Robert McBeath VC killed on police duty


Recently I came across a fascinating titbit about a First World War VC hero who was killed while on police service duty in 1922.
I had never before heard of Robert McBeath of the Seaforth Highlanders. He won his VC in 1917 when his unit’s advance in the Battle of Cambrai was blocked by a German machine gun nest.
LCpl McBeath volunteered to deal with it and successfully stormed the enemy position by himself. He then discovered that another four machine gun nests were pinning down his comrades and with the aid of a tank attacked them alone. He captured 30 enemy soldiers and thus allowed his unit to advance.
After the war he emigrated to Vancouver and became a policeman. In 1922 he was on patrol with a partner when they stopped a joyrider. After the policeman arrested the driver, the man shot McBeath dead and wounded the other policeman.
Robert McBeath’s funeral was the biggest ever known in Vancouver with 250,000 people lining the streets as his coffin passed by.
Although Robert McBeath has largely been forgotten by most, he is still revered by the Masons. The biggest wreath was from them and when I spoke to a Masonic friend of mine about Robert McBeath he instantly knew the name.
The shooter was soon caught and tried for murder. Found guilty he was sentenced to death but had his conviction overturned. A second trial found him guilty of manslaughter and he was sentenced to life and died in prison.
Anyway I was so impressed by this story that I did a bit of research and submitted my report to a magazine for publication. Today it has been published in MASTER DETECTIVE [August]. So if you see the mag do have a shufti and read my full report. Thanks.


Since posting the above, I came across my original magazine report:

Robert Gordon McBeath won the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest gallantry award, during the Great War. After the war he emigrated to Canada and joined the Police Department in Vancouver, where in 1922 he was shot dead by a drunken driver that he had just arrested.
Robert's homesick widow returned to Scotland and remarried. To pay for her passage back to Britain she sold a gold watch that had been presented to him by 'the people of Sutherland' in recognition of his heroism.
95 years later, in December 2013, the same watch was presented to the museum of the Vancouver Police Department courtesy of a chance chat in a local bar: An off-duty Vancouver police officer was having a drink when he overheard a conversation about an antique watch that once belonged to Police Constable Robert McBeath. The man told the policeman it had been the property of his late watchmaker father. He subsequently donated it to the police museum.
The memory of the dead police officer is greatly revered in Vancouver where a Vancouver Police Marine vessel is named the R.C. McBeath VC in his honour. Mount McBeath, in Jasper National Park Alberta, is also named after him.
Robert McBeath was born in Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire in December 1898 but grew up in nearby Kinlochbervie. Aged 16 with World War One raging, Robert lied about his age telling recruiters that he was 18, and enlisted into the Seaforth Highlanders. Three years later in November 1917 he was fighting in the Somme during the Battle of Cambrai. The Seaforths took part in the first battle ever carried out with massed tanks and easily broke through German lines. The Germans counter-attacked the next day and recovered all the ground they had lost. However the Seaforths including Lance Corporal McBeath continued their advance when with the rest of his company in attack and approaching their final objective a nest of enemy guns opened fire upon both his unit and the unit on his right. The advance was checked and heavy casualties resulted. When a Lewis gun was called forward to deal with the machine guns, LCpl McBeath volunteered for this duty and immediately moved off alone with the Lewis gun and a revolver. He found several hostile machine guns in action but with help of a tank attacked them and drove the gunners to ground in a deep dug-out. The remaining enemy soldiers fearing they were under attack by a larger force retreated from their trench into the shelter of a tunnel. The Highlander fearlessly pursued them into the tunnel and shot the first one dead who tried to fight; the remaining three officers and thirty soldiers surrendered to him.
His actions cleared the way for the advance of both British units.
For this act of extreme heroism Robert was awarded the Victoria Cross. On his return home asked why he carried out such a heroic deed, he modesty replied: “Only a fool like myself would have done it.”
The Victoria Cross is the highest medal awarded for bravery in the British and Commonwealth armed forces. The medals are made from bronze, melted down from two Russian cannons captured by the British Army in the Crimean War, during the charge of the famous "Light Brigade" in 1854. The chance of surviving a Victoria Cross act is 1 in 10. McBeath's Victoria Cross is displayed at the Regimental Museum of The Queens Own Highlanders museum at Fort George Inverness in Scotland.
His conduct throughout three days of severe fighting "was beyond praise" according to his VC citation. As a result he was granted leave in February 1918 to visit home. But heavy snow meant he stayed over at Golspie where the Seaforth Highlanders had their headquarters. At a reception in the town he was presented with a gold watch. It was this watch that has recently been donated to the Vancouver Police Museum.
When Robert McBeath eventually reached Kinlochbervie he was given a hero's welcome. The people treated him like a lord and presented him with a silver tea service. He also married childhood sweetheart Barbara Mackay. Prior to the Seaforths going overseas, they were reviewed by the Duke of Sutherland. The Duke promised "croft land" to every man who returned and a farm to whoever won the Victoria Cross.
Robert was awarded a farm as promised but it was not for him. Seeking more adventure he sold the farm and in 1919 emigrated to Vancouver with Barbara. He first joined the British Columbia Provincial Police and then several months later the Vancouver Police Department.
The natives of Kinlochbervie remained proud of their departed hero and named a new housing development, McBeath Court, in his honour. In 2010 the pupils of Kinlochbervie High School built a memorial cairn to him near the village war memorial.
On October 9th, 1922, and a year into his police service, Constable Robert McBeath, 24, and his partner Detective R. Quirk were walking the beat on a foggy night when he was shot dead.
Detective Quirk described the event in the Vancouver Sun newspaper: "It was about 02:30 hours when Constable McBeath and I were at Granville and Davie Streets. We conversed for a few minutes when our attention was attracted by the loud honking of an auto horn and the erratic manner in which the car was swerving from curb to curb as it came north on Granville Street. McBeath went into the road and signalled the driver to stop but the driver attempted to avoid the officer and we both jumped onto the running boards. People in the car were Marjorie Earl and Fred Deal. We succeeded in getting him to stop the car and McBeath took the negro to the patrol box while I remained with the woman. I heard a sudden roar behind me and saw McBeath and the negro struggling. As I went to McBeath's aid I saw the flash of a gun. It was pointed directly at my breast but I swung it aside just as it went off and the bullet passed through my hand. A second shot struck me in the side of the head as I grappled with the man and I fell. There was another shot and McBeath fell on top of me. As I tried to crawl from under McBeath the man who had moved off some distance fired again. I guess that was the bullet that went through the shoulder of my coat. I rolled McBeath on his back and fired at the negro. Then I followed him a little way and we again exchanged shots. I could not keep up and went back to McBeath".
Both officers were rushed to St. Pauls Hospital but Robert died shortly after arrival.
The suspects photograph was shown around the area. A witness told police where Deal was hiding and he was arrested shortly afterwards. Deal was unarmed but an area search located the murder weapon on a billboard at Drake and Granville Streets. Deal was charged with the murder of Constable McBeath and attempted murder of Detective Quirk.
Constable McBeath's funeral was one of the largest ever in Vancouver's history. All stores and banks were closed. Thousands of people attended to give their respect. The funeral procession took twenty minutes to pass by the main Post Office. Earlier thousands of people had viewed the open casket at the Vancouver Police station. The entrance hall was adorned by floral tributes while two Union Jacks formed a background for the grey casket which was draped with another Union Jack. A wreath in the form of a Victoria Cross lay at the foot of the coffin and the Masonic Insignia was placed upon it.
After Constable McBeath was killed, Vancouver’s black community mobilized to ensure that the accused was tried for the crime, not the colour of his skin. Through the Fountain Chapel, a black church, the community set up a legal defence fund for Deal and arranged to have a section of the courtroom reserved “for the benefit of the coloured people of the city” throughout the trial. Deal was nevertheless convicted of murder and sentenced to the gallows.
Fred Deal’s lawyer appealed the decision and on 15 March 1923, the sentence was reduced to life in prison for manslaughter following a record 10½ hour jury deliberation. Reasonable doubt was cast on the prosecution’s case because Deal had been beaten several times while in custody and police witnesses had lied on the stand. Evidence also suggested that Constable McBeath may have targeted Deal and the white woman he was with for harassment and possibly violence the night of the shooting. A further complication was that the death-dealing bullet came from a police service revolver.
Newspapers initially presented McBeath’s death as a cut-and-dried case of a white war hero gunned downed in cold blood by a “crazed negro” of the underworld. The activism of the black community was likely the determining factor in achieving what contemporary accounts agree was a fair trial and ultimately justice instead of something amounting to a racist lynching.
Fred Deal was sentenced to life imprisonment. He served sixteen years in prison in Canada and then in 1938 was deported to a prison near his former home in Florida. He died a few years later.
Kinlochbervie is only 'nearby' Rosehearty by North American standards - it's about 180 miles by road. That piece of pedantry apart nice to see him being remembered - I hadn't seen as much detail of his death and aftermath before.


I trained with a McBeath, a long time after, I'm sure he was a Borderer!


War Hero
Couple of my neighbours here in BC are either RCMP or Vancouver PD. One of the VPD guys is with the marine division - his patrol boat is the R.G. McBeath.

Sod's law. My missus's grandfather survived the Arctic Convoys only to be killed when he rode his motorbike into he back of an unlit lorry. Life's like that.

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