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WILLINGTON (Wear Valley)

McKean, G.B., Cptn., VC., MC., MM, 1926

Photo : Lafayette

From a portrait painting

Medal Index Card

CWGC Headstone

Lethbridge Herald 13/09/1918

In the Extra-Mural Cemetery at Brighton, East Sussex, is the Commonwealth Headstone for 436568 Captain George Burdon McKean, who served in the 14th Canadian Infantry Battalion who died 26/11/1926.

George Burdon McKean was born on the 4th July 1888 at 71 High Street, Willington, a general dealer shop, the youngest of eleven children of James McKean, a furniture broker, [born 1840, Lanark, Scotland, died 13th November 1891, at 71 High Street, Willington], and his wife Jane Ann [nee Henderson], born 1848, at Evenwood, baptised 9th July 1848, died 6th May 1905, [daughter of David Henderson, born 1821 died 1890, and Frances Wilson, born 1825 died 1890], at 21 Oxford Terrace, Bishop Auckland.
They had married on the 8th August 1865 at Durham Register office.

In 1871, James and Jane Ann were residing at Victoria Street, Willington, Durham, they moved from Scotland to Willington after Jessie Ann, the eldest daughter had been born after 1868, [Jessie Ann possibly born 11th June 1868?], died in 1947. The other children were Mary Jane, born 1875 died 1947, Sarah Jane born 1866 died 1869, John William McKean, born September 1869, at Victoria Street, Willington, died 29th November 1958, at Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Luke, born and died 1872, James born 1873 died 1905, Sarah born 8th February 1878 died 16th July 1957, Frances Wilson born 23rd December 1879, [who married a Christopher Rutherford], died 6th April 1951, at 12 Bell Street, Bishop Auckland]. David, born and died 1883, Kate born 1885 died 1949 and George Burdon Mckean.

George Burdon Mckean was educated at the Bishop Barrington, Boys Church of England School from the 24th January 1898, leaving this school on the 9th July 1901, prior to this he attended Willington Board school.

George suffered terribly from tuberculosis and his sister stated that It was remarkable that he reached man's estate, for tuberculosis had him in its grip and his life was despaired of. On two sticks, and weighing only six stone five pounds, he left the bishopric town to join a brother in Canada in 1909.

In 1901, George Burdon McKean was residing at 28 Armstrong Cottages, Bishop Auckland, with his mother now widowed, and one of his sisters Kate [Mrs Rutherford], of Oxford Street who also brought him up. Also in the same house was Jane's son in law Christopher Rutherford and his wife Frances with their child Jane who was born March 1901. Frances Wilson McKean married Christopher Rutherford, [born the 31st September 1878], and in 1939 were residing at 12 Bell Street, Bishop Auckland, Durham, he was employed as a Durham County Council Road Worker, they had at least five children.

John William McKean, his eldest bother emigrated to Canada, on the 27th February 1904 from Liverpool to Halifax aboard the Canada, he married Mary Jane Hill, [born 1868, died 29th September 1947, Saanich, British Columbia]. They were farming irrigational land round the Lethbridge area at P.O. Box 553, Atlanta, Canada. This was about 6 miles North East of Lethbridge, where George was residing for a number of years. John and Mary Jane later moved to Victoria.

George Burdon Mckean emigrated to Canada to improve his health and work on his brother's farm. He left Liverpool on the 23rd September 1909 on the Tunisian ship number 111248, [Allan Line Steamship Co Ltd], disembarking at Montreal. The Canadian air brought him a speedy recovery, and when war broke out he was a student in his 3rd Year Arts Course at the University of Alberta with a view to entering the teaching profession.

In 1912 he enrolled at Robertson College, the Presbyterian theological school in Edmonton. During the summers he served as a student missionary at Hardieville and Athabasca Landing (Athabasca), and was fitting himself for work as a medical missionary. In 1913 and 1914, George was an assistant to the Reverend R. G. Stewart in the Robertson Presbyterian Church in Edmonton. In 1913 he organized the first Boy Scout troop in this church. He was described as a brilliant doctor with a 'delicate physique'.

George married Isabel Hull McKay of Calgary, [born 1888], on the 6th December 1915. They were married with a Military Wedding in the home of Mr and Mrs D. Donaldson, 121 Thirteenth Avenue West, the bride's parents. She was attended by her sister Miss Jean Mckay. The groom was supported by Sergeant Major Molloy.

The married couple left on the midnight train for Edmonton where they were to reside at 697 23rd Street, Edmonton, they then moved to 121 13th Avenue West, Calgary, Alberta. They later moved to 211 Anderson Apartments, Calgary from about the 1st November 1917.

He was turned down three or four times before he enlisted at Edmonton on the 23rd January 1915 as a private in 'A' Company the 51st Battalion, service number 436568, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark blue eyes, dark brown hair. He described his profession as a School Teacher.

The 51st Battalion (Edmonton), CEF, was an infantry battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War. The 51st Battalion was authorized on the 7th November 1914 and embarked for Great Britain on the 18th April 1916. It provided reinforcements for the Canadian Corps in the field until the 13th November 1916, when it was reorganized as a garrison duty battalion. On the 22nd June 1917, its personnel were absorbed by the various regimental depots. The battalion was disbanded on the 15th September 1920.
The battalion recruited in and was mobilized at Edmonton, Alberta.

While training at Sarcee Camp near Calgary, the men of the battalion, along with many other units who trained at the camp, created hillside numerals of whitewashed stones overlooking their encampment. These stones, a 24-metre-high number '51', are the remainder of only four units whose glyphs survive on the hillside at Battalion Park in the neighbourhood of Signal Hill, Calgary, Alberta.

The Battalion sailed for England March 4th 1916 being assigned as Garrison troops. The recruiting personnel at Edmonton were rather more casual about whom they would accept for the CEF than the battalions from Eastern Canada. Many of the volunteers being either 'mature' or not quite as physically active as necessary to meet the rigours of trench warfare.

George now a Sergeant, embarked for Canada from Halifax on the 18th April 1916 aboard the S.S. Missanabie, [was owned by the Canadian Pacific Line, sailing from Canada to Liverpool throughout the war. She was torpedoed on the 9th September 1918 by the German submarine U87 while 50 miles from Cobh, Ireland, with the loss of 45 lives], arriving at Liverpool on the 28th April 1916.
George was promoted to a Corporal in the 51st Battalion. Then to an Acting Sergeant for service overseas on the 4th June 1916.

He was then transferred to the 14th Battalion at Bramshott, and reverts back to a private, on the 8th June 1916. On the 9th June 1916, George was at the Canadian Base Depot at Le Havre. He joined the 14th Battalion in the field on the following day the 11th. He is promoted to Corporal without pay on the 11th October 1916. Prior to this he was appointed Lance Sergeant on the 22nd June 1916, however at his own request he reverts back to the ranks.
On the 30th November he received a gun shot wound to his head. George was then at the 26th Field Ambulance, [a unit of the 8th Infantry Division] then passed through to the 23rd Casualty Clearing Station at Lozinghem. He was admitted to the 8th Stationery Hospital at Wimereux.

He returned from the 1st Convalescent Depot based at Boulogne, to his unit on the 17th December 1916.

Meanwhile his commission to be a temporary Lieutenant came through on the 28th April 1917 and George returned to the UK, to Shoreham in Kent where the 1st Canadian Training depot was located to be an officer. He was posted to the 23rd Reserve Battalion.

George qualified 1st Class in Anti Gas Measures at the Command Guard School still at Bramshott on the 30th June 1917.

On the 26th April his award for a Military Medal was confirmed, for gallant and distinguished conduct.

On the 29th April 1918, George was appointed the 14th Battalion Scout Officer, and was awarded the Victoria Cross on the 28th June 1918, 'for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during a raid on the enemy's trenches'. On the night of 27–28 April 1918, near Gavrelle, the Canadians encountered stiff opposition; artillery could not be called in because the Germans were too close to the front line. With his patrol held up by grenades and rifle fire, Lieutenant McKean determined that this resistance had to be wiped out. Revolver in hand, he dived over a barricade of barbed wire and crashed into a German soldier, whom he shot. When another rushed at him with his bayonet, he killed him too. His men then joined him, and they charged along the trench. The Germans, who fled into a dugout, were dispatched with a Mills bomb. The citation for the Victoria Cross awarded McKean for this action reads: 'This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives. . . . His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.' When she learned of this decoration, Isabel McKean, who had married George just before he enlisted, was 'keenly pleased.' At the time she was working as a private secretary in the office of Major J. M. Carson, the military registrar in Calgary.

He went on leave and visited Bishop Auckland for the first time in nine years, he was honoured with a presentation of an illuminated address and a Gold Watch through the War Honors [sic]committee.

George was also awarded a Military Cross for conspicuous bravery during the attack on the village of Cagnicourt on September 2nd 1918 in which he was wounded again. McKean was awarded the Military Cross for his part in an action in September at Cagnicourt, where he and his scouts led the battalion forward, sent back accurate reports, and captured a 'party of the enemy over a hundred strong.' McKean’s 'conduct throughout was magnificent,' reads his citation.

Taken to the 1st Casualty Clearing Station where his wound was dressed. On the 4th September he was admitted to the 10th British Red Cross Hospital at Le-Treport, also known as Lady Murray's Hospital, with a severe gun shot wound to his right leg. About this time whilst recovering his portrait was painted by Frederick Horsman Varley, a noted Canadian War Artist. A member of the Group of Seven.

Whilst recovering, George edited a book based on his war experiences, Scouting thrills (New York, 1919). And his time in Canada for a juvenile book, Making good; a story of North-West Canada (London, 1921), an account of two English lads’ adventures ranching in Alberta.

George was invalided and was taken off the strength of the 14th Battalion. He was admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital at Marylebone, N.W. London. After about six weeks he was removed to the Kitchener Military Hospital from the 21st October 1918 until the 14th January 1919, at Brighton. Whilst here in this hospital he was visited by a reporter from the Medicine News 28/11/1919, 'He is quite comfortably settled down, and likes it much better than the previous residence which shall be nameless, but which is pretty thoroughly disliked by both Canadians and Imperials'. George added The food and attention are both excellent, and it such a bright cheery place. The Weather too has been quite fine and I thoroughly enjoyed getting down to the sea front.

From the 14th January 1919, George was at the Canadian Convalescent Officers hospital at Matlock Bath, Derbyshire. He was discharged on the 23rd January 1919 for leave. Three weeks later on the 14th February 1919, he was attached to the Khaki University of Canada in London. [This was an educational scheme initiated by the Canadian Young Men’s Christian Association of Canada to prepare soldiers for civilian life]. George whilst at the University was promoted to acting Captain. George was put in charge of the Bureau of Information. On the 15th June he was a temporary captain. 30th June 1919 he had a Medical Examination. George retired from the army on the 26th July 1919.

In 1920 they were residing at Brisk House, Cromwell Road, Whitstable, Kent.

He remarried in October 1923 to Constance Hilton Slaughter, [born London 1892] at Brighton. They went to Egypt in 1924. Constance died in 1982. The couple had a daughter. They resided at 2 Russell Street, Brighton. Captain George Burdon McKean died in Potters Bar Cottage Hospital on the evening of the 26th November 1926, from head injuries caused by a circular saw earlier in the day. The saw, whilst in motion at his sawmill, which he started with another ex-officer near Cuffley, broke and a piece of the blade struck him cutting his face and fracturing his skull. He had terrible injuries and never regained consciousness.

His daughter Patricia was born two days after he was killed.

He was residing at 8 Dove Lane, Potters Bar. In his will he left effects of £1134 17s 9d later resworn as £850 14s 8d to his widow Constance McKean and Frances Wilson Rutherford (wife of Christopher Rutherford).

George Burdon McKean is remembered in Canada where there is a 9000ft Mountain in the Rockies named after him and in France, a market place at Cagnicourt. He is remembered at Willington where a commemoration VC Stone was placed on the 28th April 2018.

Northern Echo Article
Cagnicourt Village George Burdon McKean
UK Government VC case studies
Canadian Defence site
Khaki University

Captain George Burdon McKean VC Citation

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