Veteran Stories:
George H. F. “Red” McLean

Navy

  • British L.C.I. crew in Tunisia, North Africa. George McLean is top row, first on left.

    George H.F. McLean
  • Pictured here is the only Canadian L.C.I to land on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. George McLean and the ship's crew transported the U.S field hospital from England to France, 1944.

    G.H.F. McLean
  • British Army gunners prepare to support 5th Texas Units during landing in Salerno, Italy.

    G.H.F. McLean
  • George McLean, November 2006.

    G.H.F. McLean
  • Convoy entering the Strait of Gibraltar, an area known to have many German U Boats.

    G.H.F. McLean
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"We were the only Canadian ship that ever landed in Omaha during D-Day."

Transcript

When I joined up, I was 16. I went to HMCS Discovery, which is in Stanley Park [in Vancouver]. After about three weeks of basic training, they shipped us over to Esquimalt [British Columbia]. It was HMCS Naden. And they were on a course there and it was a day like today, the sun was shining and we were in a classroom learning all about engines. It was rather dull. And this commander walked into our classroom and said that they needed five volunteers to go with the British Navy in the Mediterranean [Sea] to work on combined operations, which is sort of a commando unit. So I put my hand up and next thing I know, I’m in Toronto on a course.

And from Toronto, we went to Detroit, to the United States naval base, and we took more engineering courses there for the next two months. And then when we finished, each one of us, there were 30 of us, was dispatched to pick up a ship on the east coast of the United States. I picked my landing craft up in Orange, New Jersey. We took on supplies in Brooklyn, New York and then we headed down to Norfolk, Virginia. In Norfolk, we formed a convoy and headed for Africa.

I was talking to the captain and he said that they’re going to ship me to another base in Oran [Algeria] in North Africa to take the place of an engineer who had been killed. And I said, “Well, that’s fine with me.” The next morning, this beautiful air force crash [rescue] boat, one of the most beautiful ships you’ve ever seen, all covered, all made of oak and had powerful engines, came alongside, picked me up and within two hours, we were in Oran in North Africa and there was the big Dutch ship there, they were just taking the lifeboats off and putting assault craft on the davits to replace the lifeboats. And they were to become the invasion crew that would land the troops on the shores of Italy.

As we came into the harbour of Salerno, which his in southern Italy, the sky was absolutely lit up with gunfire, all the ships were shooting at the Germans, there was about 12 to 15 German planes flying around because we had about 300 ships by this time. So the Germans were trying to shorten our chances. So we anchored into the harbour that night and waiting for radio instructions because when you’re doing an invasion, you do it one after another, you don’t all go in together. And we were waiting for instructions for our crews to go in and a German plane came flying over, it flew right over where I was standing. I was waiting to launch one of the landing craft. And it dropped a 500 pound bomb, which went down the side of our ship. They just missed us by two feet. We still had 1150 American soldiers aboard that were going to land. We had probably 500 British sailors that were part of the landing group. We had about 400 cooks and chefs and boardroom stewards that came from Indonesia. So we had about 3000 people aboard. If that bomb had hit, we would have blown right up because, you know, we still have all their ammunition that was still stored down below, waiting to be put ashore.

It was a little scary because when the bomb went right by, it lifted our ship right out of the water and I was thrown to the deck. So of course, it kind of shakes you, you get up and think, now, what happened, did they hit us? But that plane was so close, I could see the outline of the pilot.

Eventually, the war was turning and we had all our landing craft in across Africa. And so we were instructed to assemble our invasion force and bring it up to Great Britain in preparation for Normandy. So the Canadian Navy was the Canadian force taking Canadians into Normandy. When it was our turn, we had a request from the army to, like there’s a Canadian beach, a British beach and two American beaches. Omaha was the American beach and they had had a terrible time. So we were asked to take a mobile hospital unit plus 12 nurses and doctors and land them in Omaha. We were the only Canadian ship that ever landed in Omaha during the D-Day. Our captain, being a gentleman, he thought, well, you know, he didn’t want the nurses wading through the water up to their waist, so he gave orders to go full speed ahead.

So we hit the beach with a fair speed and we actually did what he wanted. We got everybody off high and dry, and in going up, you drop what you call a kedge anchor. A kedge anchor bites into the sand and then when you’re ready to get off, you crank the kedge anchor up and it pulls you off the beach. Well, as happened there, there being so many bombs dropped, the sand was just like porridge. And we were waiting for the anchor to come up and all of a sudden, the anchor appeared and we have no way to get off the beach. So we had to spend the night sitting on Omaha Beach with the Germans up in the hills. And it was a little exciting, but not something you’d look forward to.

It was unfortunate because the troops went in ahead of us and that’s why we were taking the nurses to look after the wounded. So that by the time we got there, the Germans were pushed up into the hills and it was quite a surprise because we stayed on the, overnight on the beach and we got up in the morning, there was one American corporal with about 50 German prisoners right beside our ship. He had captured them, to bringing them down and they were going to be shipped back to England into a Prisoner of War camp.

But the interesting part was most of those 50 were kids around 14 and 15. They were terrible, they were just fanatics. They were the ones that took 100 Canadian prisoners and slaughtered them all. You know, they took 100 Canadian prisoners by truck and just machine gunned them to death. So that, they were a bunch of kids that were maniacs, but that was the way Hitler was training them.

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