First World War grave identified as belonging to Scottish soldier who emigrated to Canada

Alexander McVean, from Shettleston, emigrated to Canada in 1911, aged 22

The grave of a previously unknown Scottish soldier killed in the First World War has been identified by Canadian military researchers.

Canadian authorities said a previously unidentified grave in the Courcelette British Cemetery situated in the Somme, in France, belongs to Glasgow-born Sergeant Major Alexander McVean, who moved to Canada before war broke out.

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One of nine children, Mr McVean was born in March 1889 in Shettleston, He served in the Queen’s Own Royal Glasgow Yeomanry before emigrating to Canada in 1911. In 1915, he enlisted with the 75th Infantry Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force after a stint working as a civilian chauffeur and electric motorman, or streetcar operator.

CSM McVean (left). Photo: Toronto Scottish Regiment ArchivesCSM McVean (left). Photo: Toronto Scottish Regiment Archives
CSM McVean (left). Photo: Toronto Scottish Regiment Archives

In 1915, a year after war broke out in Europe, he signed up for overseas service and sailed for England. Following training, Mr McVean’s unit proceeded to France in August 1916. Likely because of his previous military experience, he was promoted to the rank of Company Sergeant Major two months later.

Historical and archival research dating back to 2019 concluded the grave could only belong to Mr McVean, the authorities said, having conducted research using numerous archival sources, including war diaries, service records, casualty registers and grave exhumation.

Mr McVean's battalion saw action in the Battle of the Ancre, which concluded the larger five-month Battle of the Somme. More than 100 men from the 75th Battalion died and 71 of them have no known graves. Mr McVean was reported wounded and died at the age of 27. His brother, Bombardier Malcolm McVean, also died in the conflict while serving with the British Royal Field Artillery.

After the battle, a body was partially identified as “a Company Sergeant Major of the Great War, 75th Battalion, Canadian Infantry” and buried at the British Cemetery in the Somme.

After the war, Company Sergeant Major McVean’s name was engraved on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, erected in memory of the Canadian soldiers killed in France during the First World War and who have no known grave.

Mr McVean’s family has been notified and supported by the Canadian Armed Forces. A headstone rededication ceremony will be held at the Courcelette British Cemetery.



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