Friday, 3 May 2013

The McBride brothers -- officers in the Seaforth Highlanders in World War Two

 by Sam McBride

This is the fourth of a series of postings featuring photographs, news clippings and other documents that illustrate the lives of Roland Leigh McBride (known in the family as ``R.L.``), his wife Winifred May Foote (known in the family as ``Win``), and their children Leigh Morgan McBride and Kenneth Gilbert McBride

Previous postings in April 2013 and May 2013 in this blog have featured scans from Winifred`s 1906-1908 scrapbook, other photos Win and R.L. took as a young married couple, and photos of Leigh and Ken from early childhood through teen years, including reports of their golfing achievements.

This posting is primarily of photos, news clippings and letters from or about the two boys in army service in the Second World War.  With their university education and leadership capabilities, both Leigh and Ken were accepted for officer training.  Both chose to serve with the Vancouver-based Seaforth Highlander Regiment of Canada.  Serving in separate units of the First Canadian Army, they both participated in the thick of fighting in the Italian campaign of 1943-44.  Leigh would rise to the rank of Major, and Ken to Captain.

Leigh (left) and Ken McBride of Nelson, B.C. and the Seaforth Highlanders
Leigh was wounded by shrapnel in his legs and arms during the Sicily campaign.  After receiving treatment at an Allied hospital at Tunis in Tunisia, he rejoined his unit in Italy. 

One of the memorable events for Canadian forces in World War Two was the Christmas dinner in December 1943 at a church in Ortona, which was a short break for the Seaforths before returning to the intense fighting.  Leigh and Ken were among the Seaforth officers serving dinner to the enlisted men at the famous Christmas dinner.  Leigh enjoyed the meal but Ken was ill and could not eat that night, as noted in one of the news clippings based on a letter home. 

Another clipping reports the order from headquarters at Ortona ``McBride to Relieve McBride`` -- meaning, Ken`s unit was relieving Leigh`s unit.  This was the first time the brothers were mentioned together in an order.  Leigh thought it was quite amazing that two brothers from a small town half the world away in the Kootenays would end up backing each other up in one of the toughest battles of the war. 

On May 23, 1944 in the Liri Valley campaign near Cassino, Leigh was the only survivor when a German shell hit his forward unit.  When German soldiers came to the site he was unconscious with serious injuries, including the loss of his left eye.  He was taken by military ambulance to a hospital in Rome and then to prison camps in Germany.  As there were no living witnesses, he was listed as ``missing in action``.   More often than not, this classification meant the soldier had died, so his parents were extremely worried.  Four months later, on Sept. 18, 1944, word came from the Red Cross that he was alive and recovering in a German P.O.W. camp.  His parents R.L. and Win were overjoyed, but just two days later they were notified that their other son Ken was killed in action when his jeep ran over a road mine.

Leigh came back to Canada in a prisoner exchange in January 1945.  The fact that a brother died in action was likely one of the factors in being chosen for the exchange.  It was also recognized that his injuries were such that he could never return to army service.  After returning to Nelson he was often featured as a guest speaker at public events.

I had an interesting encounter in 2006 with a Seaforth war veteran in Edmonton who knew Leigh and Ken in Nelson and again later in war service with the Seaforths.   I noticed in an Edmonton newspaper story about the Royal Canadian Legion that executive member Joe Dyck had been taken prisioner by the Germans in Italy on May 23, 1944.  Knowing that it was the same day that Leigh was taken prisoner, I contacted Joe Dyck through the Legion, and he was very interested to hear from me.  He said he grew up in Nelson and knew Leigh and Ken, but they were not close friends.  His main memory of the McBrides in Nelson was being part of the crew that built the concrete foundation for the McBride house at 708 Hoover Street.

Joe had many more memories of Ken than of Leigh during the war because for a time Ken was his commanding officer.  When Ken selected men to go out at night for fighting patrols, he often picked Joe.  At the time it was considered a compliment to be selected, but Joe would have preferred to not be such a regular pick.  Fighting patrols were extremely hazardous because they involved going out in small groups in pitch dark and capturing German sentries.  As a private in P.O.W. camps, Joe received harsher treatment by his captors than Leigh, whose rank as an officer was respected by his German counterparts.  However, in this period of the war food was scarce for everyone, including the Germans.  Leigh felt grateful to the Red Cross for the rest of his life for the food parcels he received at his prison camps through the Red Cross as intermediaries. 

In the post-war years Leigh preferred to put the war behind him and not participate in reunions,.  He did stay in regular contact with war comrades John McLean, Donald Borden Cameron and Lefty White.   One of my godfathers was Col. Syd Thomson, who was Leigh`s commanding officer in Italy.  Syd and his wife Catrina were good friends of my parents.  His two gifts to me as a newborn were quite extraordinary: a bottle of expensive whiskey (he was a vice president of the Hiram Walker company), and a .30 caliber carbine rifle that he brought home to Canada from the war. 

The one major post-war event Leigh participated in was the 30th anniversary commemoration of the Canadian forces in Italy in April-May 1975.   It was the first time he was in Europe since the war.  While he enjoyed the reunion, he found the marches and numerous formal events quite tiresome.  It sparked in him a strong interest in Italy and Italian art which continued for the rest of his life.

Leigh (right) and Ken in about 1923

Ken and Leigh

From left to right: Graham Steed, Leigh McBride, Ken McBride, Edna Steed (Whiteley) across the lake from Nelson.

Ken and Leigh

Leigh and Ken

From left: Ken McBride, R.L. McBride, Leigh McBride

Ken (right) with friends swimming on Kootenay Lake across from Nelson


Ken was an exceptional athlete and competitor, excelling in badminton, billiards, basketball, and especially golf, which was played by the whole McBride family.

Leigh in 1938

Ken with binoculars


Leigh at about 18 and Ken at 16
Photo of Leigh when he received the History Prize in high school

Ken`s golf team badge at UBC

Leigh and Ken in golf attire

Ken in high school

Leigh practicing his golf swing.

Capt. K.G. McBride

R.L. McBride and son Leigh

Leigh's Deke fraternity certificate at University of Alberta


first of 3 pages of Leigh`s registration
second of three pages of Leigh registration
Third of three pages of Leigh registration, includes evaluation of his leadership potential at top

Leigh (with Seaforth crest on jacket) with father R.L. McBride

Ken practising his salute with his brother Leigh


Ken as a young Seaforth
Leigh, Ken and father Roland Leigh McBride

Leigh in Tunisia in 1943, where he received treatment at a Tunis hospital after being wounded in Sicily.




January 1944 article about the brothers in heavy action at Ortona

Letter from Leigh to Harpo (brother Ken)

envelope of Ken letter to parents

page 1 of Ken letter to parents

page 2 of Ken letter to parents

page 3 of Ken letter to parents

page 4 of Ken letter to parents

page 5 of Ken letter to parents

Ken was a talented sketch artist.  The one above was done in 1936 when he was 16.

Sketch of Churchill by Ken in January 1942


From left: Jim Allan, Blake Allan, Ken McBride and Alex Allan

Letter from S.G. Blaylock after Leigh was reported missing


Leigh (right) with friend

Leigh with pipe

Leigh quick photos

Correspondence with
Library and Archives Canada

one of about a dozen documents on Leigh from Veterans Affairs and Library and Archives Canada files.


M.V. Gripsholm, the Swedish ship that transported Leigh back to Canada in a prisoner exchange in early 1945


Leigh card sent from German POW camp

cover of post card from POW camp

Leigh (top row, third from left) and other prisoners at Heilig Annaburg near Berlin, Jan. 7, 1945

page 1 of Leigh 4-page report for Seaforth regimental history on Liri Valley action when he was injured and taken prisoner

page 2 of 4-page Leigh report on Liri Valley action

page 3 of Leigh 4-page report on Liri Valley
page 4 of 4-page Leigh report on Liri Valley

One of Leigh`s presentations in support of the Red Cross after returning to Canada in 1945

A cousin of the McBride boys, Richard Rollins, son of R.L. McBride`s sister Josie Rollins of Vancouver, died in December 1942 as a crew member of an RCAF warplane that crashed soon after takeoff.

cover and last page of letter home from Ken

2nd and 3rd pages of letter home from Ken

Ken attestation record

Telegram sent to R.L. and Win advising of death of Ken
First list of Ken`s effects upon his death
Additional property of Ken at time of death
Ken`s daily pay during war service
Ken medals received
extensive water damage on document obtained from Veterans Affairs

Capt. K.G. McBride (1920-1944)
Memorial Cross sent to his mother

more of Ken`s service records


first page of R.L. McBride letter to friend regarding death of Ken

2nd page of R.L. letter re Ken
3rd and last page of R.L. letter re Ken
condolences on death of Ken

Mount McBride, near Fauquier, B.C., named in honour of Capt. K.G. McBride

Mother Winifred Foote McBride met Leigh in Vancouver on his return from the German prison camp.

inside of Victory over Japan Day program in Nelson -- August 1945, with Leigh representing WW2 veterans

front and back of VJ Day program

report of VJ Day event in Nelson



Leigh with his 1948 Dodge
Marriage to Rose Pamela Dewdney, Sept. 11, 1948


Leigh serving on Nelson School Board

Leigh with baby Ken in July 1949
with son Sam in about 1954
article about the Ken McBride Memorial Trophy for the Nelson Labour Day Golf Tournament

Cousin Jimmy Allan was thrilled to win the Ken McBride Memorial Trophy in 1955
Leigh with Dee Dee, Jack and Eve c. 1980
Golf was always Leigh`s passion.  He was never as good a golfer as before the war because of losing an eye and other war injuries suffered in Sicily and Liri Valley.


After 20 years as a practising lawyer in Nelson, Leigh moved to Trail in 1969 to work with the Cominco law department.  Here he is in front of the house he bought in Tadanac.

Leigh and Seaforth veteran friends in Italy in 1974

Leigh (second from right) receiving congratulations from an Italian official in Italy in 1974.  His close friends at the reunion included Borden Cameron and John McLean.

Leigh visiting Ken`s grave at Coriano Ridge Cemetery for the first time in 1974.  Photo by Borden Cameron.

Leigh with Seaforth friends on 30th anniversary of Canadians in Italy -- 1974

Postcards sent home by Leigh from 30th anniversary event in Italy

Leigh retired from Cominco (now Teck) in 1982 at age 65

Leigh with wife Dee Dee in about 1978


Leigh with Dee Dee in Banff in 1983.  Soon after, he experienced the first effects of Parkinsons Disease, which burdened him for the rest of his life.  He resided in a care home in Trail after 1990.

Nephew Sam visiting gravesite of Ken McBride in Coriano Ridge Cemetery near Riccione, Italy in June 2005



  1. Dear Mr. McBride,
    What a surprise finding your blog after having scrolled so many pages on the computer! When I was looking on the web for some article on the battle of Ortona I came across your blog...By chance I would like to get to the core of the matter about Christmas dinner on 25th December 1943. After reading your post I have just known your father Leigh as well your uncle Ken were among the Seaforth officers serving their buddies.
    I am quite interested on this matter since a friend of mine has written a novel and few short stories regarding these dreadful days: I read both the books so this allowed me to better know as well as understand this historical event.
    Now I'd like to express my best congratulations on the job you have well done and I will still go into about. That is all at the moment.
    I am looking forward on seeing your kind reply (if possible on private mailing) and in the meanwhile I send you my kindest regards.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.