Remembering Cecil Kinross: An Unconventional Hero

Private Cecil John Kinross VC. IWM VC 698

By October 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres had been raging for more than 2 months. The next target was the village of Passchendaele – which became the informal title given to the whole campaign. An ill-prepared attack in pouring rain was made on 12 October, and the attack was renewed on 26 October. In this guest blog post, Celine Nonde, who has been undertaking a student placement with us, remembers Canadian soldier Cecil John Kinross – he fought in the Second Battle of Passchendaele, and won the Victoria Cross for his bravery and quick-thinking. 

 

  • Life before the First World War

Born in Harefield, Middlesex in 1896, Cecil Kinross was the third child of Emily and James Kinross. Cecil had a relatively normal start to life, attending school at Coleshill Grammar School in Warwickshire.

Blue plaque on Cecil’s childhood home in Hillingdon, London. Image courtesy of Memorials to Valour website

However, with a father who as a teenager had worked as a Texan cowboy, it was clear that Cecil’s life would not remain typical for long. As such, in 1912, along with his four other siblings, the family moved to Canada. They settled in Lougheed, Alberta, a small but newly established village, and following in his father’s footsteps, Cecil worked as a farmer before enlisting.

 

  • Disregard for army rules

From relative rural obscurity, Cecil quickly became a notorious figure in the army. His attestation papers note his stature and at almost 6ft with blue eyes and brown hair, Cecil Kinross cut a handsome figure. Yet his appearance was of little importance to him, quickly becoming a sore spot with his senior officers. He was criticised for his untidiness on parade and branded a ‘disgrace to the platoon’. This troubled relationship with senior authority was to mark his army career.

However, probably much to the annoyance of senior staff, he was blessed with singular good luck. Whilst his numerous commanding officers were wiped out in the battlefield, Kinross remained unscathed. He returned only with the nickname ‘Hoodoo’, given for his apparent curse on his leaders.

 

  • Victoria Cross

His disregard for rules was the very attitude which led to the award of his Victoria Cross, for his actions on 30 October 1917. Trapped in a shell hole and under intense fire from a German machine gun, Cecil, now a private in 49 Battalion Edmonton Regiment, decided to take action. Leaving behind the rest of his Company as well as all his military equipment save his rifle and bandolier, Kinross charged the gun. Such extraordinary tactics paid off. Taking the German crew by surprise, Kinross successfully destroyed the machine gun which had been causing so many casualties.

His superb example and courage instilled the greatest confidence in his company

Even his VC citation seems impressed by the boldness of his solo mission which was undertaken in ‘the open ground in broad daylight’ (The London Gazette, 8 January 1918). Not only did he enable land to be gained, Cecil’s confidence inspired his company. Wounded the same day as his heroic actions, Kinross was gazetted for the VC on the 8th of January 1918. Finally, this rebellious private from the Canadian Expeditionary Force was rewarded for his recklessness.

Yet he remained followed by authority; even after leaving Buckingham Palace following his VC ceremony, he was arrested by police who believed he was falsely wearing the military medal.

 

  • Post-war life

Cecil’s original gravestone – now replaced with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission stone. Photo by Terry Macdonald, licensed under Creative Commons

He lived out the rest of his life in Canada, living in a hotel in Lougheed until his death in 1957. His life was marked by a unique spark which matched his contempt for the army’s regimentation. Yet his bravery in battle is clear. Today, the twin peaks of Mount Kinross in Alberta, stand as a natural testament to his actions. I chose to write about his story because it is not the traditional story of a war hero – the example of Cecil Kinross remains an inspiring testament to those soldiers who were anything but conventional.

 

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