By John Telfer
Warwick’s General cemetery situated in West Warwick contains many former famous people buried in this very well kept location. But a walk through the Commonwealth War graves section to visit the resting place of old soldiers is a poignant reminder of the bravery and sacrifice these men and women gave in their service to the nation, and stand out on these marble monuments. One such gravesite is that of Alexander McLaren of the 47th Battalion, who served in both the first and second World Wars and was awarded the Military Medal in the process. Here is his story.
Alexander Falkender McLaren was born in Warwick, Queensland, on 27 February 1890. He was the son of Robert and Martha McLaren and grew up in Warwick where he received his early education and appeared to be employed as a trained gardener prior to 1915. With the unsettled situation in Europe, Alexander enlisted in the 14th Light Horse Regiment where he first experienced military training. Not much is known of his early life but at the age of 25, Alexander courted, then married Edith Self of Warwick on 24 March 1913.
Tragedy struck the family when he and Edith lost a daughter before Edith, herself, succumbed to a fatal heart attack and passed away on 10 June 1915, leaving a distraught Alex to care for a younger daughter and try to carry on with life as a widower. However, the world changed in this period with the outbreak of war in Europe and the First Australian Imperial Forces were raised to support England, the mother country, in this conflict. It is possible that a grieving Alexander saw this as an opportunity to forget his grief by enlisting in the AIF who were appealing for recruits to help the besieged Diggers on the slopes of Gallipoli. So, Alexander went over to the Toowoomba Recruiting Office and enlisted on 3 August 1915.
After initial training at Fraser’s Paddock at Enoggera, Brisbane, Alexander departed with the 11th Reinforcements, 15th Battalion on board the HMAT Seang Bee A48 just in time for the evacuation from Gallipoli. From here, Alexander was sent on to England. On arrival in England, Alexander was transferred to the 47th Battalion for service on the Western Front in France. The 47th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 24th February 1916, with half of the troops recruited from the Gallipoli campaign.
Alexander was soon in action and fought in the trenches in France before being wounded for the first time on 7th June 1917. After a short stay in a field hospital, Alexander re-joined his battalion, as the 47th pushed towards the Hindenberg Line becoming involved in the battles at Bullecourt, Messines and Passchendaele. However, Alexander’s finest hour came in the Battle of Messines Ridge where, showing outstanding courage, he was awarded the Military Medal. Here is how his award was read in the London Gazette, on 14 February 1918:
“For conspicuous gallantry and consistent good work during operations
near Wytschaete August 7 – 16, 1917, as a runner. The soldier displayed
exceptional courage, and day and night volunteered to take special messages
through to the front line. He had to pass through enemy gas and shell
barrages many times. On one occasion he brought a wounded man back by
himself from the front line to a Dressing Station, as the stretcher bearers who
came were wanted further on for another case. He sets a fine example
Alexander proved to be fine soldier and was wounded twice in the field before the ending of the conflict on 11 November 1918. After recovering from his injuries, Alexander returned to Australia on board HMAT “Warwickshire” on 28 May and returned home to Warwick.
Alexander arrived home on a troop train carrying 157 soldiers returning from the war under the officer in charge, Captain Ryan. The Mayor of Warwick Alderman A.P. Jutsum and the local M.L.A. Mr G. P. Barnes who were there to welcome home the returning men at the railway station, and paid particular attention to Alexander for his award of the Military Medal for outstanding bravery. The men were all in good health and were treated very well by the Red Cross ladies who provided refreshments for the returned soldiers.
Once home, Alexander married Mabel May Selkie some years later where they lived in Guy Street for a period before moving to Dragon Street. He found employment as a labourer until he obtained a position with the Law courts in Warwick where he rose to the position of Bailiff in the Magistrate’s Court in 1936. The Warwick Daily News noted this in their edition on 15th October 1936 when it said:
“In the Magistrate’s Court yesterday, Mr W. P. Wilson entered the
appointment of Alexander Falkenden McLaren as Bailiff of the
Magistrate’s Court in Warwick. The appointment was to fill the vacancy
caused by the death of the late Mr. H.H. Wode.”
However, in 1939 at the outbreak of World War 2, Alexander, once again answered the call to service and enlisted in the Australian Army on 13 October 1939, at the age of 49.
As Alexander was considered to be too old for active service, he was still keen to help his country in its time of crisis. So, after completion of a basic course, he was posted to the No 1 Garrison Battalion in Warwick and mainly worked in the Army Records Office (Eastern Command) there, rising to the rank of Sergeant. He served there apart from a couple of short detachments to Enoggera, Brisbane, and in the Army Hospital at Redbank after contacting a mild case of Diabetes Mellitus, which eventually resulted in his medical discharge in 1944.
It is uncertain what occupation Alexander took up after his Army discharge, but a few years later,10 days before his 64th birthday, Alexander passed away on 15th February 1953, a brave heart at rest. After a service at the Presbyterian church in Warwick, his wife Mabel and her sons, buried Alexander in the Warwick general cemetery (later moved to the Soldier’s section). Tributes from the Warwick Sub- Branch of the RSSAILA, and the Good Samaritan Lodge PAFSOA were read out at a large gathering of family and friends to farewell Alexander.
Alexander Falkender McLaren was a true warrior who served his country with great distinction in the horrors of the Western Front as evidenced by his award of the Military Medal for exceptional courage, and it is certain that if he was much younger in 1941, he would have loved to have been involved in the New Guinea campaign. A great honour was bestowed on Alexander when he was reinterred in the Soldier’s section of the Warwick General Cemetery among his peers, and will be eternally honoured each Anzac Day as a true Anzac legend.