Virtue Mine Honour: Charles McLean’s War

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A new book published by An Iodhlann, the museum on the island of Tiree, tells the story of a young man’s war – and his tragic death in 1941 at the age of 24.

The book was written by Dr John Holliday, the chairman and main driving force behind the heritage centre, and Charles’s niece, Fiona Wilson, who donated the family archive to An Iodhlann.

Charles McLean’s father was from Tiree. Donald Archie McLean was from Kenovay but left the island for Linlithgow in 1911. He joined the Lothian Constabulary and married Euphemia Stoddart, a local girl. Charles, their first child, was born in 1917. The family returned to Tiree every summer.

When Charles left school he joined the Commercial Bank in Linlithgow, but was called up by the RAF just before the war and sent to Hastings on the south coast of England. His training as a navigator lasted 17 months before he was posted to 217 Squadron Coastal Command, flying Bristol Beauforts out of RAF St Eval in Cornwall.

Charles was a prolific correspondent, his letters home were rich with details of daily life: ‘Yesterday we emptied our paliasses and filled them with fresh straw. The Bedroom smells like a stable now.’ He made friends easily. One wrote to him: ‘Fate has had so many chances to get rid of you that He must give it up as impossible by this time.’

However, it was not to be. On 15 November 1941 his plane did not return from a night-time sortie over the Channel. The bodies of two fellow crew members were washed up on the Dutch coast, but Charles and his pilot were lost in action. Charles McLean’s name is on the Tiree war memorial. His war had lasted just six months. Indeed, of his initial training group, only two in 10 survived the war.

When his plane did not return, the families of the crew supported each other. Margaret Halley, the mother of the pilot, wrote to Charles’s father: ‘Our dear boys have given their lives in all probability for their country, and all that their country stands for just now. Since we must all die, there are worse ways of dying than that.’

Virtue Mine Honour: Charles McLean’s War by Dr John Holliday and Fiona Wilson, and designed by Colin Woodcock from Blue Beyond Design in Balemartine. It is published by An Iodhlann Press. Available from An Iodhlann, the Tiree Business Centre or Dr John Holliday at Price £12, UK post and packing £3.50.