Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of July 2018

As of today, 608,399 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 10449 and last name Wilson.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Arthur D’Orr LePan, Camp Kosciuszko and the Polish Army in France

By Catherine Butler

Poland on the eve of war

On the eve of the First World War, an independent Poland had been absent from the European map for nearly 120 years. In the late 18th century, Poland was partitioned by Russia, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Prussia; Prussia would eventually become part of a unified Germany. Polish lands were carved up and absorbed, and Polish people were scattered among three powerful empires.

In the century following the partitions and the profound social and political transformations they precipitated, millions of Poles emigrated to North America. At the outbreak of the First World War, several hundred thousand Poles were living in Canada, while nearly four million were living in the United States. With such a large diaspora, countless Polish Americans and Polish Canadians were eager to fight on the Allied side with the aim of restoring their homeland.

After a series of meetings between the representatives of Sir Robert Borden’s government and Polish delegations from the U.S., the Canadian government, with the approval of Britain, agreed to provide training to Polish officers living in North America. These officers, recruited from Canada and the U.S., would be sent to fight for the Polish Army in France, which ultimately financed their training. Although initial training efforts started in early 1917, a designated Polish Army camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario opened in September 1917. Colonel Arthur D’Orr LePan was appointed as Commandant to the camp, a facility that came to be known as Camp Kosciuszko.

A black-and-white photograph showing a field with a group of officers following their commander in the foreground, and officers standing at attention in a line in the background

Recruits at the Polish military camp, Niagara, Ontario, November 8, 1917 (a071288)

The diaries of Colonel LePan

Colonel A.D. LePan was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1885 and was educated at the University of Toronto. He served in the Canadian Army from 1915 to 1919, including as Commandant until the camp closed in March 1919. His involvement in training Polish officers began in January 1917 with the arrival of 23 American volunteers at the School of Infantry in Toronto. As Commandant, Colonel LePan saw over 20,000 recruits from the U.S. and Canada pass through Camp Kosciuszko en route to France between September 1917 and March 1919.

Many of Colonel LePan’s activities at Camp Kosciuszko are described in diaries he kept during his time as Camp Commandant. These diaries were donated to Library and Archives Canada by his son, Douglas V. LePan, in 1977. Colonel LePan’s writings offer interesting insights into a fascinating episode of Canadian history.

In addition to lists of camp personnel, the diaries contain information about training, troop movements, lists of deaths in France, along with cause and location, and a plan of grave plots of Polish soldiers at the St. Vincent de Paul churchyard in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Colonel LePan also kept a copy of the telegram authorizing the establishment of the Polish camp.

Also included in these papers are remarks given in March 1919 by Colonel LePan during a banquet in Buffalo, New York, addressing the closing of the camp. In his speech, he spoke about how crucial international co-operation between France, Canada, the U.S. and the Polish Military Commission was in making the camp a success and, most importantly, in re-establishing an independent Polish state.

“One can quite readily conceive that the camp presented interesting international associations … It was no unusual sight to have gatherings of officers at which the countries of Poland, France, United States and Canada were represented and on each occasion was found officers who from their environment and education had different ideas and ideals, all cooperating with the one great ideal of making this new creation as big a factor as possible, not only in the creation of a national Poland, but as an agency for freeing the world from an oppression that not only Poles had heard of as we have on this continent, but also that they had felt in body and soul.”

Find out more

Until November 1918, the Niagara Historical Society and Museum will be presenting an exhibition entitled Camp Kosciuszko: The Polish Army at Niagara Camp, 1917–1919. The aim of the exhibition, which began in November 2017, is to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Camp Kosciuszko. Thousands of Polish Canadians and Polish Americans trained there before being sent to Europe to fight for the liberation of their homeland after 123 years of occupation.


Catherine Butler is a Reference Archivist in the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

Nursing Sisters who died in service during the First World War, Part 2

By Alex Comber

Canada’s nursing sisters were required to perform their duties in unpleasant and hazardous surroundings. Approximately 40 nurses who were members of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) died during the First World War as a result of illnesses acquired in active service. Others died after the Armistice from conditions attributable to this service. However, what was more shocking to Canadians were the 21 deaths of nurses from direct enemy action. This post briefly describes these events, and helps readers explore selected documents about military nurses.

A black-and-white photograph of a funeral procession of soldiers and nursing sisters, accompanying a wheeled stretcher carrier with a flag-draped casket on it, passing through a large cemetery of temporary grave crosses.

Funeral of Nursing Sister G.M.M. Wake, who died of wounds received in a German air raid on the hospital where she worked. PA- 002562 (a002562)

Nursing sisters served in Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) hospitals, Casualty Clearing Stations, and other facilities that were supposed to be out of the range of enemy artillery. However, accurate long-range artillery and new technologies, such as aerial and submarine warfare, brought these women into direct contact with the enemy. In several events starting in May 1918, nurses were killed in the line of duty because of enemy attacks. In Canada, press reports seized on the propaganda potential of these terrible events, to help bolster support for the war effort and promote new recruitment campaigns.

A colour poster depicting a soldier in service dress with “Canada” shoulder titles, holding an unconscious nursing sister in the water. She is wearing an apron with a large red cross emblazoned on it. He is shaking his fist in anger at a German submarine, with German sailors who appear to be shooting in other directions. A life ring marked “Llandovery Castle” floats nearby. The words “VICTORY BONDS WILL HELP STOP THIS” are written at the top, and at the bottom, “KULTUR VS. HUMANITY.”

Victory Bonds poster depicting a dramatic interpretation of the aftermath of the sinking of the Llandovery Castle (e010697267)

During May 1918, two Canadian hospitals were bombed by German aircraft. Katherine Macdonald, from Brantford, Ontario, became the first Canadian nursing sister killed by enemy action in the Great War, when No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, located at Étaples, France, was bombed by German aircraft on May 19, 1918. Two of her wounded colleagues died soon afterwards.

A black-and-white photograph of nursing sisters and uniformed soldiers cleaning up the debris from a hospital ward that has been damaged.

Aftermath of the bombing of No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, at Étaples, France, which resulted in the death of three Canadian nursing sisters. PA-003747 (a003747)

Official photographers captured scenes of the devastation and somber funeral processions for the nurses and the other medical staff and patients killed in the raids. At the end of the month, No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens, France, was also bombed. Three more nursing sisters died. Two of them, Nurses Agnes MacPherson and Eden Pringle were killed, along with doctors, medical orderlies and a patient during surgery.

A black-and-white photograph of uniformed soldiers working amidst the rubble of a large, heavily damaged brick building that has been bombed.

Aftermath of the bombing of No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital at Doullens, France, which killed three Canadian nursing sisters. PA-003746 (a003746)

Less than a month later, on June 27, off the southern coast of Ireland, the German submarine U-86 torpedoed the Canadian hospital ship Llandovery Castle on its return to England with only medical personnel aboard. The former passenger liner was steaming along at night, with special lighting illuminating its distinctive white hull and large red crosses. This clearly identified it as a hospital ship and a forbidden target for any belligerent. Once hit, the ship listed severely, hampering efforts to launch lifeboats. Many of the nurses had been asleep, and now struggled to evacuate the sinking ship. The entire group of nursing sisters boarded a lifeboat, with Sergeant Arthur Knight, CAMC. Tragically, the boat was swamped by suction caused by the violence of the ship’s sinking. Only Knight survived to struggle into another boat.

A black-and-white photograph of a patient in convalescent uniform reclining in a hospital bed.

Sergeant A. Knight, Canadian Army Medical Corps, recovers in hospital after the sinking of the HMHS Llandovery Castle. PA-007471 (a007471)

These terrible events were compounded by the actions of the submarine’s crew. Survivors testified that the submarine ran down and fired on lifeboats, killing more crew and medical staff. Only one boat escaped the night’s events. The bodies of the 14 nursing sisters were not recovered, and today these brave women are commemorated on the Halifax Memorial. Documents in their service files reveal that nurses like Christina Campbell, from Victoria, British Columbia, were experienced nurses who had also been treated for conditions such as neurasthenia (“Shell Shock”), nervous debility, insomnia, and general exhaustion from service near the Front. Today, cemeteries and monuments overseas, memorials across Canada, and entries in the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower in Ottawa pay tribute to First World War nurses who died in the service of Canada, tending to the wounded.

A black-and-white studio portrait of a nursing sister, in her uniform and hat, leaning against a table.

Nursing Sister Christina Campbell, who, along with the entire nursing staff, perished during the torpedoing of the Llandovery Castle, June 27, 1918 (a008112)

Research the lives of Canadian First World War Nursing Sisters:

With the digitization of the CEF service files, visitors to the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website can quickly and easily gain access to a wealth of genealogical and historical information, and form their own impressions of the First World War service of these women, and all members of the CEF. Please explore the links below for service files recently made accessible online. When they exist, the digitized Circumstances of Death registers have been linked.

Roll of Honour: CAMC Nursing Sisters who died from enemy actions during the First World War:

No. 1 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France, bombed May 19, 1918

No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, Doullens, France, bombed May 30, 1918

His Majesty’s Hospital Ship Llandovery Castle, sunk June 27, 1918

Royal Mail Steamer Leinster, sunk October 10, 1918

  • NS Henrietta Mellett from London, Ontario, died at sea during the sinking of RMS Leinster, on October 10, 1918, when she was returning from leave to service with 15th Canadian General Hospital. An experienced military nurse, she had already served with the Red Cross in France, Egypt and England. She perished with more than 500 other passengers, when the Leinster was torpedoed by the German submarine UB-123 in the Irish Sea.

Related resources

In April 2018, Library and Archives Canada launched Co-Lab, a new collaboration tool, for the public to contribute by transcribing, tagging and interacting with historical records. Now we are adding a new challenge: showcasing the personal files of some of Canada’s nursing sisters who served in the First World War. You can get started right away!


Alex Comber is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

A Unique Example of Canadian Research: HMCS Bras d’Or

Web banner with the words: Premiere: New acquisitions at Library and Archives Canada showing a small picture of an otter fishing on the rightBy Marcelle Cinq-Mars

What is the connection between a digital watch, a GPS in a car, a microwave oven in a kitchen, and an epinephrine auto-injector for allergic reactions? Hint: It is the same as the link between radar, night vision goggles and the Internet. They are all technological developments from scientific research for military purposes.

Military-related scientific research has led to countless technological developments. And it goes back a long time!

In Canada, the Defence Research Board (DRB) was created in 1947; its mandate concerned military research in areas of Canadian expertise such as the Arctic, ballistics and biochemical warfare. Over the years, the DRB developed Canada’s first (and only) air-to-air missile, called the Velvet Glove. The DRB was also directly involved in the development of the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line, an extensive network of radar stations to detect enemies in Canadian airspace.

A colour photograph of the red nose cone of a rocket next to two men working on the instruments that will go inside it.

Defence Research Board technicians adjust an antenna in a Javelin rocket in 1961 (e010975999)

At the height of the Cold War, the detection of enemies was also needed in the oceans. Submarines posed a real threat there, especially when they became armed with nuclear warheads. Accordingly, DRB scientists started working on a type of boat designed specifically to hunt enemy submarines. What they developed was a hydrofoil.

Hydrofoil technology dates back to the early 1900s. The famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell even made prototypes of them, which he tested on Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia. Wing-like structures called “foils” are mounted under a vessel and lift it out of the water as the speed increases. As a result, water friction on the hull is reduced, and the vessel can reach impressive speeds.

In the 1960s, Marine Industries Limited in Sorel, Quebec, started building a hydrofoil for the Royal Canadian Navy. The hull was made of aluminum, the foils of steel. This special boat had features and technologies from both aeronautics and nautical science, so the captain had to be both an aircraft pilot and a naval captain.

The new vessel was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy on July 12, 1968, as HMCS Bras d’Or. Sea trials began off Halifax in April 1969. During the trials, the vessel reached an impressive speed of 63 knots (117 km/h), a record speed for a warship at the time.

A colour photograph of a hydrofoil in motion.

HMCS Bras d’Or, Royal Canadian Navy, demonstrates its hydrofoil system on February 18, 1970 (e011154076)

HMCS Bras d’Or saw service for a short time only. On November 2, 1971, the Government of Canada ended the hydrofoil program. Canada’s priority shifted from anti-submarine warfare to the protection of sovereignty. The Bras d’Or was donated to the Musée maritime du Québec in L’Islet-sur-Mer, where it remains on display.

Related resources


Marcelle Cinq-Mars is a senior military archivist.

Nursing Sisters of the Canadian Army Medical Corps in the First World War, Part I

By Laura Brown

Forty-one-year-old Alice Isaacson had accomplished a lot by the time she joined the Canadian Army Medical Corps (CAMC) as part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in 1916. The Irish-born, American-trained nurse had eight years of nursing supervisor experience under her belt, as well as a year of service with the 23rd General Hospital of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Étaples, France. A reference letter penned by a Medical Officer, likely in support of her transfer from the BEF to the CEF, described her as “skillful, energetic and reliable” and as an individual who was undaunted by large tasks. On one occasion she was responsible for looking after 120 seriously ill patients with little assistance. One of the few things she had not yet learned to do was ride a bicycle, but this, too, would be tackled with determination before her return home at the end of the war.

Alice kept several diaries during her service overseas, which included postings in France at the No. 2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Tréport and the No. 6 Canadian General Hospital at Troyes. Her writings and an insightful photo album are now part of her fonds held at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). These records, as well as other private and government collections, such as the Department of National Defence fonds, are some of the examples of the valuable archival resources at LAC that document the history of women’s service in Canada’s military.

A black-and-white photograph of uniformed men and women riding bicycles. The women are dressed in light-coloured uniforms with dark belts and hats, while the men wear khaki uniforms with hats. They pedal along a pathway that is bordered on the left by a tall brick wall. A large building with windowed façades is prominent in the background. The caption, “Cycle Parade” is written on the lower half of the image.

Personnel riding bicycles, No. 6 Canadian General Hospital, Troyes, France, June 2, 1917. Photograph Album of Alice E. Isaacson, R11203-01-E (e002283123)

Only a few nurses were part of the Canadian Army Medical Corps at the start of the First World War in 1914, but numbers soon increased as civilian nurses were eager to transfer their skills into the military context. In total, more than 3,000 nurses served in the CAMC, including 2,504 overseas in England, France, and at Gallipoli, Alexandria and Salonika in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nursing was the only means by which women were permitted to serve in the Canadian military during the First World War. To enlist, nurses had to be single, British subjects (which included Canadians at the time), in good health, between the ages of 21 and 38, and have qualifications from a recognized nursing school. If accepted, recruits were commissioned as officers with the rank of lieutenant, which is notable as Canada was the only country in the world to rate nurses as officers at the time. Canadian nurses were addressed with the traditional title of “Nursing Sister”, and enjoyed a number of benefits in their positions, including good wages and leave. The head nursing sister, known as the Matron-in-Chief, was in charge of all the nurses in the service. Margaret Macdonald of the CAMC was given this title, and was the first woman to hold the rank of major in the whole of the British Empire.

A black-and-white photograph shows nursing sisters dressed in white aprons and veils, attending to a crowd of male patients inside a tent. One of the nursing sisters is sitting on a chair, with her feet and hands folded, staring at the camera. The other two nursing sisters are standing as they bandage the wounds of soldiers. The patients are dressed in casual clothing and some are in uniform. Medical supplies including bandages and pails are seen in the foreground and mid-ground.

Nursing sisters attending to soldiers in a dressing tent at No. 7 Canadian General Hospital, Étaples, France, ca. 1917. W.L. Kidd Collection (e002712847)

Military nurses faced a multitude of new experiences that contrasted to their work in the civilian context, whether it was sleeping in a tent, shifting to a new posting at short notice, or making do with limited supplies. Improvising and adapting to changing circumstances was necessary, as nurses might face quiet wards with a few patients one day, and masses of incoming and outgoing patients the next. These women saw first-hand the bodily harm caused by the era’s modern warfare, including shrapnel and poison gas, and witnessed a loss of life that few could have predicted when they first enlisted.

Nurses were not permitted to serve in trenches and most were posted well back from the front lines, working in general or convalescent hospitals. However, some were tasked closer to enemy action. Alice Isaacson noted the coveted nursing positions at casualty clearing stations (advance units along the evacuation routes between front lines and hospitals) in her diary, while posted at No. 2 Canadian General Hospital in September 1917: “Such an exciting afternoon today! . . . Sisters Jean Johnston, S.P. Johnson and Riddle are to go to CCS tomorrow morning! Sisters Hally and Villeneuve are heartbroken at being left here – But we are all glad these sisters have their chance for CCS at last.”

A black-and-white photograph showing three people sitting on the steps of a wooden hut. Two men, wearing trousers with rolled up legs and casual shirts, sit on either side of a uniformed nurse. All are smiling at the camera.

Nursing Sister Lillias Morden with patients outside of a medical hut at No. 2 Canadian General Hospital, Le Tréport, France, 1917. Photograph Album of Alice E. Isaacson, R11203-01-E. (e007150684)

Nurses made significant contributions to the war effort in their care of ill and injured soldiers, a duty that extended after the armistice on November 11, 1918. The “Spanish flu” influenza pandemic that began at the end of the war and spread through military camps placed further demands on nurses. Close to 1,500 nursing sisters were still serving with the CAMC by mid-1919. Lillias Morden, a nurse from Hamilton, Ontario, was one of them. She joined the CAMC in 1916, served in England and France, and assisted with demobilization efforts at the end of the war. Morden did not leave her military position until November 1920.

While nurses such as Alice Isaacson and Lillias Morden made it home after the First World War ended, some nursing sisters were not as fortunate. Part II of this blog post will explore how the conditions under which nursing sisters served could be dangerous, with some paying the ultimate price.

Related resources

In April 2018, Library and Archives Canada launched Co-Lab, a new collaboration tool, for the public to contribute by transcribing, tagging and interacting with historical records. Now we are adding a new challenge: showcasing the personal files of some of Canada’s nursing sisters who served in the First World War. You can get started right away!


Laura Brown is a Military Archivist in the Government Archives Division.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of June 2018

As of today, 601,736 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 10331  and last name Whittey.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble, VC

By John Morden

This week in the blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we honour corporal Thomas Kaeble, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour on the battlefield on June 8 and 9, 1918. His actions took place 100 years ago today.

Joseph Thomas Kaeble was born on May 5, 1893, in Saint Moise, Quebec. Prior to the First World War, he served as a machinist. He enlisted in the 189th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on March 20, 1916, and on November 12, 1916, transferred to the 22nd French Canadian Battalion. The following year, in April, Kaeble was wounded and admitted to hospital. He was released from hospital shortly after, in May. While in hospital, he was promoted to the rank of corporal.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in full uniform.

Joseph Kaeble, undated. Source: Directorate of History and Heritage.

Kaeble earned the Victoria Cross during the 1918 Spring Offensive, Germany’s last gamble for victory on the Western Front. On the evening of June 8, 1918, while the 22nd Battalion was stationed near Neuville-Vitasse in France, the German army launched a raid against the Canadian lines. The attack was preluded by a blistering German bombardment, which left the Canadians stunned. Afterwards, a wave of 50 German soldiers came towards Kaeble’s position. With most of his comrades injured from the bombardment, Kaeble got out of the parapet, and, with a Lewis machine gun, held off the German onslaught on his own. Despite being hit several times, he held the attackers at bay until he was finally knocked back into his trench, severely wounded. While laying wounded, he was reported to have said to his brothers in arms: “Keep it up boys; do no let them get through! We must stop them!” (London Gazette, 30903, September 16, 1918)

In that battle, Kaeble suffered compound fractures in both legs, both arms, as well as a fractured hand and neck. In the end, the German raid was repulsed by the 22nd, to large extent because of Kaeble’s valiant stand.

A typed report describing the events of the “night of June 8th/9th 1918”.

in the 22nd Canadian Infantry Battalion War Diary on the actions that took place on June 8 and 9, 1918 (e000963629)

Corporal Kaeble would die of his grievous wounds on June 9, 1918. Along with the Victoria Cross, he was also awarded the Military Medal for his actions in France. He was the first French Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

A colour photograph of a gravestone with some plants beginning to grow. In the background are other graves.

Kaeble’s grave, Wanquetin, France. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Credit: Wernervc

Kaeble’s legacy holds strong in Canada. He is honoured, among others, with a bust in Ottawa’s Valiants Memorial. In November of 2012, a new patrol vessel, the CCGS Caporal Kaeble V.C., was presented to the Canadian Coast Guard.

Library and Archives of Canada holds the digitized service file of Corporal Joseph Kaeble.


John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of May 2018

As of today, 592,203 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 10117 and last name Waterous.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.

George Burdon McKean, VC

By John Morden

Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember George Burdon McKean, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.

A black-and-white photograph of a smiling military officer.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, June 1918 (MIKAN 3218939)

Born on July 4, 1888, in Willington, England, McKean immigrated to Canada in 1909 and settled in Edmonton, Alberta. Before enlisting on January 23, 1915, McKean was a schoolteacher. McKean joined the 51st Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force and arrived in England in April 1916. On June 8, 1916, McKean transferred to the 14th Battalion.

Sometime in the night of April 27–28, 1918, while the 14th Battalion was stationed near Gavrelle, France, McKean earned the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most prestigious military decoration. During a scouting mission, the party of men led by McKean ran head-on into a strongly defended German position. While the rest of the unit was pinned down by machine gun fire, McKean charged into the German trench with “conspicuous bravery and devotion.” Upon reaching the position, McKean killed two German soldiers, held his ground and called for more bombs. After resupplying, McKean took another position and single-handedly killed another two German soldiers and captured four more. McKean’s example rallied his men and the mission was successful. As reported in the London Gazette two months later:

“This officer’s splendid bravery and dash undoubtedly saved many lives, for had not this position been captured, the whole of the raiding party would have been exposed to dangerous enfilading fire during the withdrawal. His leadership at all times has been beyond praise.”

London Gazette, no. 30770, June 28, 1918

Later, McKean was awarded the Military Medal and Military Cross on March 28, 1917 and February 1, 1919, respectively. He would survive the war, though he would be wounded in the right leg on September 2, 1918 during the Hundred Days Offensive. He remained in England for the rest of the conflict. Following his release from hospital, McKean served as acting captain at the Khaki University of Canada in London, England, until his retirement on July 19, 1919.

He chose to remain in England after leaving the army and was killed in an industrial accident on November 28, 1926. McKean’s final resting place is Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery in Sussex, England.

Today his Victoria Cross is kept at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. McKean is honoured with a mountain named after him in the Victoria Cross Ranges in the Canadian Rockies.

A black-and-white photograph of a soldier in an officer’s uniform with gloves and a cane standing in front of stairs and a window.

Lieutenant George Burdon McKean, VC, undated (MIKAN 3218943)

A black-and-white photograph of a group of soldiers standing and sitting in front of trees in the winter.

Officers of the 14th Battalion, France, February 1918 (MIKAN, 3406029)

Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant George Burdon McKean.


John Morden is an honours history student from Carleton University doing a practicum in the Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Personnel Service Files – Update of April 2018

As of today, 581,553 of 640,000 files are available online in our Personnel Records of the First World War database. Please visit the Digitization of the Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files page for more details on the digitization project.

Library and Archives Canada is digitizing the service files systematically, from box 1 to box 10686, which roughly corresponds to alphabetical order. Please note that over the years, the content of some boxes has had to be moved and, you might find that the file you want, with a surname that is supposed to have been digitized, is now located in another box that has not yet been digitized. So far, we have digitized the following files:

  • Latest box digitized: Box 9926 and last name Venables.

Please check the database regularly for new additions and if you still have questions after checking the database, you may contact us directly at 1-866-578-7777 for more assistance.