A commemoration for a County Durham soldier will take place this weekend – to mark 100 years since he was awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War.

Lt George Burdon McKean, born in the village of Willington in 1888, received the prestigious medal for his “conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” during raids on a trench on 27th and 28th April 1918.

This Saturday (28th April), a commemoration of Lt McKean will be held at Willington’s war memorial. This ceremony will be followed by a parade to Willington Library, where a memorial stone will be unveiled.

The stone is part of an effort to officially honour all the County Durham soldiers who won the Victoria Cross.

There will then be a First World War Experience Day – with exhibitions and live music – at the Open Door Church in Lydia Street.

Though born in County Durham, Lt McKean emigrated to Canada in 1902. He later served as a scouting officer for the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

He was posted to northern France, where his bravery earned him the Victoria Cross, the Military Medal and the Military Cross.

Lt McKean also had a square named after him in the French town of Cagnicourt and part of the Victoria Cross mountain range in Canada is dedicated to him.

After the First World War ended, Lt McKean moved back to England and ran a sawmill business in Brighton. Unfortunately, he was killed in an accident at work aged just 38.

Durham County Council and Willington Town Council have worked together to plan and deliver the commemoration. Other partners include representatives from the Durham Light Infantry Collection and Durham County Record Office, as well as Major (Retd) Chris Lawton from the 8th Rifles.

The local Area Action Partnership coordinator, Sandy Denney, said, “This has been a fascinating project to be part of and learning more about George’s remarkable story, his determination through adversity, his can-do attitude, bravery and achievements is inspirational.”

Durham County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, Cllr Olwyn Gunn, said, “It is a special legacy of Lt George Burdon McKean that children and young people in Willington schools have been learning about his extraordinary life and bravery during that period of history.”

Willington town mayor, Cllr Fraser Tinsley, said, “It has been great to find out more about Lt McKean and this community day of celebration is a fitting way to honour his brave actions.”

The commemoration will begin at 11.00 am, Saturday 28th April at Willington War Memorial. For reasons of public safety, the A690 from Stony Bank to Willington Library (travelling from Durham) will be closed during the events.

The project to commemorate Lt McKean was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Greater Willington Town Council, the 3Towns Area Action Partnership area budget, and the neighbourhood budgets of Cllrs Fraser Tinsley and Olwyn Gunn.    

In other news, towards the end of 2017, the war memorial in Burnhope, near Consett, was rededicated after locals raised £90,000 for its renovation.

(The featured image shows a photograph of Lt George Burdon McKean)

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David writes about local news, thought provoking stories, and yearns to capture the community spirit with a unique writing style.


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