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Their Great War

Whoever you are, wherever you are, someone like you was affected by the First World War

Lieutenant Herrick Duggan, Royal Engineers

A Canadian in the British Expeditionary Force

by Dr Nic Clarke, Canadian War Museum

Tue 10 December 13

Herrick Duggan was born in Montréal, Canada in 1891. A member of Canada’s social elite, Herrick received his initial education at the exclusive St. Alban’s School in Brockville and later spent a year studying in Switzerland before commencing an engineering degree at McGill University in 1907. After completing his degree in 1912, Herrick took at position at the Dominion Bridge Company (DBC). In October 1913 he gained short-term employment at Machinenfabrik Augsburg-Nuremburg in Mainz, Germany. He took this position in order to gain experience of German engineering practices, and to perfect his German-language skills. He left Germany in July 1914 and returned to DBC.

When war broke out in August 1914 Herrick volunteered for service in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, only to be rejected because his medical examiners deemed him to have a weak heart. Refusing to accept his rejection, he tried to enlist three more times before DBC sent him to England in September as its representative in war contract negotiations with the British government. While in London, Herrick used his family’s numerous social and business contacts to obtain a commission in the Royal Engineers. Completing his training in January 1915, Herrick was shipped to France in May 1915.

In France Herrick provided himself to be a brave and capable officer who was respected by his brother officers and loved by his men. On long marches he habitually declined the officer’s privilege of a horse, and instead ‘marched with the men with a full pack and kept their spirits up.’ As a result Herrick’s men ‘would have done anything for him.’ Herrick was also known a daring trench raider. Often he would head out on ‘expeditions’ to German trenches to collect cigars and other souvenirs. In one instance, Herrick, who had lost his way, was challenged by a German sentry. Rather than panicking, he responded in German. His response caused the guard to pause long enough to give the Canadian time to throw a grenade and flee with ‘sparks fairly streaming out of [his] heels’.

Herrick’s luck was not to hold. On the evening of 18 October 1915, he and his men were ordered to support an infantry assault on a German held trench at Hulluch Quarries as the Battle of Loos ground to a halt. Early in the assault the infantry officer commanding the assault was seriously wounded. Herrick took charge and the trench was captured. He received a slight neck wound in the process, but refused to go to the rear for treatment, stating that ‘it was only a scratch and his work was not properly finished.’ Just after midnight the Germans shelled the position. While trying to recover wounded soldiers from the field Herrick received a shrapnel wound to the abdomen. Transported to the 6th Field Ambulance Hospital in Béthune, he died two days later and was buried in Béthune’s Town Cemetery. Belying the enmity between their two nations, one of the first letters of condolence his family received came from his friends in Mainz.

Nic Clarke, “’He was my best subaltern’ The life and death of Lieutenant Herrick S. Duggan, 70th Field
Company, Royal Engineers”, Canadian Military History 17, 2 (2008): 21-32.
Library and Archives Canada, Herrick S. Duggan Fonds, MG30-E303