Janitor praised by Kitchener

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A SERGEANT-MAJOR from Helensburgh who died in action during World War One was described by Lord Kitchener as a credit to his country.

Sergeant Major W.B.McLaren, formerly a janitor at Hermitage School and well known in the town, was serving in the 9th Black Watch on the Western Front.

From a letter received from the Company Quartermaster Sergeant, at whose side he fell, it appeared that he was shot through the right eye and brain, and death was mercifully instantaneous.

He was originally from Fife, and it was his second period of service in the famous regiment.

He first enlisted as a very young man, and served for 27 years, going through Nile Expedition and the Egyptian War of 1884-5 unscathed. Awarded the Nile Expedition medal, he also received a medal for long service and good conduct.

After leaving the regiment he became the janitor at the East Argyle Street School, and was also an elder in the West United Free Church, now St Andrew’s Kirk, in Colquhoun Square.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Lord Kitchener called for the services at training depots of ex-non-commissioned officers, and Sergeant-Major McLaren, who had retired with the rank of Colour Sergeant, promptly answered the call.

For some weeks he was engaged in a recruiting office in Perth, but was later transferred to Aldershot, where he was promoted to Sergeant-Major.

Of striking personal appearance, standing over 6ft 2ins in height and well built, he was a noticeable man on any occasion.

In October 1914, when His Majesty the King inspected the troops at Aldershot, he stopped in front of Sergeant-Major McLaren and inquired what regiment he belonged to, and how long he had served, and after listening to his reply remarked that this was a long time to serve his country.

To this praise was added the flattering remark of the ordinarily unbending Lord Kitchener, who said Sergeant-Major McLaren was a credit to his country.

He was home on leave some months ago before going to the Western Front, and looked the picture of health. He was a big man in more ways than one, possessing great intelligence and a mind stored with rich experience.

He was an elder in the West United Free Church, and was well liked by the members because of his genial disposition and fine Christian character.

After his death letter from the minister, the Rev Dr William Leitch was read at the Sunday morning service at the West United Free Church.

He wrote: “He was no ordinary man. How he loved his country and honoured his King!

“Although he had served as a soldier in the Regular Army for the full term of military service, he did not hesitate to rejoin the colours when the war broke out.

“He was no slacker. He had the rare honour of receiving the personal congratulations of the King and Lord Kitchener on again rejoining the colours.

“I feel proud and grateful that I had such a distinguished soldier in my Session. His very presence there and on Communion Sabbaths was a benediction.

“As an elder he went about his duties quietly and efficiently, with soldier-like regularity. He was never absent from the corner of his pew, one of my most appreciative hearers, one of my truest friends.”

He was survived by his wife and children, who lost a kind, brave and loving father.

An obituary in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times said that the community had lost an honourable and esteemed citizen, and the Army one of the best and most gallant soldiers.

His name is inscribed on the War Memorial in Hermitage Park.