First World War Soldier Identified

The remains of a 27-year-old First World War soldier have been identified.

Previously laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Courcelette British Cemetery in Courcelette, the Somme, France, Company Sergeant-Major Alexander McVean’s remains were identified over 100 years after his death.

Because of CSM McVean previous military experience, he was promoted to Company Sergeant-Major in October, a month before he died. 

Honoured and Remembered

“Whether today or more than a century ago, we honour the courage of all who have served our nation. The successful identification of Company Sergeant-Major McVean’s final resting place is a reminder of the enormity of the sacrifice that some have made in service to Canada. To his family: I assure you that your loved one will always be honoured and remembered,” stated Minister of National Defence Bill Blair.

Born in Shettleston, Lanarkshire, Scotland, CSM McVean was one of nine children to Malcolm and Mary McVean (née Cameron).

“He served in The Queen’s Own Royal Glasgow Yeomanry, a regiment of the British Army Reserve, before emigrating to Canada in 1911. Prior to enlisting in Toronto with the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), he served in the 9th Mississauga Horse, a regiment of the Active Militia, and worked as a civilian chauffeur and electric motorman, or streetcar operator,” stated the press release.

Canadian soldiers returning from trenches during the Battle of the Somme. Photo: Library and Archives Canada / PA-000832.

Military Career

CSM McVean enlisted in 1915 for overseas service with the 75th Infantry Battalion, CEF, where he sailed to England. In August 1916, after his training, his unit deployed to France.

“Likely because of his previous military experience, he was promoted to Company Sergeant-Major in October,” noted the press release.

The 75th Battalion fought as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division. In October 1916, the Division was tasked with the critical mission of capturing the Regina and Desire Trenches, the last of a series of trenches between Thiepval and Courcelette, France.

“This action, referred to as the Battle of the Ancre, ended on November 18, 1916, marking the conclusion of the five months of the larger Battle of the Somme. On that day of fierce fighting, the 4th Canadian Division took many German prisoners, including 17 officers and 608 from other ranks, but suffered 1,250 casualties of their own,” stated the press release.

Company Sergeant-Major McVean is commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

1250 Casualties

Of the 1250 casualties, 248 were from the 75th Battalion, where 104 men died and 71 have no grave. CSM McVean was reported wounded and then later declared killed in action. He is commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Built in memory of Canadian soldiers killed in France during the First World War, the memorial honours those who have no known grave.

“The Canadian Armed Forces has notified the family of CSM McVean’s identification and is providing them with ongoing support. A headstone rededication ceremony will take place at the earliest opportunity at the CWGC’s Courcelette British Cemetery in Courcelette, the Somme, France,” stated the press release.

Alexander’s brother, Bombardier Malcolm McVean, also lost in life in the war. He served with the British Royal Field Artillery and is buried in Étaples Military Cemetery near Boulogne, France.

Company Sergeant-Major McVean was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, Plot 8, Row C, Grave 4 in Courcelette British Cemetery, in Courcelette, the Somme, France.

Plot 8, Row C, Grave 4

“In May 2019, the Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH) received a report from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) detailing the potential identification of Plot 8, Row C, Grave 4 in Courcelette British Cemetery, in Courcelette, the Somme, France. Independent researchers had raised the possibility that this grave was that of CSM McVean,” noted the press release.

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) confirmed CSM McVean’s identity through historical and archival research.

“Time doesn’t diminish the price so many young Canadian soldiers, like Company Sergeant-Major Alexander McVean, paid for the freedoms we enjoy today. We will continue to honour those who served Canada and recognize those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we forget,” stated Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission commemorates the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. Using an extensive archive, the Commission works with its partners to recover, investigate and identify those with no known grave to give them the dignity of burial and the commemoration they deserve.

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