Yea citizen and pastoralist, McLeish was born around 1851 the son of Duncan
and Catherine née Cameron. One of the original officers of the
Victorian Mounted rifles on 1 April 1887 with the rank of lieutenant, at the
time of his death, McLeish was described as “one of the best known and
popular officers of that regiment”. At the commencement of the Boer War, he
was given command of the 1st Company of Victorian Mounted Rifles - the first
Victorian military contingent dispatched for overseas service - and attached
to the Modder River force in Orange Free State. In late November 1899, the
unit was absorbed with the Australian Regiment under Colonel (Sir) John Hoad (St. Kilda Cemetery). Interestingly, before a federated Australia,
“this was the first occasion on which a regiment was formed for active
service of troops representative of the various colonies”. In the Colesberg
district of Cape Colony, a detachment of McLeish’s unit under Major Eddy was
attacked by the Boer rebels at Pink Hill, an action that was described by
the Australian war correspondent as “a glorious but a fatal day in the
history of the Victorian Contingent”. While not directly involved in the
heat of the battle, McLeish formed a rearguard action carrying out of danger
men of the dismounted Wiltshire Regiment. After the Australian Regiment was
disbanded in March 1900 becoming part of the 4th Mounted Infantry Corps,
McLeish continued to command his company in operations culminating in the
fall of Pretoria in June that year. He returned home in November 1900 and
was promoted lieutenant-colonel, but later returned to the war front in
command of the 2nd Battalion, Australian Commonwealth Horse. Described as
“a typical Australian rider, bronzed, lean, sinew, a man of strong character
and few words, a crack rifle shot, well versed in bushcraft, and having
nothing for the pleasures of town life”, for his outstanding war service, he
was appointed C.M.G, mentioned in despatches and awarded the King’s Medal
with one clasp and the Queen’s Medal with six clasps. Placed on the
retirement list in 1911, in spite of his health and advanced years, McLeish
was involved in the equipping of the Light Horse units in Australia for
overseas service, and in September 1915 given command of the 1st Remount
Unit based in Egypt (1915-19). Unmarried, he died at his brother’s home at
89 New Street, Middle Brighton in 1920 on 18 April 1920 aged 68.
ADB Volume 10 1891-1939 (Lat-Ner).
The Yea Chronicle 22 April 1920.
The Age 19 April 1920.
The Argus 19, 21 April 1920.
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official
History 1914-18”, AWM140.
Coulthard-Clark, C., “The Diggers” (1993).
Murray, P., “Records of Australian
Contingents to the War in South Africa 1899-1902” (1911).
Reay, W., “Australians at War…With the
Australian Regiment from Melbourne to Bloemfontein” (1900).
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