Donald MCLAINE
Rank: Lieutenant
Number:
Unit: 1/7th Battalion MANCHESTER REGIMENT
Date of Death: 2 April 1918
Age: 22
Cemetery: St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France

The 1901 Census confirms that Donald had a comfortable middle class background. He was the only son of James and Helen and, at the time of the Census, was living with them and his three older sisters, at Church Lane, Marple. James was a successful manufacturer of tarpaulins and his income allowed the family to employ three live-in servants - Florence Hope as governess and Mary Kane and Rachel Wright as, respectively, cook and housemaid. The family had moved to Marple, from Manchester, in the mid-1890s.

Donald had been born on 20 December 1895 in the Crumpsall area and was educated at Merton House, Penmaenmar. After finishing his education, he went to work as a clerk for John Blackwell and Sons. The Company later merged with several other small ones and became the Packaging Materials Association Ltd., of which James McLaine was a director.

In 1910, Donald joined the 6th (Territorial) Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was mobilised when War was declared in August 1914. Most of his comrades left Britain the following month to go to Egypt and, later, into action at Gallipoli. Donald, however, was selected to train as an officer and did not go abroad until 11 September 1915, when he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1/8th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. When he arrived at Gallipoli, he was attached to the 1/4th Battalion but, according to his service file at the National Archives, two weeks later he was attached to the 1/5th Battalion, Manchester Regiment (although there is no mention of this in the Battalion's War Diary).

His file shows him to have been 5' 11" tall with good vision and in good general physical condition But, by the end of the month, he had contracted jaundice and was evacuated to the 15th Stationery Hospital at Mudros on the nearby Greek island of Lemnos. On 12 December, he was put aboard the hospital ship "Mauritania" and transferred back to Britain where he was a patient at the Military Hopsital, York until 19 January 1916.

It is not known when he returned to active service but it is unlikely that he was still in Britain when, during 1917, his sister, Beatrice, married Kenneth Sinclair. It was probably on his return to fitness that Donald was transferred to the 7th Battalion.

On 21 March 1918, the German Army launched an attack on the British trenches that, within hours, had overwhelmed the troops in positions around the French town of St Quentin. An attack had been long predicted - all that was not known was where it would fall and when. Donald and his comrades were in reserve but, at 8.55pm on the 22nd, they received orders to dump non-essential supplies and make ready to move. Overnight, they were bussed south, arriving near the village of Ayette, just over 24 hours later. They deployed immediately, taking up a defensive position between the village of Ablainville and the crossroads on the road between Ayette and Courcelles.

Later in the day, they were ordered south to positions at Gomiecourt. They remained here all through the 25th without coming into direct contact with the German infantry. The Battalion History recounts that they had spread out fanwise holding scattered outposts and "it was not long after daylight before the enemy began to drop shell indiscriminately about this ground".

At 2am on the 26th, the Battalion was withdrawn to a new defensive position at Logeast Wood. They had hardly settled themselves in before new orders arrived withdrawing them further to a position between Bucquoy and Ablainzeville. There were no trenches and the men lay out in the open, prior to starting to dig-in. "Platoons had barely been allotted their areas when clumps of Huns began to appear on the ridge we had just vacated. They proved to be teams of light machine gunners and without preliminaries in the manner of searching for cover, they promptly opened fire, and soon there was a perfect hail of grazing bullets swishing over the Battalion area. German officers calmly walked about directing operations and the whole scene resembled a "stunt on the pictures" rather than modern war. They had made a mistake though and if they were seeking the dramatic effect it was only short-lived. Our men were delighted at the perfect target they presented on the skyline and rat-tat-tatted merrily in reply to the Hun swish."

At about noon, the Germans started to shell the Manchesters' positions; first with light guns, then with heavier artillery. During the afternoon, the German infantry could be seen assembling about 800 yards away in preparation for an attack but it failed to materialise. The night passed quietly. In spite of the dangers of the day, the Manchesters' casualties had been light.

Throughout the 27th, the Germans shelled the Battalion's positions and their infantry tried to edge forward to gain a suitable assembly position for an attack. When the infantry assault came, it was not against the 7th Battalion but other nearby units and, apart from the shelling, the day passed otherwise peacefully.

The enemy attack resumed at daylight with heavy shelling which continued all day. German machine gun fire also swept the Battalion's positions from Ablainzevelle. The German infantry were again seen massing near some huts in preparation for an assault but the Battalion History recounts that Colonel Bromfield "decided to call for howitzer assistance to smash down the earth walls round the huts, a plan which met with great success. Our shells dropped plumb amongst them and Huns could be seen dashing about in all directions in search of more effective cover. Our shrapnel barrage had also considerably improved also, and the moment the enemy left their positions it promptly came down and drove them to earth."  The threatened infantry attack had been broken up and the Battalion was relieved the next day. Sometime during the 28th, Donald had been badly wounded. He was evacuated from the front line to a field hospital where his condition was stabilised. He was then further evacuated to 8th General Hospital at Rouen where he died several days later.

In the early 1920s, when the War Graves Commission collated its casualty information, Mr & Mrs McLaine had returned to the Manchester area and were living at 29 Broadway, Withington.

Further information about Donald, including a photograph, can be found in the book "Remembered" by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.

   
           
   
     
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