally different from that of his mother’s maiden name, it was now obvious whom he had taken his adopted surname from.

The 1891 Census for Barra shows the Galbraith family to be made up of the following; head of the family Malcolm (48), a fisherman, and wife Marion (45) had seven children: Mary (15), Margaret (13), Angus (12), Neil (10), Annie (7), Annie Catherine (6) and James Galbraith (4).  

This information led to later records that showed Angus’s older sister, Mary Galbraith, had married one Michael MacNEIL in Tangasdale, while his next youngest brother Neil Galbraith had married a Mary McNEIL from Kentangaval (I could see a pattern developing here).  Both of their sons had married but were currently living somewhere outside of the Western Isles.  The good news from this was that Neil Galbraith’s grandson, also Neil Galbraith, was currently living in the old Galbraith family croft at Cleat, while his mother Katie Galbraith lives at Bentangaval on the shores of Bagh Beag, an bay adjacent to Castlebay. 

Mairi’s information also included: Angus was known to have been unmarried however it was not clear when he had gone to sea or left Barra permanently.  Barra has its own fishing fleet and aside from farming (and tourism now), had been the predominant occupation of the Barra men, as it has been for centuries.   A life at sea was an obvious and easy choice for men born in the Outer Hebrides, particularly if they wanted to move away from the Isle and see something of the world.  We have no idea why Angus altered his name from Galbraith to McLean.  Perhaps he did not want to be traceable, did not get on with his father, was aware his father had died in 1920, or being closest to his mother simply adopted the name in her honour?  I could speculate on all sorts of reasons but clearly Angus took his mother’s surname in preference to that of Galbraith when he left Barra, forever as it transpired!

The end is nigh …

Carron MacInnes and Linda in Glasgow.  Carron is holding Angus McLean’s British War Medal and Linda an information folder she prepared for Carron to pass on to Angus’s descendants on Barra. 

This information meant that the nearest living (traceable) relative to Angus Galbraith was his great-nephew Neil Galbraith (Jnr), son of Katie and Neil Galbraith.  Carron MacInnes had made contact with Katie who was intrigued to learn that Angus had served with the New Zealander’s in WW1.  She would be very happy to receive his medal and in time pass it to the Barra Heritage Centre at Castlebay for historical posterity.  

As I was contemplating bundling up Angus’s history along with his medal, Linda surprised me with another revelation.  She and her husband were soon to undertake a holiday overseas which included Scotland and said she would be in a position to meet with Carron and hand her the medal personally.  Carron had mentioned to Linda that she was planning a trip to Barra in August and offered to deliver the medal personally to Katie Galbraith, the mother of Angus Galbraith’s great-nephew, Neil Galbraith.  In preparing for her trip, Linda had also compiled a personalised information folder of the  research material to accompany the medal.   

Linda has now returned from Scotland where she met with Carron MacInnes in Glasgow, and handed her the medal for temporary safe-keeping.  We look forward to the pictures of the medal with Angus Galbraith’s great-nephew Neil and his mother, Angus’s niece Katie Galbraith.  The end was nigh ..! 

Saturday, 03 August 2019 – UPDATE

Carron MacInnes recently advised me she has completed the last leg of the Christchurch to Outer Hebrides journey to deliver the British War Medal of Angus [Galbraith] McLean.  Two and a half hours by road from Glasgow to Oban, followed by a five hour ferry voyage saw Carron and the medal finally arrive at Angus [Galbraith] McLean’s hometown of Castlebay on the Isle of  Barra.  Regrettably, Mrs Galbraith, the descendant who was to receive Angus’s medal, is quite elderly and had been most unwell on the day Carron arrived and so was unable to meet with her.  The Curator of the Barra Heritage Centre, Mairi Ceit MacKinnon, who has been Carron’s point of contact in tracing the Galbraith/McLean family on the Isle, kindly did the honours and accepted the medal and information folder on Mrs Galbraith’s behalf.  Mairi will convey it to her when she is well.  Mairi also advised Carron that after discussion with Mrs Galbraith, the intention will be to permanently display the Angus’s medals (yes, I said medals – see below) in the Heritage Centre for all visitors to learn of Angus’s service and sacrifice on the other side of the planet.  Mairi being somewhat camera shy delegated her assistant to pose for the photograph with Carron handing over the medal and information package to the Heritage Centre at Castlebay.  Our grateful thanks  Carron, a job well done!

Carron MacInnes finally reaches the Isle of Barra and delivers the McLean/Galbraith medal.


A ‘very well done’ to Linda who couriered the medal from Christchurch to Glasgow; my personal thanks for her diligence in bringing this case to a successful conclusion.  Carron – we could not have completed this without your local knowledge and personal contacts.  Without your help Angus [Galbraith] McLean’s war medal might have remained on the ‘back burner’ at MRNZ for considerably longer.

I was also pleased to be able to tell the original medal donor, Jane L. and her husband of Nelson – “mission accomplished.” 

The reunited medal tally is now 267.



Victory Medal

A detailed revision of Angus McLean’s military file by the PAMs staff at Trentham revealed that his Victory Medal issued in 1924, was sent to the his declared mailing address which was the Shannon Post Office.  The medal was not collected as Angus had left Shannon after the Miranui Mill closed down and the Post Office returned it to the Military Forces HQ. 

As a result of this discovery, NZDF PAMs has consented to an official re-issue of the Victory Medal which will be forwarded to the Barra Heritage Centre and Angus’s great niece.  Pte. Angus McLean’s medal entitlement will be complete and in the hands of his descendants – at home.

Shannon Post Office today.