Duncan MCLEISH CMG, CBE, MiD

MCLEISH, Duncan

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 23 September 1915
Last Rank: Colonel
Last Unit: 1st Remount Unit (AIF)
Born: Yea, Victoria, 20 July 1851
Home Town: Yea, Murrindindi, Victoria
Schooling: Educated privately
Occupation: Grazier
Died: Natural causes, Brighton, Victoria, 18 April 1920, aged 68 years
Cemetery: Brighton General Cemetery, Victoria
Memorials:
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Boer War Service

1 Oct 1899: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Captain, 1st Victorian Mounted Rifles
25 Oct 1900: Promoted Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Major, 1st Victorian Mounted Rifles
22 Jan 1902: Involvement Australian and Colonial Military Forces (Boer War / Boxer Rebellion), Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse

World War 1 Service

23 Sep 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Colonel, SN Officer
12 Nov 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Colonel, 1st Remount Unit (AIF), Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
12 Nov 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Colonel, 1st Remount Unit (AIF), HMAT Orsova, Melbourne
16 Feb 1920: Discharged AIF WW1

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Biography contributed by John Edwards

"Duncan McLeish (1851-1920), pastoralist and soldier, was born probably on 20 July 1851 at Yea, Victoria, son of Duncan McLeish, grazier, and his wife Catherine, née Cameron. Educated privately, he followed grazing pursuits, becoming part-proprietor of Glenmore station, Yea. He was one of the original officers of the Victorian Mounted Rifles, being commissioned lieutenant on 1 April 1887 and promoted captain in 1889.

On the outbreak of the South African War in 1899 McLeish was depicted as a fit, mature officer with a full moustache. He was appointed captain in command of the 1st Company of Victorian Mounted Rifles which, with an infantry company specially recruited, constituted Victoria's first military contingent dispatched on overseas service. The partly trained men were enrolled quickly from existing forces and embarked on 28 October for Cape Town. The Victorians were attached to the force on the Modder River front and, when the Australian Regiment was formed, served in the Colesberg district. Captain McLeish's company took part in the first major invasion of enemy country when, under Major General J. M. Babington, it reconnoitred into the Orange Free State towards Jacobsdal from 9 January 1900. McLeish found the seizing and burning of civilian property distasteful.

Impressed with the V.M.R., Babington suggested that all the Australians be mounted: McLeish and Colonel J. C. Hoad offered to mount the Australian Regiment which was fully horsed by 6 February. A week later the Victorians suffered severe casualties as the Boers advanced at Bastard's Nek and Pink Hill, the V.M.R. carrying out of danger men of the dismounted Wiltshire Regiment. The Australian Regiment then crossed into the Orange Free State and pushed northwards to Bloemfontein by 4 April. There the regiment was disbanded, the Victorians becoming part of the 4th Mounted Infantry Corps, participating in actions leading to the capture of Johannesburg and Pretoria in the Transvaal and thereafter advancing to the Portuguese East African border by September. On 30 April, at Karee Kloof, McLeish was pulled from the saddle while rescuing a man of the Cornwall Regiment. General Clements admired him as a good officer. Major W. T. Reay, war correspondent, indicated that other commanding officers could have learned from him the art of managing horses and caring for men. McLeish was promoted major on 25 October 1900. The V.M.R. embarked for home from Cape Town on 5 November.

On 22 January 1902 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel commanding the 2nd Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse, and returned to South Africa for operations in Natal and the last drives in the Transvaal. Hostilities ended on 31 May and by August the A.C.H. had returned to Australia. For his war service McLeish was mentioned in dispatches, appointed C.M.G., and awarded the Queen's South Africa medal with six clasps and the King's medal with one clasp. He resumed grazing activities at Glenmore and from July 1903 also commanded the 7th Light Horse Regiment, Australian Military Forces; in 1906 he was commander of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, A.M.F., and was promoted colonel in December 1907. In World War I, despite his age, he served as a colonel with the Australian Imperial Force in command of remount units in Egypt in 1915-19 and was appointed C.B.E. and twice mentioned in dispatches. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 16 February 1920.

McLeish died unmarried on 18 April 1920 at Brighton, Melbourne, and was buried in Brighton cemetery. His estate of £22,610 was distributed among numerous relatives and charities. A Presbyterian, McLeish was described by Donald MacDonald as 'a typical Australian rider, bronzed, lean and sinewy, a man of strong character and few words, a crack rifle shot, well versed in bushcraft, and caring nothing for the pleasures of town life'." - ANU Dictionary of Biography (adb.anu.edu.au)

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