Vancouver Feature: Hero Slain on a Vancouver Street

Constable Robert McBeath stopped a drunk driver on Granville Street in the wee hours of an October morning in 1922. It was routine police work for the twenty-four year-old constable, but it would cost him the life he had risked just a few years before, when he earned the Victoria Cross at the Somme.

Early in the morning on October 9, 1922, Constable Robert McBeath and his partner, Detective R. Quirk, spotted a man driving his car erratically on Granville Street, near Davie. When the driver failed to stop, the officers jumped on the car’s running boards, and McBeath took him into custody. As the young constable rang for a paddy wagon at a nearby call box, the driver, Fred Deal, pulled a pistol and shot McBeath. He also wounded Quirk, who still managed to chase Deal, exchanging gunfire, before the shooter escaped. Quirk survived, but McBeath died at St. Paul’s Hospital. He was 24 years old.

It was only seven years earlier that sixteen-year-old Robert McBeath convinced a recruiter near his home in Kinlochbervie, Scotland, that he was eighteen — old enough to join the Seaforth Highlanders. By November 1917, at the battle of the Somme, he was already a two-year war veteran. His Seaforths were suffering heavy casualties, pinned down by intense gunfire from several machine gun nests. Lance-Corporal McBeath volunteered to attack the guns alone. Armed only with a Lewis gun and revolver, he stormed the first machine gun nest, killing all the enemy soldiers. Joined by a tank, he attacked the other four machine gun nests in succession, silencing each of them. The remaining enemy soldiers, fearing they were under attack by a larger force, retreated into the shelter of a tunnel, but McBeath fearlessly pursued them and shot the first one dead who tried to fight. Three officers and thirty soldiers surrendered to the lone Scot. His heroism earned him the Victoria Cross.

His heroism also earned the gratitude of his nation, and after his discharge, Robert McBeath was given farmland in Scotland. But he was a restless young man, and he sold the farm to try his luck in Canada. His luck ran out at Granville and Davie Streets that October morning, but the citizens of Vancouver gave him the grandest funeral in the young city’s history, and even today, his story is retold to schoolchildren