John William McLean, fourth from the left in the second row from the bottom, served with the the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. (Photo contributed)

Red Deer teacher shares D-Day memories of his grandfather

Rifleman with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles

Teacher Patrick McLean has been sharing his grandfather’s D-Day story for years — no special anniversaries required.

The Hunting Hills High School teacher proudly displays a photo in his classroom of John William McLean with his 104-member company with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles before they landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.

McLean said his grandfather, known as Jack, was one of only about 20 soldiers in that photo who survived D-Day.

“He was part of the first wave and he was a very lucky survivor,” McLean said.

“It took grandpa a lot of years of his life before he was able to really talk about it, but then he openly talked about it all the time. We learned a lot as a family.”

McLean said his grandfather was seriously injured after he came ashore. When he regained consciousness, he rejoined his company, but was ordered to return to the beach to be sent back to England for treatment.

It turned out that being wounded likely saved his life.

“He was part of C Company, that was actually all captured two days later on June 8, and most of them were actually murdered. So when he talks about his friends, he’s talking about the guys he left when he had to return to the beach.”

McLean said his grandfather described his walk to the beach the loneliest he ever experienced. When he arrived at the beach, it was full of wounded soldiers waiting to leave.

He ended up sharing a blanket with a captain who also had a flask of alcohol that he shared with the 23-year-old rifleman.

But the captain’s injuries proved fatal.

“The man said, ‘I have a picture of my wife in my pocket. Can you get it for me?’ (His grandfather) did and then he said, ‘I can’t see her.’ And then he died.”

McLean said his grandfather, who died in 2010 at the age of 88, knew D-Day was going to be memorable.

“They were given ice cream on the boat on their way across the channel. He remembered that. Ice cream was always his favourite and he thought they must be making this a special day if they’re giving us ice cream.”

His grandfather wrote a letter to his wife on the boat to Juno Beach in case he didn’t survive.

McLean said he asks his students to think about what it would be like to write such a letter, and it’s an exercise they don’t take lightly.

“They can imagine how hard it would be to write a letter that both reassures people and tells them how much you care for them, as it may be the last time. They can put themselves in that position.”

He said students are curious about Canada’s participation in the Second World War, and D-Day in particular.

“There’s a lot of pride there. They know that a lot of really great things were done.”

And students are always eager to share what they know about their relatives, he said.

“It’s kind of an important coming together, this sharing of stories, realizing why it’s important to learn the history of your family.

“I always love the opportunity to talk about my grandpa. He’s a hero of mine,” McLean said.



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Red Deer public schools

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hundreds turn up at Coldest Night of Year walk in Red Deer

It wasn’t the coldest night of the year, which probably helped the… Continue reading

Police in Saskatoon shoot two dogs that attacked man, then advanced on officers

SASKATOON — Police in Saskatoon say officers had to open fire at… Continue reading

13-year-old Maskwacis teen missing

Maskwacis RCMP are asking for public assistance to locate 13-year-old Rebecca Soosay.… Continue reading

Red Deer area residents who were quarantined on cruise ship near Japan back in Canada

Central Alberta residents are safe and test negative for coronavirus

Alberta doctors getting ready for court fight against new pay, benefits deal

EDMONTON — The head of the Alberta Medical Association says it’s preparing… Continue reading

Fashion Fridays: The 8 best quality online stores! Shop the ultimate sales

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Your community calendar

Feb. 19 A Liberation of Holland event is being held at the… Continue reading

TSN, Curling Canada agree to eight-year extension on broadcast rights contract

MOOSE JAW, Sask. — Curling Canada and TSN have extended their broadcast… Continue reading

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs meet with Mohawks in Kahnawake, Que.

KAHNAWAKE, Que. — Traditional chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation maintained Saturday… Continue reading

Saskatoon protest springs up, even after Trudeau orders blockades torn down

More protests in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs sprung up on Saturday,… Continue reading

Saskatchewan’s chief coroner warns public after fatal drug overdoses in Regina

REGINA — Two deaths and dozens of drug overdoses in Regina have… Continue reading

A champion, again: Humphries wins 3rd women’s bobsled title

Kaillie Humphries of the U.S. is a bobsled champion again, winning her… Continue reading

Canada’s Kingsbury finishes first in moguls for 62nd World Cup victory

TAZAWAKO, Japan — Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury earned his 62nd World Cup victory… Continue reading

Cruise-ship evacuees arrive for quarantine in Canada as first Wuhan evacuees let go

OTTAWA — A plane carrying 129 Canadians and their families who have… Continue reading

Most Read