Biography of Walter Joseph McCleland

This biography was written by Neil McCleland, the grandson of Walter. I have added additional information and family information otherwise it is true to Neil’s original biography. The pictures have also been provided by Neil.

Main picture: Flight Lieutenant Walter Joseph McCleland when serving in the Royal Flying Corps

The family tree from the Reverend Francis McCleland to the current generation:

War Stories by Neil McCleland

Flight Lieutenant Walter Joseph McCleland Royal Flying Corps was my grandfather and the second son of Frank Tisdall McCleland who was the second son of Francis William Henry McCleland (eldest son of the Rev Francis McCleland).

WJ McCleland’s aviators license with his RFC wings

He flew on the Western Front from the 17th November 1917 to the 11 November 1918 when the Armistice took effect.

He was a wonderful man. I vaguely remember him (I was 3 and a half when he passed away) affectionately known as ‘Wally’ in the Greenbushes farming community. As grandchildren he was known as ‘Pop’ and my siblings and I still refer to him as ‘Pop’

A truly courageous man and a remarkable story in that he survived 3 theatres of real war.

He became an officer in the Port Elizabeth Rifles as a volunteer in January 1914 (I have his Warrant of Commission) and served in the German South West Africa campaign and then followed that up with serving in the German East Africa campaign.

He was invalided out of Tanganyika with malaria (2016 ?) and returned to Port Elizabeth where he became friendly with Major Allistair Miller (who used to fly the post into Port Elizabeth and after whom the road passing from Walmer to the airport is named ‘Allistair Miller Drive’). Allistair Miller persuaded my grandfather to volunteer for the Royal Flying Corps and he was duly commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant after his training in England, I also have his sword, wings and Pilots ‘license’

I understood from my father (Ian Buchanan McCleland) that around 30 boys went to become pilots in the Royal Flying Corps in the group with my grandfather and apparently only two came back.

Cover of WJ McCleland’s aviators license

Tin Box for Troops at Xmas 1914 by Neil McCleland

I was reading Denys Reitz’s great autobiography of his time in the Anglo Boer War, ‘Commando’ (mostly as Jannie Smut’s 2IC). Remember they were a famous commando that broke through the barrier fence and infiltrated all the way to the outskirts of PE and then down to the Cape and then up toward Springbok where they ended up when Armistice was declared (much to Denys Reitz’s disgust).

1914 Decorative tin box of Walter McCleland

Anyway, later when he was back in the Botha/Smuts Govt formed with the Union of South Africa (1910), Botha and Smuts decided that the Union of South Africa had no alternative but to support Britain in the 1st World War. So off to war they went, serving their enemies from 13 years before…

Anyway the book speaks of a wonderful gift that every serving member of the British armed forces received for Xmas 1914 on the initiative of Princess Mary daughter of King George V decorative brass tin or box sent by Princess Mary to members of the serving British, Colonial and Indian Armed Forces for Christmas 1914. Over 426, 000 of these tins were distributed to those serving on Christmas Day 1914. The tins were filled with various items including tobacco, confectionery, spices, pencils, a Christmas card and a picture of the princess. The idea was the initiative of Princess Mary, the 17-year-old daughter of King George V and Queen Mary. Princess Mary organised a public appeal which raised the funds to ensure that ‘every Sailor afloat and every Soldier at the front’ received a Christmas present. Due to the strong public support for the gift, which saw £162, 591 12s 5d raised, the eligibility for the gift was widened to include every person wearing the King’s uniform on Christmas Day 1914 about 2, 620, 019 servicemen and women.

Anyway, while I was reading the book I suddenly remembered that I had seen something like this ‘tin’ and went to such an item which had my grandfather’s wings, medals and Pilots license. Lo and behold there was his tin which he received all those years ago while fighting Germany in the South West Africa campaign over the Xmas of 1914.

Fishing story by Neil McCleland

Walter Joseph McCleland with a Cob of 112 lbs that he caught in the surf at Maitland one afternoon while walking back from fishing along the Maitland surf.

My Dad shared his love for fishing and passed the story on to me and I learnt to fish in the surf at Maitland with my Dad. There is a real fishing story here as apparently while walking back along the surf shore in the late afternoon he noticed the steenbras ‘tailing’ which happens when the steenbras come into the shallow water to get the sand mussels out of the sea sand in the shallows, (less than 30cms of water). When they are doing that they push their snouts down into the sand and their tails flick out of the water in their exertion. I have seen this happening many times.

Anyway, as he only had a sand mussel as bait that he had collected, he contemplated flicking a sand mussel into the shoal of steenbras. However as he was baiting up he noticed an enormous cob stalking the steenbras and he flicked his sand mussel into the path of the cob which amazingly grabbed the bait, possibly mistaking it for a small steenbras as it probably was still moving on its way to settling in front of the cob. The cob grabbed the bait and the game was on !Imagine hooking a 112 lb fish on an Indian Cane Rod and a Bakelite ‘Centre Pin’ reel and still managing to land the fish, quite an incredible feat of fishing skill !


Born on 14 November 1890 in Port Elizabeth
Died on 13 October 1957 in Cape Town
Married on 2 December 1925 in Port Elizabeth to Moira Winifred Chabaud

Info provided by Maureen McCleland

The one is the Original marriage register from the Church and the other is the Duplicate original marriage register which the church had to send to the relevant govt dept. Please note the day’s difference in marriage record to that given in blog. There is an error on the death registration regarding date of birth (next to age). I don’t know where Walter Joseph or his siblings were baptised/christened because that would be the best to verify.

His estate papers are not online and can only be accessed at or copies ordered from the Cape archives. The reference is:

SOURCE: MOG Only MOOC documents are online at family search not MOG.                                                                  

TYPE      LEER                                                                 

VOLUME_NO 1/1/29                                                               

SYSTEM    01                                                                   

REFERENCE 517/57                                                               

PART      1                                                                    

DESCRIPTION          MCCLELAND, WALTER JOSEPH. ESTATE PAPERS.                             

STARTING  19570000                                                             

ENDING    19570000

If Neil and his siblings are interested in genealogy, I also have the death notices of Moyra Winifred and her parents: John Anthony Chabaud and Frances Winifred Alice Skead

McCleland, Walter Joseph m Chabaud, Moyra Winifred EL 1925
McCleland, Walter Joseph death registration Port Elizabeth 1957 entry 3108 image 978 (1)
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