Case study

WW1 Canadian VC recipient George Burdon McKean

The story of Canadian First World War Victoria Cross recipient George Burdon McKean.

George Burdon McKean
Credit: National Defence Canada

70 men from Canada received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the British High Commission Ottawa. This archive tells their stories.

Name: George Burdon McKean

DOB: 4 July 1888

Place of Birth: Willington, England

Date of Action: 27 to 28 April 1918

Place of Action: Gavrelle, France

Rank: Lieutenant

Regiment: 14th Infantry Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force

George Burdon Mckean was born in Willington, England on 4 July 1888. He emigrated to Canada in 1902, and was a student at Alberta University when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. During his military service he received the Military medal, and after he was commissioned as an officer, the Military Cross. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 27 to 28 April at Gavrelle, France. His citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. Lt. McKean’s party, which was operating on the right flank, was held up at a block in the communication trench by most intense fire from hand grenades and machine guns. This block, which was too close to our trenches to have been engaged by the preliminary bombardment, was well protected by wire and covered by a well protected machine gun 30 yards behind it. Realising that if this block were not destroyed, the success of the whole operation might be marred, he ran into the open to the right flank of the block, and with utter disregard of danger, leaped over the block head first on top of the enemy. Whilst lying on the ground on top of one of the enemy, another rushed at him with fixed bayonet; Lt. McKean shot him through the body and then shot the enemy underneath him, who was struggling violently. This very gallant action enabled the position to be captured. Lt. McKean’s supply of bombs ran out at this time, and he sent back to our front line for a fresh supply. Whilst waiting for them he engaged the enemy single-handed. When the bombs arrived, he fearlessly rushed the second block, killing two of the enemy, capturing four others and drove the remaining garrison, including a hostile machine-gun section, into a dug-out. The dug-out, with its occupants and machine gun, was destroyed. This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal. His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.

Lieutenant McKean remained in the UK after the war, and was killed in an industrial accident in 1926.

Published 20 June 2016