Lieutenant Colonel A. W. McLelan
121st (Western Irish) Battalion
Col. McLelan’s plan is this: All officers enter his regiment as lieutenants. They are given fullest opportunities for displaying their ability, and according to merit the senior appointments, such as those of field officers and captains of companies, are granted… Men who have captains and field officers’ certificates are placed on the same basin as the other officers and must qualify in this competitive sense for the senior rankings.
“I think this is the only way in which real efficiency can be arrived at,” said Lieut.-Col. McLelan this morning. “My officers will know that they must make good, and it keys everyone of them up to do his best.”
(Vancouver World, 19 Jan 1916, 15)
Archibald Woodbury McLelan was a fifth-generation Canadian of Irish ancestry. He was born on 26 August 1884 in Londonderry, Nova Scotia. McLelan’s namesake was his grandfather (1824—1890), the Lieutenant Governor of the province between 1888 and 1890. In the first Canadian parliament, the elder McLelan had sat as an anti-confederation member until an appointment to the Senate in 1869.
In the 1890s, the McLelan family moved across the county to British Columbia. Archibald and his younger brother Thomas joined the 11th (Irish Fusiliers) Regiment after its formation in 1913. In November 1915, Archibald was appointed commander of the 121st Battalion, based in New Westminster. Thomas enlisted as an officer, earning a promotion to major. After sailing for England in August 1916, the 121st was broken up and was absorbed into the 16th Reserve Battalion.
Conservative MP for Vancouver, H. H. Stevens helped to raise the 121st and hoped it would remain intact. He however defended the policy of breaking up the county battalions: “I have confidence in Sir Douglas Haig, confidence in the War Office, in the British authorities and in the Canadian officers. I have confidence in the men who are running this war.”
After the war, McLean assumed an active political role in promoting the interests of veterans due to increasing frustration with Ottawa’s policies. In the 1921 federal election he ran for the Conservative nomination in New Westminster, though he joked, both parties “were full crooks.” McLelan ran on a platform to secure a “square deal” for the ordinary soldier and to oppose “the Oriental, the greatest enemy of Canada.” Despite the endorsement of ex-servicemen associations, the colonel lost the nomination to the “old-line” Tory MP, William Garland McQuarrie.
McLelan died in 1966.