Sixteen Victoria Crosses have gone on public display for the first time. They were awarded soldiers from across Scotland and England who served with Highlands regiments between 1857 and 1917. Until now, replicas of the 16 medals have been on display at The Highlanders' Museum at Fort George near Ardersier. One of the Victoria Crosses was won by Sergeant Robert Gordon McBeath VC. This lead us to follow up the story with a guest blog post by Canadian regimental historian Robert MacDonald SBStJ CD FSA Scot)
Our Forgotten VC
Every officer and soldier becomes acquainted with the Great Names of the regiment within a few years of service, and anyone with a passing interest in Regimental History uncovers a great many more with little effort. Indeed, with some 400 bravery decorations awarded to the 1st Bn alone since 1916 we have a great deal to write about.
One recipient of the Victoria Cross, however, served with our 1st Bn for nearly 5 years and then passed almost immediately into obscurity.
Robert Gordon McBeath, VC (22 December 1898 – 9 October 1922) was born in Kinlochbervie, Sutherland. He joined the 1/5th (The Sutherland and Caithness) Battalion Seaforth Highlanders (one of 9 Territorial Battalions of the Seaforth Highlanders) and went with them to France in 1915.
On 20 November 1917 during the Battle of Cambrai in France, 19-year-old Lance-Corporal McBeath volunteered to deal with a nest of machine-gunners that checked the advance of his unit and which had caused heavy casualties. He moved off alone, armed with a Lewis gun and a revolver. Finding that several other machine-guns were in action, McBeath attacked them with the assistance of a tank and drove the gunners to ground in a deep dug-out. McBeath rushed in after them, shot the first man who opposed him and then drove the remainder of the garrison out of the dug-out. He captured three officers and 30 men.
McBeath's award was published in the London Gazette on 11 January 1918, which reads:
For most conspicuous bravery when with his company in attack and approaching the final objective, a nest of enemy machine-guns in the western outskirts of a village opened fire both on his own unit and on the unit to the right. The advance was checked and heavy casualties resulted.
When a Lewis gun was called for to deal with these machine-guns, L/Corpl. McBeath volunteered for the duty, and immediately moved off alone with a Lewis gun and his revolver. He located one of the machine-guns in action, and worked his way towards it, shooting the gunner with his revolver at 20 yards range. Finding several of the hostile machine-guns in action, he, with the assistance of a tank, attacked them and drove the gunners to ground in a deep dugout.
L/Corpl. McBeath, regardless of all danger, rushed in after them, shot an enemy who opposed him on the steps, and drove the remainder of the garrison out of the dug-out, capturing three officers and 30 men.
There were in all five machine-guns mounted round the dug-out, and by putting them out of action he cleared the way for the advance of both units. The conduct of L/Corpl. McBeath throughout three days of severe fighting was beyond praise.
L/Cpl McBeath continued to serve with the Seaforth Highlanders until the end of the War. He married soon after the Armistice and then moved to Vancouver. It’s possible that he directly transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada -as was possible, indeed not at all unusual in those times – because by 22nd September 1919 he was a Sergeant with the 1st Bn when it provided the Guard of Honour for HRH the Prince of Wales on His first visit to Vancouver.
Robert McBeath was sworn-in as a Constable in the Vancouver Police Department on 21st August 1921.
On October 9, 1922, while walking the beat on Granville and Davie Streets with his partner, Detective R. Quirk, McBeath stopped and arrested a known drug dealer named Fred Deal for impaired driving. While escorting the prisoner to the nearest call-box, the man pulled a handgun from his pocket and shot both officers; MacBeath's partner survived, but McBeath died almost instantly. He was 23 years old, and the first VPD constable to be killed in the line of duty.
Robert McBeath was given what was called at the time “the largest official funeral in Vancouver history.” Youtube Video link
His widow returned to Scotland after the funeral, and his medals are held by the Regimental Museum in Fort George.
There is no record of any Regimental presence at his funeral, he is not mentioned in any archival material yet examined and it would seem that his memory only lasted within the Regiment while his peers still served.
Sgt McBeath’s time with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada would still be forgotten had it not for a newspaper article about a local effort to restore Mountain view cemetery
A member of the Regimental association caught the word ‘Seaforth’ and ‘VC’ while he was idly flipping through the paper, found the grave, and began laying a wreath annually on 11th November. The Vancouver Police Department hold an annual graveside service on 11th November, and in 2013 they kindly invited the Seaforth Highlanders to participate.
Robert MacDonald SBStJ CD FSA Scot - West Coast Kilts