Company Sergeant-Major Alexander McVean at left –  Photo: Toronto Scottish Regiment Archives

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have confirmed that the grave of a previously unknown First World War soldier in Courcelette British Cemetery in Courcelette, the Somme, France, is that of Company Sergeant-Major Alexander McVean. The identity was confirmed through historical and archival research.

Alexander McVean was born on March 28, 1889, in Shettleston, Lanarkshire, Scotland, to Malcolm and Mary McVean (née Cameron). One of nine children, 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. In 1915, he enlisted for overseas service with the 75th Infantry Battalion, CEF, and sailed for England. Following training, his unit proceeded to France in August 1916. Likely because of his previous military experience, he was promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant-Major in October.

The 75th Battalion fought as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division, and in October 1916 was tasked with capturing the important objectives of the Regina and Desire Trenches, the last of a series of trenches located 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. Of the 248 casualties from the 75th Battalion, 104 men died, 71 of whom have no known grave, including CSM McVean, who was reported wounded, then later declared killed in action, at the age of 27.

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.

Share via
Copy link