Calgary Herald

George McKean, captain


At five-foot six and 120 pounds, Captain George Burdon McKean wasn’t a big man.

But McKean’s small size didn’t stop the immigrant from making a big difference during the First World War.

McKean, who was born in England in 1888 and moved to Canada when he was 14, became one of the country’s most decorated heroes of the First World War.

After being turned down three times, perhaps because of his size, McKean enlisted in Edmonton at the beginning of 1915 as a private in the 51st Infantry Battalion.

McKean travelled to Britain as a sergeant in April 1916 and after transferri­ng infantries (to Montreal’s 14th Infantry Battalion) he was sent to France in June.

While there, McKean helped capture a German trench block near Vimy Ridge. His courageous actions earned him the Victoria Cross.

The trench raid was both daring and brave. After several failed attempts to dislodge the enemy, and knowing the success of the battalion’s operation depended on wiping out the resistance, a determined McKean ordered his men to stand aside. He leaped over a barricade of barbed wire headfirst and crashed into a German soldier, whom he shot.

When another enemy soldier rushed at McKean with a bayonet, McKean also shot him dead.

McKean’s men then charged along the trench, the Germans fled into a dugout, and McKean and his men took the trench.

McKean continued to demonstrat­e bravery during the war and was also awarded the Military Cross for his work in Cagnicourt, France.

Although wounded by a piece of shrapnel, McKean almost single-handedly captured the French town by fooling more than 100 Germans into believing he had a team of troops when he was only with two men.

McKean miraculous­ly fooled the Germans by shouting orders to the non-existent units on either side of him. The Germans, who believed they were outnumbere­d, surrendere­d to McKean.

He was seriously injured during this pursuit and sent to recover in England, where he remained.

While he was recovering, McKean wrote a book about his war experience­s. Scouting Thrills was published in 1919.

After the war, McKean settled in England, where he was killed in a sawmill accident in 1926.

His medals and portrait can be found in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

The village square in Cagnicourt, France, is named in honour of McKean.

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