Plea for people to attend funeral of WWII veteran with no family

A plea has been launched for people to attend the funeral tomorrow of a Scots World War Two veteran who died without family exactly a year ago.

William McLelland fought with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards in the Western Desert Campaign in North Africa.

Captured by a German panzer division, the Guardsman spent two years as a PoW in Italy before returning to Scotland at the end of the conflict and resuming his career as a miner.

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He was 97 when he died at his home in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, and extensive investigations failed to find any living relatives.

When the funeral arranger discovered there was likely to be no mourners at his service, she contacted the Scots Guards and the Regimental Association, which rallied to ensure he will be given military honours.

A Scots Guards piper will play a lament, while members of the Scots Guards and the Regimental Association will parade to pay their respects. Serving Scots Guards will also act as pall-bearers, while the regiment has provided a Union flag to be draped over Mr McLelland’s coffin.

Martha McNaught, funeral arranger with Anderson Maguire Funeral Directors, who started the campaign, today asked people to attend to give Mr McLelland a fitting tribute.

She added: “When we were asked to arrange Mr McLelland’s funeral, I realised that he was a World War Two veteran and I was keen to ensure that Mr McLelland was laid to rest in a manner which would honour him.

“I contacted the Scots Guards who confirmed that Mr McLelland had served in WWII. At his funeral, serving members of the Scots Guard will be pall-bearers. We are hoping representatives from the British Legion will also be there to pay their respects.

“As a company, we are humbled and honoured to have arranged a funeral service which will pay fitting tribute to Mr McLelland’s service to his country.”

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William McLelland was born in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, on 30 May 1919, and was a miner before enlisting with the Scots Guards at Motherwell on 24 October 1939.

After recruit training at Chelsea Barracks, in London, he joined 2nd Battalion Scots Guards in Egypt in January 1940.

The battalion fought in abortive attacks against the Germans until, in November 1941, it was reorganised as a motor battalion.

It took part in a fiercely contested British advance that relieved the port of Tobruk in Libya and drove the Germans back to the coastal city of Agheila.

Later the Battalion had to withdraw to the Gazala Line when the Germans under General Erwin Rommel advanced in January 1942.

In the Battle of Gazala in June 1942, the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards defended the Rigel Ridge, north west of the allied supply point of Knightsbridge.

On the morning of 13 June 1942, it suffered heavily when companies and anti-tank platoons on the exposed ridge were overrun by tanks of the German 21st Panzer Division.

The British army suffered 50,000 men killed, wounded or captured at Gazala, and for months Guardsman McLelland’s battalion had to form a composite with Coldstream Guards.

William was reported missing, and later confirmed as a Prisoner of War. He was held in Italy for two years and 130 days until he was repatriated to UK in October 1944.

During Mr McLelland’s service, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards took part in actions in North Africa, Halfaya, Sidi Suleiman and Knightsbridge. Gazala is a main Battle Honour borne on the Colours of the Regiment.

Mr McLelland was discharged from the Scots Guards on 9 June 1946.

Former neighbours described Mr McLelland as a real character who liked a blether and would go out of his way to help others.

Rab Stewart, 59, said: “Willie didn’t speak about the war or what he had done in it. He always had a smile on his face. He was politely spoken, modest and didn’t seek praise.

“He must have been a strapping big fella when he was a young man. He was over 6ft and had handsome, rugged features. He’d go out of his way to help anybody.”

Neil Crockett, secretary of the Fife branch of the Scots Guards Association, who has been closely involved in arrangements for the funeral service, said: “The Scots Guards prides itself on being a family Regiment and the ethos ‘once a Guardsman always a Guardsman is at the heart of the regiment.

“The circumstances of William’s service history alongside the sad circumstances of having no family, makes a poignant occasion.

“We want to give him a fitting send off.”

The funeral service will take place at 12 noon tomorrow at Holytown Crematorium, North Lanarkshire, ML1 5RU.