Trench Raiding
Earning a Victoria Cross

Captain George B. McKean, VC, MC, MM

On the night of 28-29 April 1918, while a Lieutenant with the 14th (Royal Montreal Regiment) Battalion, George B. McKean, took part in just one of many raids he experienced as a Scout. The following chaotic account, drawn from McKean’s memoirs and the official citation, is typical of the sudden and vicious brutality encountered on trench raids.

George B. McKean, 
Department of National Defence, 2017

“Turning to the boys behind, I called: “Fire your rifle grenades!” They did… Pete and I sprang up together. We saw them lined up waiting for us as we stumbled forward entangled in the wire. Suddenly there were several blinding explosions at our very feet and the wicked rasping noise of the machine gun in front of us.”

Their way forward obstructed by a wire block, Lt. McKean desperately sought a way out of the gunfire.

“I braced myself up, ran forward and took a flying leap over the wire. I just cleared it, staggered forward a few steps, and then hurled myself head first on top of a Hun who was just levelling his rifle at me.”

They crashed to the bottom of the trench, seven feet deep. Whilst lying there, he was attacked by another with fixed bayonet. Dispatching both enemies with his revolver, Lt. McKean was getting to his feet when a third man rushed him with the bayonet:

“I let go with my revolver; he gave a howl of pain, turned around and ran. Being a great believer in the demoralizing effect of noise I ran yelling after him. There were quite a few Huns in that trench, and soon the bombs began to fly about.”

Throwing all the grenades he possessed, Lt. McKean took on the German position alone until one of his men caught up. Taking the man’s grenades, McKean sent him back for more as he tossed them over and charged with his revolver. Capturing four more Germans, McKean caught sight of the machine gun crew disappearing into a dug-out. Calling for a mobile charge, “a man came staggering along with one – pulled the pin and threw it down the dug-out. A few seconds later the air was filled with flying debris.”

“Some weeks later the C.O. sent for me, “McKean,” he said, “I wish to congratulate you heartily on being awarded the Victoria Cross.” I felt rather staggered and bewildered – “Thank you, sir,” I replied – and that was all I could say.” (Quoted from George B. McKean, VC, MC, MM, Scouting Thrills – The Memoir of a Scout Officer In The Great War, p. 96-97).

McKean VC Citation pg 1
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6941 – 48. Item Number:166001.
McKean VC Citation pg 2
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 6941 – 48. Item Number:166001.