#100DaysofVimy – April 8th, 2017

Each Saturday, we’ll share some reflections from our past student participants about the impact of their visit to Vimy Ridge and other sites of the First World War.

As part of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize, recipients are tasked with researching the life of a Canadian soldier, often of those listed on the Vimy Memorial, with no known grave. Adam LaBrash, as a 2016 BVP recipient, researched Private Frederick Gordon McNeil. Here is his story, as told by Adam:

Adam visits Frederick’s grave at the Villers Station Cemetery, France in 2016.
Credit: The Vimy Foundation / Hanna Smyth, 2016.

Frederick Gordon McNeil was born on July 20, 1897 to first-generation British immigrants, Archibald and Louisa McNeil. Similar to other immigrants populating the “Final Frontier” of Canadian Prairies, the McNeils faced difficult circumstances in their new home.

McNeil enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on January 4th, 1916 at only 18 years of age – just six months over the minimum age requirement. He enlisted with the legendary 46th (South Saskatchewan) Battalion, otherwise known as the “Suicide Battalion” of the 4th Division. The 46th Battalion justly earned this cynical nickname. Over a period of 27 months, 3,484 men were injured and 1,433 killed, a 91.5% casualty rate. Seemingly every deployment of Frederick and his unit was to an area destined to become of extreme strategic importance. Unfortunately, McNeil became one of those casualties on May 1st, 1917 in the aftermath of brutal battle for Vimy Ridge, when he was killed in action relieving the 50th Battalion at trenches east of Liévin, France.

I felt a connection choosing someone that grew up in my city and who was only a year older than myself when he enlisted. By the time Frederick came of age, word had reached home of the inhuman conditions on the front, and the excitement for war had begun to ebb, yet Frederick was still eager to serve his country. It is this courage that I greatly admire, and is another reason why I chose to commemorate this man. Just like the First World War and the legacy it left, Private Frederick Gordon McNeil will never be forgotten.

The headstone inscription requested by Frederick’s father can be read in the last row of this document (See Row 1202/1D, Headstone no. 240).
Credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Find War Dead, Casualty Details, McNEIL, FRED GORDON, 2017).