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Okanagan Military Museum

MILITARY BIOGRAPHIES

COLONEL JOHN MacGREGOR


Victoria Cross(VC) Military Cross (MC) Distinguished Conduct Medal(DCM)

Military biography based upon information
provided by Howard Hisdal,BCD historian

Colonel John MacGregor, VC, MC and Bar, DCM, Efficiency Decoration is one of this Canada and British Columbia's outstanding military historical figures, as his four decorations (including the second Military Cross award denoted by the bar) attest. This remarkable number of the highest military gallantry decorations, a number not exceeded by any other WWI veteran, were earned during actions while serving with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, now known as the British Columbia Dragoons. Colonel MacGregor thereby has also earned a position of great significance in the military heritage of the Okanagan Valley. For all these military accomplishments he was a modest and retiring man who was only drawn to public attention by his loyalty to his regiment.

Born in Cawdor, in Northern Scotland, on 11 February, 1889, he trained as a mason and carpenter before emigrating to Canada in 1909. Like many young men who where immigrants to Canada in that era he worked his way west. He eventually reached BC after some adventures and many different jobs from construction to being a cowboy. He was working in northern BC in 1913 as a trapper having chosen the independence of the rugged life of the outdoors man. These skills would be of use to him soon after in the battlefields of the Great War although his isolation was such that he didn't find out of the outbreak of the war until March of 1915.

Upon hearing of the war he immediately trekked over the winter landscape by snowshoe to Terrace, BC where he rode a freight train to Prince Rupert. Initially turned away as "unfit for duty in the Canadian Army", he persevered and was bale to join up in Vancouver.


Going "over the top" from a WWI trench

He went overseas with the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles where a few months before the battle of Vimy in April 1917 he was promoted directly from private to sergeant. During the battle for Vimy Ridge he was the first of his brigade to reach the objective at the top of that redoubtable defensive position whereupon he fired three white rockets signaling success. This would be a source of pride and achievement for him for the rest of his life. It was for his actions in single-handedly capturing a machine gun that he was awarded the DCM, the second highest award for bravery.


The Vimy battlefield

Sgt MacGregor was promoted to Lieutenant after Vimy winning the Military Cross in January of 1918 for leading a trench raid and capturing prisoners. This led to his promotion to Captain followed in September by his winning of the Victoria Cross, the highest of military bravery awards, for his actions during the Battle of Cambrai. This he won for again single handedly capturing a machine gun position manned by twelve enemy soldiers, four of whom he killed in hand-to-hand bayonet combat before taking the rest prisoner. These actions and his leadership in rallying the 2 CMRs in this, the regiment's bloodiest battle of the war, justified this award. MacGregor added to his awards in November 1918 at the Honnelle River where he was personally responsible for the capturing of two vital bridges across the river. He was awarded the bar to his Military Cross for this action.

Immediately after the war he received a good deal of public acclaim as a Victoria Cross winner however he retired to a private life as a fisherman in BC and married settling for a time in Powell River. Eventually he found work he enjoyed in the Okanagan working on railway trestles and bridges near Lumby in the Shuswap Falls area. His self-imposed obscurity in the Okanagan did not last though and as the 2 CMR's most decorated soldier he was enticed by his loyalty to the regiment into participating in a banquet for all VC winners hosted by the Prince of Wales in November 1929.

He returned to Powell River and his family and his next involvement with the army came when the Second World War started in 1939. He attempted to join as a private in the hope of seeing action. Found out by the army bureaucracy he served instead as a Major and then Lieutenant-Colonel in a training capacity at one point returning to the Okanagan while serving at the Vernon military camp.


Vernon military camp during WW II

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