Heather Wright Photo
Eugene Smith pins the French Legion of Honour on Petrolia’s Sid McLean while Hon. Col. Barry Hogan of the First Hussars looks on. The Second World War Gunner fought through France, Belgium and Holland, helping to liberate them from the Nazis. The Legion of Honour is France’s highest privilege. With it, McLean is a knight and entitled to be called Sir Sid McLean.
If you ask Petrolia veteran Sid McLean if he’s a hero, he’ll quickly say no.
But that’s not the opinion of the Government of France.
McLean recently received France’s highest honour, the National Order of the Legion of Honour, in a ceremony at the Petrolia Legion.
Eugene Smith, himself a veteran, nominated McLean for the honour which was started by Napoleon in 1802. It is awarded for excellent civil or military conduct.
McLean, who enlisted in the army at 16 in Watford, was part of some of the most dangerous battles of the liberation of France, including an attempt to take Verrieres Ridge after Caen was liberated. “A few days earlier, the allies had tried to take the ridge and were beaten back…with very heavy casualties,” Smith told about 150 people gathered to watch the historic event. It was there Canada suffered its “bloodiest day” since the Dieppe invasion.
McLean helped capture Falaise, Turn and Chamois, cutting off a key region to the Germans. But it came with a cost – 5,500 Canadians killed.
In the two months McLean was in France, 7,000 Canadians were killed. “Sid is the only survivor of his original gun crew that landed on Juno Beach,” says Smith.
He went on to help the Canadian Army liberate Belgium and France and came home at the age of 20. “There were no high school dances, no dates with the girl next door, just four years of hell,” says Smith.
McLean settled back in the Petrolia area working among other places, at Imperial Oil. He’s also been an active member of the local legion, an Oil Springs firefighter and council member.
McLean doesn’t talk a lot about his time during the Second World War. And he seemed a little surprised by the support at the ceremony making him a knight – “Sir Sid” as Smith dubbed him.
And he brushes away talk that he’s a hero. “I’m no hero. I’m just an ordinary guy,” he says.
McLean would rather talk about the current members of the Canadian Forces, saying they don’t get enough recognition.
But to LCCVI History teacher, Joel Campbell, McLean is just that – a hero – saying he fought in some of the most difficult conditions in some of the most horrific conflicts of the Second World War.
“This truly was the greatest generation,” Campbell says referring to McLean and his companions who freed Europe. “We take for granted what we have because of what they did.”