Henry David Duff (1895-1918)
Henry’s Parents: Archibald and Helen Duff, nee McLeish
Ten years on in the 1911 census, 16 year old Henry Duff was working for David Wallace, a local draper and clothier on Earlston High Street.
Earlston High Street c.1910
A later newspaper report (Berwick Advertiser: 19th February 1916) noted that:
“Henry served his apprenticeship in the establishment of Messrs. Wallace & Sons, drapers and clothiers. Upon its completion he went to London where he was in a situation for a short time, but, not liking the living-in system which is so common in the larger drapery houses, he determined to seek his fortune in the Western Hemisphere."
In 1914, 19 year old Henry emigrated to Canada on board a ship of the Allan Line which carried more young Scots emigrants to Canada than any other line: an estimated 2.3 million people emigrated from Scotland between 1825 and 1938, many of them leaving from the Clyde for Canada
Henry travelled on the S.S. Hesperian from Glasgow, bound for Quebec. The ship was built by Messrs Alex Stephen and Sons, Glasgow for the Allan Line and launched in 1908. A Handbook noted that five of its eight deck were devoted to passenger accommodation and facilities
Henry arrived in Canada on 9th May 1914 and settled in Toronto.
Enlisting in the War Effort
News of Henry reached Berwickshire, for The Berwick Advertiser of 19th February 1915 featured a fulsome introduction under the heading “Roll of Honour”:
those Earlstonians who have responded to the call to enlist in the Army for the
defence of their King and Country, one has somehow escaped mention among the worthies who have
been kept in remembrance by those left behind.
We refer to Henry Duff , a lad of about 20 years, son of Mr. Archibald
He responded to Lord Kitchener’s call for men, by enlisting in the crack cavalry regiment – no other than the Governor of Canada’s Body Guard. After undergoing some training at Stanley Barracks, Toronto, he was sent away about 500 miles into the backwoods along with a detachment of his regiment to do duty at an encampment for prisoners at a place which is 72 miles from the nearest town. Here he is at present located and in a letter which he has written home to his friends, he expresses himself as well pleased with his surroundings. He is well paid, well fed, and well clad against the rigour of the Canadian climate, his only regret being, that he sees no prospect of being sent to the from where he would very much like to be.” The news item concluded that “Henry is a Good Templar and a non-smoker, so that a share of the tobacco sent to the other Earlston heroes would have been of no use to him.”
Henry’s time at Kapuskasing Internment Camp in Northern Ontario.
In the early years of the twentieth century, Canada recruited large numbers of people from eastern European countries to settle the Prairies and to build up its labour force. When the First World War broke out in August 1914, Canadians' attitude towards immigrants from countries under German or Austro-Hungarian rule suddenly changed. They were now regarded as potential enemy sympathizers rather than valuable contributors to Canada's economic development. The government's solution to this perceived threat to domestic security was to establish, under the War Measures Act, a series of internment camps across the country to detain enemy aliens and prisoners of war for the duration of hostilities – among them Kapuskasing, in a camp carved out of the bush by the prisoners themselves. The Kapuskasing location was one of the largest and the last to close on 24th February 1920.
Below is a letter, written on birch bark, which Henry wrote to his mother when he was at the camp.
Oct 4th 1915
I guess you’ll be wondering why I’m writing on this stuff. Well you see, it’s the only stuff I can get here. I’m down the river from the camp. There was an officer got drowned here on the 1st. so there’s a search party trying to find the body, and I’m one of the party. We’ve been here for 3 days but it is a very difficult place to get at as it is a waterfall at the foot of rapids, so we are searching around there but I guess we’ll have to wait till after 9 days we’re going down to put a net across the river. I think that is the best way.
He was just a young fellow and a very nice fellow too, he was a career (?) officer and he had his photo taken along with us just two days before he got drowned.
Well goodbye just now
XXXXXXX best Love from Harry”
Shortly afterwards, The Berwickshire Advertiser: 22nd October 1915 wrote under the headline “An Ardent and Patriotic Earlstonian”:
“According to letters which have been received by his parents from Henry Duff, who has for some time been serving with the Canadian forces to the west of Toronto, is having a busy time in the far West.
Henry, who served his time with the firm of D. Wallace and Sons, is now engaged in canteen work, and stimulated by the stirring news coming from the various scats of war in Europe, his patriotic spirit prompted him to take part with so many of his youthful countrymen in resisting the aggressions of Germany and Russia.
This feeling on his part was so strong that it
prompted him to offer to resign his place in the Canadian Army, and pay his
fare back to Scotland, in order that he might join the army so urgently called
for by Lord Kitchener and Lord Derby.
The Canadian military authorities, however, know when they have got hold
of a good man, and they desire to keep him, and for the present have
persuaded him to remain and discharge his canteen duties.”
Henry joined the infantry of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a Private in the Central Ontario Regiment 15th Battalion – service no. 192423. His Attestation Papers have survived in the collection of The Library and Archives of Canada: Personal Records of the First World War and confirm his name, date of birth, birthplace, with his next of kin noted as his mother Helen Duff. His occupation was given as salesman, he was Presbyterian and unmarried. He signed the document on 15th December 1915.
We also have a description of Henry from the medical section of this record. He was 5.5 inches tall, chest 37 inches, with an expansion of 3 inches. He had a fresh complexion, grey eyes, brown hair, and a mole on his left back, and a scar on the right side of his neck. He was described as a Presbyterian and considered fit.
Action in FranceThe Berwickshire News: 13th November 1917 reported under Earlston News that “Henry Duff, Canadian Contingent, who has been 15 months in France, has been at Home on short furlough.”
But ten months later Henry, whilst on duty as a runner during operations in the vicinity of Marquoin, was hit in the head by an enemy bullet and instantly killed – the date 27th September 1918, just six weeks before the Armistice on 11th November. Henry was just 23 years old/ .
Henry was buried with 257 other servicemen in the Commonwealth War Graves British Cemetery (below) at Sains-les-Marquoin, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
Back home Henry’s death was reported in the local press:
“Border Heroes of the War” was the headline in The Southern Reporter: 10th October 1918: “Pte. Henry Duff, Canadian Highlanders is reported killed. He was the only son of the late Archibald Duff, shoemaker, Earlston and served his apprenticeship in the drapery trade with Messrs. Wallace. He immigrated to Canada and there joined the Canadian contingent.”
The Berwickshire News: 5th November 1918 noted:
“Rev. Walter Davidson writes as follows in Earlston Presbyterian Supplement of Life and Work for November – “Another splendid young Earlstonian, Pt. Henry Duff, Canadians, after a lengthy period of active service has fallen in the performance of a most heroic, single handed action on the Western Front. To save the lives of his comrades Henry attempted to destroy a machine gun crew. A companion writes, “It was the bravest deed I have seen in the war.” Before going to Canada Henry was a draper with Messrs. Wallace, and his bright and winning disposition made him a favourite with all and an especially welcome visitor on his brief furloughs home during the war. His three sisters, who have also lost both parents this year, have the deepest sympathy of everyone in this fresh and sore bereavement.”
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial paid tribute to Henry:
In memory of: In In Memory of Private Henry David Duff September 27, 1918
Military Service Number: 192423
Force: Army Unit: Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) Division: 15th Bn.
Additional Information Born: January 26, 1895
In his birthplace of Earlston, Henry Duff is remembered on the village war memorial.
Sources of Information
- · British Newspaper Archive
- · Canada’s Hundred Days
- · Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935 on Ancestry.co.uk
- · The Canadian Virtual War Memorial
- · Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- · Kapuskasing internment Camp 1914–1920
- · Library and Archives Canada
- · Norway Heritage –Hands Across the Sea.
- · Passenger Steamship Hesperian
Contributors: Sheila McKay and Susan Donaldson of he Auld Earlston Group