The quixotic gallantry of Herrick McGregor

James Herrick McGregor was born in 1869 in Côte-des-Neiges, Quebec, near Montreal, of a scholarly family. His father, James McGregor, LL.D., taught at the McGill Normal School for more than 30 years. A native of Dundee, Scotland (according to his obituary), he immigrated to the United States at age 13. He married Lamira Herrick, a graduate of the elementary school teacher training program. She descended from a Massachusetts settler of 1629; see the sidebar on her ancestry. James Herrick was the third of their four children — three sons and a daughter. Their mother died untimely. In 1880 their father married Eleanor Ruiter, and they had a daughter. The family moved to Victoria in 1888 and lived ensemble in James Bay. Dr. McGregor worked for the establishment of the Victoria Public Library, which opened in 1889. He was its first librarian. He died in 1896 at the age of 68; Eleanor survived him by 47 years.

Herrick took a degree in civil engineering at McGill University and trained as a surveyor. He was the first in B.C. to register following passage of the Provincial Land Surveyors Act in 1891. Within a few years he joined the surveying firm Gore and Burnet. In 1901 it became Gore and McGregor.

His work took him all over the province — initially to southeastern B.C. He was part of the survey team for the provincial boundary. He did surveys in the Kootenay land district, on the CPR railway belt and the Peace River block. A piece in the Colonist in 1898 gives a sense of his activities during the Klondike gold rush:

Mr. J. H. McGregor, provincial land surveyor, has returned from Teslin Lake, where he spent the winter doing work for the provincial government. He went North last fall, being one of the first to pass up the Stikine on the ice. After plotting townsites at Telegraph Creek and Glenora for the government, he proceeded to Teslin Lake, and dragging his own sleigh made the trip in nine days. Here another townsite was laid out for the government. …

Besides plotting townsites Mr. McGregor was instructed to pick out the best route for a road. On the trail used last year he says, a lot of corduroying would be necessary, but from what he could see while passing over the route, he is of opinion that to a large extent this expensive work can be avoided by taking to the side hills. Only two bridges are necessary, and one of these has already been completed and the other is underway.

Mr. McGregor says the men on their way to the Yukon will not be delayed for the want of a trail. Although most of the snow has disappeared the ground is still frozen and before it softens the government road will be ready. Mr. McGregor returns north in a few days to do the survey work for the road.

During the period 1907 to 1911 he worked in the north central region, opening an office in Fort (Prince) George.

The surveying business prospered, and McGregor’s star rose. He served as president of the Land Surveyors’ Corporation in 1908. When T.S. Gore retired from the firm in 1910, McGregor took over as senior partner.

Family lore has it that Herrick met Frances Walker while working in the Kootenay district. She was born in Channelkirk, Berwick, south of Edinburgh, in 1871. Her father was minister of the Church of Scotland there. He immigrated in 1884, according to his 1901 census entry. The 1891 census shows him living in Metchosin, while his wife, Mary, lived in town as the matron of the Protestant Orphans’ Home. Frances and her younger sister Maud were students in Edinburgh in 1891. Frances immigrated in 1892, according to the 1901 census. In 1895 Frances was living with her mother at the new orphans’ home near Hillside and Cook, and teaching at North Park school.

Mrs. J. Herrick McGregor, nee Elizabeth Frances Walker, at R, with her parents and sisters. Courtesy Royal BC Museum. BC Archives Call No. C-06032; Catalogue No. HP052767.

Frances and Herrick were married in 1896. They had seven children. Three died in childhood.

Mrs. J. Herrick McGregor, nee Elizabeth Walker, with Mary Rutherford McGregor, aged two months. Courtesy Royal BC Museum. BC Archives Call No. C-06034; Catalogue No. HP052769.

Her mother retired in 1898 after 11 years at the orphanage and died little more than a year later. Rev. Walker called himself a farmer in 1901; he appears to have died in 1921, at Essondale.

In 1902, the McGregors engaged Francis Rattenbury to design a house for a property in the triangle between Newport Avenue and St David Street. It was a squarish half-timbered neo-Tudor mansion. The McGregors called it The Bend, a reference to its situation, where Oak Bay Avenue angles onto Newport.

The Bend, the James Herrick McGregor family home, at the corner of Newport Ave. and St. David St., Oak Bay. Courtesy Royal BC Museum. BC Archives Call No. B-01797; Catalogue No. HP030513.

Herrick’s partner T. S. Gore married late, and his wife built a house at 1680 York Place, just across Oak Bay Avenue

Herrick was a member of the Oak Bay Improvement Association, the group formed about 1905 to lobby for local government. When Oak Bay was incorporated, he reportedly chaired the meeting that nominated the first mayor and council. Murdoch’s History of Oak Bay puts it so:

A meeting of the Oak Bay Improvement Association was called to consider some unanimous action regarding candidates for Reeve and Councillors “… with the object of preventing, if possible, the expense and annoyance of an election.” (The quotation is from the minutes of that meeting.)

… the implication being that the Oak Bay Improvement Association held their meeting first and came up with a slate of nominees equal to the number of seats, and that somehow represented the community.

Both Herrick and Frances took active roles in local governance. She was an Oak Bay school trustee in 1906. He was a municipal councillor from 1909 to 1914.

His name is associated with land development interests in Oak Bay. His older brother William D. McGregor was a partner in Crane McGregor & Boggs, agents for the Oak Bay Improvement Company, developers of the 150-acre tract known as Oak Harbour beginning in 1891. In 1906, when the Victoria Golf Club purchased the Oak Bay golf links from the Pemberton family, Herrick McGregor made — according to Harry Pooley’s narrative — a rival bid for the property.

The McGregors were part of a tight-knit community. There is mention in the Colonist of a dinner-party hosted by the McGregors at the Boomerang Inn on Langley St in December 1908, and another hosted by Herrick later that month at the Union Club. A 1906 letter from W.E. Oliver to [Charles] Newcombe, unearthed by Terry Reksten and published in Rattenbury, reveals a taste for carousing:

“A good New Year to you … We missed you at the national annual sacrament. The usual archangels were there — Pike Holland Hamfields McGregor Irvine Rattenbury Newton. Irvine broke one of my wifes best drawing room chairs, and Rattenbury’s dress coat which was bought for the occasion was hanging in rags as he left. It was a very successful celebration and as my wife and family are still in the old country no one was disturbed. I was surprised to find so much spirit of abandon still lurking in lads from 38 to 55.”

McGregor, like his friend and neighbour Rattenbury, was an avid driver and car collector.

Herrick was a prolific amateur poet and philosopher given to publishing in local newspapers. In 1913 he collected his writings in a self-published book, The Wisdom of Waloopi, whose 250 pages bulk impressively. The cryptic Waloopi appears to spoof the type of Middle Eastern sage.

The style is glib, given to relentless rhyming and fulsome sentimentality, revealing McGregor’s wide reading in a voice at once worldly-wise, evoking the secularism of the engineer, and expressive of conventional middle-class sensibility. It’s at its best when the poet sticks to autobiography, as in “Twilight,” a remembrance of things past couched in Drummondesque patois:

A’m feelin’ leetle triste to-night—dat’s wat you call “depress”—
A’m tink about dat long ago, before I came out Wes’;
Seems lak I don’ see tings de same as wat I use to saw
All roun’ about an’ everywhere w’en I was “un p’tit gars”—
De sonshine don’ shine bright enoff, de rain don’ rain lak rain;
Mon dieu! I wonder w’en I see dat tunder storm again!
W’en all de h’air was still, an’ hot, an’ close, till by en by
You see de big black cloud roll up an’ marche along de sky;
You hear de tree top movin’ an’ feel a puff o’ win’,
Den “pat-tat-tat” across de fiel’ de tunder storm begin.
Bateau! I ron inside de house w’en rain begin to fall
Long tam ago at Cote des Neiges, behine ole Montrehall.

A poem called “How We Kept the Speed Law from Oak Bay to Victoria” satirized Browning’s “How We Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.” It begins thus:

I shut off my throttle, and Thomas and B.
I tootled, B. tootled, we tootled all three!
“Good speed!” called the milk waggon, thundering past;
“I will see you next week if you don’t go too fast!“
As we turned up the avenue half after eight
And tooled toward town at a strict legal gait.

In 1914, Herrick McGregor was 45 years old and at the top of his game, a paragon of the community, president of the Union Club, Oak Bay alderman, head of a major land surveying firm. He was a family man with a wife and four children, the youngest a two-year-old son.

What happened next defies belief. Of his own volition, McGregor was catapulted into a place that affirms the existence of hell to participate in a signal event in Canadian history and a pivotal moment of the 20th century.

McGregor enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. On his attestation paper, signed at Valcartier, Quebec on September 23, 1914, McGregor gave his age as 40 years 6 months. He attested to being with an active militia unit. That would be the 50th Regiment, Gordon Highlanders.

McGregor was a late arrival — the regiment had departed Victoria on August 28, in the command of Lieut.-Col. Arthur Currie, and arrived at Valcartier on September 3. The regiment left for England on September 30 and arrived at Salisbury Plain on October 18. (Zuehlke 18-20).

The story of the battalion’s 123 days on the training site is narrated in detail in Mark Zuehlke’s Brave Battalion. There were 89 days of rain or snow. The firing ranges were put out of commission by driving snow and mists. Accommodation was of the most transient sort. At Christmas 11,000 men were living in tents. Mess tents blew away in the gales. A sentry died of exposure. Spinal meningitis and measles went the rounds. Canadian-made ordnance was unwieldy (the Ross rifle), shoddy (boots), ineffective (shovels), inadequate (webbing).

In December the regiments were reorganized into battalions. The 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) amalgamated the Gordons with Scottish regiments from Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton. Assigned the rank of “honorary captain” (Urquhart 1932, 375), McGregor was appointed the battalion paymaster.

Capt. James Herrick McGregor. BC Archives Call No. A-02288. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.
Capt. James Herrick McGregor. BC Archives Call No. A-02288. Courtesy Royal British Columbia Museum Corporation.

On February 1, the battalion made the crossing to France on a troop transport ship whose decks were jammed with artillery, horses and vehicles, and with 2,000 men occupying holds so tightly there was no room to lie down. The ship was assailed by a hurricane-force storm that blew horses into the sea.

Once in France, the Canadians made an overland trip by rail from St Nazaire, on the Bay of Biscay, to Caestre, some 22 kilometres northwest of Armentières, near the Belgian front line, where the German invasion beginning the previous August had by October become a pitched battle. On lines running from the North Sea to the Alps, the Germans and the Allies dug in and faced each other across a no-man’s land that would move but little until the latter months of 1918, while millions died.

map the front lines 1915

The 16th and other battalions with the Canadian 1st Division rotated on and off the front where they were instructed in trench warfare and hardened for battle. The rotations continued through March and into April, the Canadians alternately relieving the British and French forces and standing in reserve.

On April 17, 1915 the 2nd Brigade moved into the vicinity of the front line east and north of the battered Belgian city of Ypres, to relieve the French 79th Regiment. The front line ran more or less north-south, but near Ypres it made a eastward bulge known as the Ypres Salient. It was there the 16th Battalion had its appointment with history.

(Among those who shared in the tribulation of those weeks was Major John McCrae, a 41-year-old surgeon in the 1st Brigade Artillery corps of the 1st Canadian Division. His poem “In Flanders Fields” was written early in May 1915. In command of the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division was Brigadier-General Arthur Currie, who went on to take command of the Division and ultimately, the Canadian Corps.)

On April 17 the Germans started shelling the ancient city of Ypres.

On April 20 the 16th Battalion was relieved by the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada) and billeted in Ypres.

On April 22, the 16th Battalion was standing by on the west side of the Ypres Canal, just north of the city, several miles from the front line.

Of numerous accounts of the beginning of the Second Battle of Ypres, one of the most vivid must be in Lieutenant Hugh Urquhart’s unpublished diaries. (The original typescript, with hand-written amendments, is held in the University of Victoria Library’s Special Collections.) Urquhart commanded the 15th Platoon, No. 4 Company, 16th Battalion.

April 21st.

Again visited Ypres. Got paid by Paymasetr (sic) McGregor …

April 22nd.

In the morning, moved over to the East side of canal settled down about 11.30 A.M. Accommodation very poor and not enough of it. No 4 Coy. officers sleeping in an Estaminet. Had lunch 1.P.M. At 1.30 P.M. went out with Capt. Jamieson to look into billeting situation. A furious cannonade started in what appeared as far as we could judge to be the front N. and E. of St. Julien. Capt. Jamieson and myself rushed up to the top of the canal bank and endevoured (sic) to make out through our glasses what sort of fight was going on, there could be no doubt that the enemy were advancing as the shrapnel bursts got nearer and nearer until at last the road East of the Canal from Ypres to Boesinghe was being shelled. We instinctively felt that it was necessary for us to stand to and on coming down to the billet found orders for the Company to Fall in. The order was carried out in quick time. We rushed over to the field across the road East of the billets. Refugees poured down the road carrying with them their small personal belongings wrapped in bundles and then over the canal bridges came the French soldiers retiring, first by ones and twos and laterly (sic) in a continual stream. The next order was to line the Western bank of the canal and dig ourselves in. By now it was getting dusk and we knew something very serious had happened.

At 5 p.m. the German army had released chlorine gas for the first time. Its purpose was to accomplish what shrapnel shelling, cannon, machine-gun and sniper fire had not — open a hole in the Allied line. The greenish heavier-than-air gas was released along a 1,200-yard front (Zuehlke 47) and blown by the wind into the French trenches. Hundreds died of asphyxiation crouching down to escape the deadly green mist. Thousands died within the hour or lingeringly as damage to their respiratory systems progressed. The diabolical plan worked well. French and Zouave troops fled in panic, joining the exodus of terrorized civilians on the roads west from Ypres.

“Ypres: The Gas Attack,” above, based on Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, by G. W. L. Nicholson. Ottawa: Queens Printer and Controller of Stationary, 1962. The map is available as a GoogleEarth overlay and transcriptions of the Official History as PDFs on the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group’s Matrix Project.

As the north side of the Ypres Salient collapsed, the Germans quickly advanced to within five kilometres of the city and entrenched. The German army had an opportunity to press the attack. They might have fought their way to the sea and seized all of northeastern France, with enormous implications for the conduct, and even the outcome, of the war. Instead, they dug in and waited.

Why the German army lost the opportunity is one of the perplexities of the Great War. In part, it was the ferocity of the Canadian counter-attack — “the first attack by a Canadian army on foreign soil” (Baptism of Fire, 96) — that stopped the Germans in their tracks.

The 16th Battalion War Diary, likely written by its commanding officer, Lt.-Col. R. G. E. Leckie, picks up the story:

Ordered at 7 40 PM to proceed at once to Brigade H.Q. near St. Julien. Called transport, and ammunition served out. Moved off within half an hour. Learned that French had been driven out of their trenches [page break] joining our line and had fled. Canadians still holding their line. We were to check the German advance. On arrival at Brigade Head quarters informed that my task was to support closely the 10th Battalion which had already arrived and attacked the enemy at 10 30 PM so as to clear the wood N. West of St. Julien. Attack delayed until 11 30.

Urquhart’s diary covering the same interval reveals the hellish combat the battalion was marching into (paragraphing added):

About 8 P.M. orders were received to fall back from the canal bank and assemble for a march forward over the canal. An extra hundred rounds of S. A. A. per man was served out and in half an hours time we were marching towards St. Julien. Shrapnel was bursting over all the roads, and across the parts which were badly shelled we doubled by small parties, escaping with no casualties.

We passed through the northern edge of Ypres then on to La Brique where we met half a Battalion of the Middlesex digging in, thence to St. Jean and Wieltjie, after passing that village we turned to the left off the St. Julien road and rested for a matter of fifteen minutes.

Our eyes and nostrils began to smart which we could not understand but realized later that it was by reason of the poison gas sent over by the Germans.    It was now a matter of three or four hours after the original attack and we were a good mile and a quarter behind the trenches held by the French before the attack took place.

Advanced in two ranks then lay down for some time. Cannon (sic) Scott Came up and talked to everybody in a cheery fashion.

Leckie’s diary details the close formation of the attack:

Formed up in the moonlight about 1000 yds from the enemy and close to St Julien road. Formation adopted: 10th Batt. in front on two company width: double rank, thus forming 2 lines 30 yds apart. 16th Battalion formed up in 4 lines single rank 30 yds behind 10th Battalion and lines 30 yds apart. No 4 Co. on right and No. 2 on left of front line. Ns 1 and 3 in rear of 4 and 2 respectively. Advance made about midnight. When about 300 yds from enemy he opened rapid fire with rifles and machine guns. We then doubled and when flares went up lay down. When we made the charge the enemy fled. Many were bayoneted while others surrendered. They must have lost at least 30 prisoners about 100 killed and 250 wounded.

Map Battle of Kitchers Wood 1915“Counter-attack at Kitchener’s Wood” map from the Calgary Highlanders’ website. Used by kind permission. (The label “German Front Line – evening of 21 April 1915” should perhaps read 22 April?)

Urquhart’s diary reveals the heavy losses incurred in the advance on the newly-established German front line (with added paragraphing):

Order to put off packs and prepare to charge, we were then told to move forward again in two ranks. The 10th Battalion were in front of us. The enemy ranged some shrapnel at this point and we had a few casualties.  No 13 platoon was on the right of 15 platoon and it was exceedingly difficult to keep touch with them, there was a ditch and hedge just at the point of contact and as the right of the line went forward by a right incline we (15 Pl.) had to double until we got an opening in the hedge, then turned to the right in file doubled across and got in touch again. Told we were to attack the wood in front but all that was to be seen was a dark blur.

We were taking our direction by the North star. After we got through the hedge and in touch with 13 pl. we continued to advance in line. On our left being a road. It seemed only a few minutes after this that a German flare went up and the enemy opened fire. The night was fairly dark and the only impressions one can record are the feeling of advancing over absolutely bare ground as it were on a rifle range going from the Butts to the Firing Point with ceaseless angry zip, zip of bullets from rifles and machine guns. You could see the spit of fire from the rifles to our front and left. Then came the cries of those who were hit, the cracking of the bullets so close to our ears made them sing and it was impossible to make yourself heard.

Before reaching the German trench it seemed the enemy’s fire suddenly ceased (it might have been 30 or 40 yards from the trench) and our lads went forward with a bound.

Leckie’s terse narrative of the advance into so-called Kitcheners Wood (named not for a person but for its familiarity to Flemish cooks as a place to gather truffles and other edibles):

After a few minutes pause the 16th Batt. were led into the wood and there we came across 4 big guns — presumably the guns the French left behind.

I guided the men by the aid of the North Star and led them through the wood. There several Germans were disposed of. Many surrendered but I thought it would be imprudent to release men to take them in charge as there were none too many of us. Men were cautioned against dealing harshly with prisoners.

“The tenth battalion wins undying fame: the night attack on the wood near St-Julien, 22 April 1915.” Source unknown.

Urquhart’s diary on this brutal segment of the combat:

The majority of the Germans had retreated into the wood beyond the trench and there we followed them. We fired at them and something going wrong with my revolver I bent down for the rifle of a dead 10th battalion man who had fallen just in front of me. In the trenches the Germans had left everything when they fled and in the wood we came across one of their horses. The animal was tied to a tree and I remember was standing on three legs, holding one leg up as if it had been hit by a bullet. We rushed through the wood coming out on the further side from the German trench we captured.

Leckie’s diary continues: “I led the party a few hundred yds on the other side of the wood at the same time calling for the 16th Batt and thus gathering up stragglers.” In other words, the Canadians had routed the Germans.

Urquhart’s diary fills in the detail (paragraphing added):

German flares were now going up behind us to the left and it looked to us as if we had broken right through the German line. We started to entrench on the far side of the wood from where we started.

Amongst the men who I can distinctly remember seeing there were N. Cameron, Kelly, Jack Ross, A. MacLennan, Chisholm, Col. Boyle of the 10th I met to the right of the wood a short time afterward also Col. Leckie, Hastings, McLaren of the 10th.  Col. Boyle was wounded about this time.

Col. Leckie was directing the digging in and gave orders that the 10th who were collected in a group near a house were to connect up from the hedge where we were digging in to the right where a further party of the 16th had started to entrench. To the best of my knowledge the 10th never started this work.

Subsequently I saw Capt. Rae and Lieut. McLean I was told that Lindsay was lying wounded in the house last referred to but I did not see him. I spoke to Major McLaren of the 10th giving him the orders I had received from Col. Leckie as to the digging in. McLaren told me he (McLean)[?] was wounded in the leg.

Men entrenched themselves very effectively. Germans kept up fire from lanes[?]/ground[?] in front of us and many hit including J. M. Ross, Lindsay and Col. Boyle. Much confusion as we were in doubt as to where our flanks rested and if we were supported. In end[?] saw Col. Leckie who said he would go back and find out.

Rae meanwhile said we had better withdraw to trench at other side of wood which ultimately was done at dawn.

There must have been heavy casualties.

Leckie’s diary now takes us away from the battlefield (with added paragraphing):

After establishing the line on the far side of the wood, I placed Capt Rae in charge and returned through the wood to send him more men. I had just informed the 3rd Brigade by message what had occurred asking for reinforcements & horses to remove guns. Capt. Rae, Capt. McGregor and Major McLaren were with me on the front line.

On returning through wood met Capt. McLean and a party of men. Directed him to report to Capt. Rae and showed[?] him the way. Returning to first line of German trenches I examined same and ascertained what portion to the flanks was retained by the Enemy.

2nd Batt under Colonel Watson arrived and I directed him to clear out German redoubt on S.w. end of wood but sufficient men were not sent and they were repulsed.

As day light approached Capt Rae withdrew his men to captured German trenches which were now consolidated and held. Sentries placed in wood over recaptured guns. Sent for Major Leckie to discuss situation. Many wounded and dead brought in and sent to Brigade Head Quarters.

Map from Canada in Flanders, Volume 1 by Sir Max Aitken, M.P. London/Toronto/New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1916, p 59. Digital version at

And what of Captain Herrick McGregor? As battalion paymaster, he was expected to stay well back of the battleground. That he did not. Before the first assault on the German line, McGregor was conspicuously lending moral support to the troops. Urquhart described the scene in his 1932 History of the 16th Battalion (p 60):

Between three and four hundred men from both battalions were being organized along the hedge by Lieut.-Colonel Leckie and Captain Rae of the 16th and Major McLaren of the 10th. The task was a difficult one, as the enemy kept the position under continuous rifle fire. Lieut.-Colonel Boyle of the 10th, to whom McLaren was Second in Command, had been mortally wounded, at the right flank, a short time previously, and many men were dropping all along the line. The only person unaffected by the danger was Captain J. H. McGregor, the Paymaster of the 16th, who strolled around with a cane under his arm, seemingly ignorant of the fact that a war was being fought around him.

Participant accounts published in Victoria newspapers take up the story of McGregor’s quixotic gallantry. A letter from Corporal Alan Lyons to a friend in Victoria was published in the Colonist on May 30:

“’My chief reason in writing you now is to tell you of the heroic behaviour of Herrick McGregor. For some months he has been our paymaster and was not supposed to be on the firing line. The other night, when the Germans broke through the French, we were sent in to stem the tide. We came within 500 yards of the enemy, who were several thousand strong in a small wood, and discarded our packs and coats in preparation to drive them out before their strong reinforcements could arrive. At this moment old Herrick stepped out of the darkness and put himself at our head along with our other officers. As far as we could see, his only weapon was a walking stick.

“’We received the order to advance and before we had gone many yards the enemy opened fire on us with machine guns (600 shots per minute) and rifles. We knew it meant slaughter, but keep right on, and although only a mere handful of us reached the enemy, we drove them before us like sheep at the bayonet point. My usual luck stayed with me and although my rifle was shattered in my hands, I received only a slight scratch. We held the gained position and Herrick was one of the few remaining officers when morning broke. Shortly afterwards a German sniper, firing from goodness knows where, hit him in the forehead, which as far as I know at present, proved fatal.’”

Another account rendered by Rev. William Barton, chaplain with the 7th Battalion, was published in the Colonist on July 11:

“’Herrick McGregor was the great hero of the 16th Battalion. In their splendid charge, although still of non-combatant rank, when all other officers had fallen, he led the charge. He was wounded in the hand, and some of the men wanted him to go back and have his wound dressed, when he gave the order to dig themselves in. He replied, ‘I can dig more with one hand than you can with two.’ This was reported to me at first hand, and I believe it to be true. Later, when they charged again and retook the guns and wood, poor Mac was killed. He did grand work with the 16th the whole way through.’”

And in the Colonist of March 12, 1916, excerpting a letter from a Miss Milligan, “a Victorian nurse now with No. 5 General Hospital, at Salonica, Greece,” to a friend:

“One of the men at Shorncliffe told me such beautiful things about Capt. Herrick McGregor. He said if Canada ever sent a hero it was he (McGregor), and that no man ever died game as completely as did Captain McGregor.”

The effect of the assault on Kitcheners Wood and other Canadian initiatives beginning on the night of April 22-23 was decisive. The Germans were convinced not to press the advantage created by the gas attack, believing perhaps it had not been effective. They fell back and waited. Meanwhile reinforcements were rushed to the line, which held while the gaping hole was filled.

How important was the Canadians’ tactic? The supreme allied commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, made pointed reference to the Battle of Kitcheners Wood in 1919, when he remarked: “I think the finest act in the war was the counter-attack of the 10th and the 16th Battalions.”

“The Brooding Soldier,” Canadian Memorial at St. Julien, Belgium. “This column marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians on the British left withstood the first German gas attacks the 22nd-24th April 1915. Two thousand fell and here lie buried.” Photo used by kind permission of Travel France Online (

James Herrick McGregor earned no decoration for his action on the night of April 22-23, 1915. The McGregor River and tributaries Captain Creek, James Creek and Herrick Creek in northeastern British Columbia were, however, named in his honour, as is the town of McGregor and a lounge in the Union Club in Victoria.


Attestation Paper, Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force, of James Herrick McGregor, Valcartier, Quebec, 23 September 1914. On Soldiers of the First World War website at Library and Archives Canada (

Baptism of Eleanor Ruiter, daughter of Nelson Ruiter and Eleanor his wife, March 16, 1859. Methodist Church, Dunham Township. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967, at

Baptism of James Herrick McGregor, son of James McGregor, Teacher, and of Lamira Herrick, born March 4 and baptised July 11, 1869, Presbyterian Church, Côte-des-Neiges. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967, at

Barrett, Anthony A. and Rhodri Windsor Liscombe. Francis Rattenbury and British Columbia: Architecture and Challenge in the Imperial Age. UBC Press, 1983.

“BC Land Surveyors Feature: Looking Back 100 Years,” by Chuck Salmon. The Scrivener, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 2004, pp. 12-14.

Birth of Elizabeth Frances Gordon Walker, December 21, 1871, to James Walker Minister and Mary Walker, maiden surname Rutherford, in the Parish of Channelkirk in the County of Berwick, Scotland. Statutory Births 729/00 0002 at

“Captain James Herrick McGregor, P.L.S. #1, 1869-1915.” Condensed version of biography by Andrew Fowler, Montrose, B. C., [great-grandson] of Mr. McGregor. In Early Land Surveyors of British Columbia (P.L.S. Group). Compiled and edited by John A. Whittaker. Victoria: Corporation of Land Surveyors of British Columbia, 1990.

“Capt. McGregor was Battalion’s Hero. Rev. William Barton, of Victoria, Pays Tribute to Courageous Officer—Gallantry of Canadians.” The Daily Colonist, July 11, 1915, p. 7.

Census of Canada, 1871. Hochelaga district, Côte des Neiges Sous-district, p. 38. Library and Archives Canada at

Census of Canada, 1881. Comté d’Hochelaga, Sous-district Côte des Neiges, p. 34. Library and Archives Canada at

Census of Canada, 1891. Victoria City, James Bay Ward, p. 9, p. 31; Metchosin District, p. 6. At Library and Archives Canada,

Census of Canada, 1901, Victoria District, Subdistrict C-1, p. 2; Subdistrict A-2, Esquimalt, p. 1. At Library and Archives Canada,

Census of Canada, 1911. Nanaimo, Subdistrict 7, p 18. At Library and Archives Canada,

Census of Scotland, 1881. Channelkirk, Berwickshire at

Census of Scotland, 1891. St George Ward, Edinburgh, p. 3.  Census 1891 685/01 103/00 003 at

Corley-Smith, Peter. Victoria Golf Club 1893-1993: One Hundred Treasured Years of Golf. Victoria Golf Club Centennial Committee, 1992. P. 47.

“First World War hero honored.” [Herrick McGregor room at Union Club.] Victoria Times-Colonist, July 14, 1995. p. 1.

“Foch and the Canadians. Says Counterattack at Ypres Was ‘Finest Act in the War.’ Saved Calais for the Allies.” The Canadian Daily Record, July 25, 1919, p. 3. By e-mail from Lt.-Col. (Ret’d) Richard D. B. Talbot C.D., P.J.M., April 24, 2012.

Greenfield, Nathan M. Baptism of Fire: the Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915. Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007.

Henderson’s BC Gazetteer and Directory, Victoria, 1897

“Heroic Behaviour of Capt J H McGregor. Passed Safely Through the Charge, but was Shot Next Morning by a German Sniper.” Daily Colonist, May 30, 1915, p. 1.

“Heroism of Victorian. Soldier Pays Tribute to Captain Herrick McGregor—Miss Milligan, of General Hospital, Writes.” The Daily Colonist, March 12, 1916, p. 10.

“James McGregor, LL.D. Death of a Scholar and Practical Educationist—A Highly Honorable Record.” Victoria Daily Colonist, July 22, 1896, p. 5.

Marriage of James McGregor Widower of the District of Montreal in the County of Hochelaga and Eleanor Ruiter Spinster of the District of Bedford & County of Mississquoi, August 19, 1880, Methodist Church of Cowansville. Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967, at

Marriage of James Herrick Mcgregor and Elizabeth F G Walker, January 2, 1896, Victoria. Reg. No. 1896-09-007819; B.C. Archives Microfilm No. B11368; GSU Microfilm No. 1983525.

McGill Faculty of Education. McGill Normal School: List of Graduates (1857-1907). Database at

McGregor, J. Herrick. The Wisdom of Waloopi. Privately published. [Dated 1913 on University of Toronto Library call number inside digital copy.]

“Mrs. Walker’s Death,” Victoria Daily ColonistJune 20, 1900, p. 3.

“Open to the Public. Victoria’s Free Library Now at the Disposal of the People—The Speeches Made Last Evening.” The Daily Colonist, May 11, 1889, p. 1.

Reksten, Terry. Rattenbury. Sono Nis Press, 1978. 2nd Edition, 1998, p. 90.

“Stikine to Teslin. One of the Two Bridges Has Already Been Completed—Work on the Trail.” Daily Colonist, May 21, 1898, p 8.

“The Protestant Orphanage. Mrs. Walker’s Resignation as Matron Accepted with Regret,” Victoria Daily Colonist, November 9, 1898, p. 8.

Urquhart, H. M., D.S.O., M.C., A.D.C. The History of the 16th Battalion (the Canadian Scottish) Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War, 1914-1919. Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1932.

Urquhart, Col. H. M. Personal Diary. August 23rd, 1914 to May 5th, 1915. Special Collections, University of Victoria. Hugh MacIntyre Urquhart fonds, box 22, file 21.

“Victoria Veteran’s Name Perpetuated in North.” By Margaret Williams. The Daily Colonist, November 27, 1966, p 16.

War diaries, 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion, December 1, 1914-August 31, 1916. War Diaries of the First World War at

Williams’ Official BC Directory, Victoria, 1894, 1895.

Zuehlke, Mark. Brave Battalion: the Remarkable Saga of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) in the First World War. Mississauga: John Wiley & Sons Canada, 2008.

18 thoughts on “The quixotic gallantry of Herrick McGregor”

  1. 1901 Census – with later Colonist clippings re: Herrick McGregor family members.
    Oak Bay Ave, front
    McGregor, James Herrick, m, h, m, 4 Mar 1871, 30, QC, CE, Civ. engineer.
    [1900DIR: of Gore, Burnett & Co. KIA in WWI.
    McGregor, Frances G., f, wife, m, 21 Dec 1872, 28, SCT, to Can: 1892, CE.
    McGregor, Mary R., f, dau, s, 27 Sep 1897, 3, BC, CE.
    McGregor, Francis Herrick, m, son, s, 27 Jun 1900, -, BC, CE.
    [ McGregor, 27 Jun 1900, Oak Bay. Died 29 Dec 1961, 60, Victoria.
    Malcolm, Margaret, f, dom, s, 16 Jan 1885, 16, SCT, to Can: 1891, Psb, General servant.

    [Married Oct 4, 1930 at San Francisco, CA, Cyril Hall, younger son of Martin Wheatley, of Esquimalt, to Betty Eleanor, younger daughter of late Captain J Herrick McGregor, of Mrs McGregor, Cadboro Bay, BC.

    Died June 12, 1935 at Victoria, BC, Martin Stanley Wheatley, born in Epping, Eng. Former head mechanical engineer of E&N Railway. Resident of Canada since 1887. Leaves widow, son, daughter. Two sons predeceased him: Talbot, died of wounds in Great War, and Cyril, who died in San Francisco.

    1. I would also be a great granddaughter of Herrick. I am Heather’s sister, Susan (McGregor) Laing and I live in Nova Scotia as well. Thank you for all the wonderful information..we have very little. The picture of Mary R McGregor as a baby made
      me run to the dining room and get a silver napkin ring that I’ve had for years with her name and birthdate on it. Now I have a connection..again, Thank you.

  2. You are most welcome. It’s for the descendants I write. Are you aware of or in touch with any others? I would like to think there’s more than one extant photo of Herrick …

  3. Herrick was my grandfather (I was born in 1940). Over the years my mother,Betty Fowler (McGregor) and my uncle, Andrew McGregor, spent much time teaching me about Herrick

  4. My daughter in law is in Ottawa on business. She came across your “Oak Bay Chronicles – The quixotic gallantry of Herrick McGregor, and sent it to me this evening.

    Herrick was my grandfather – my mother Betty was born in 1909 and I was born in 1940.

    Much of the data in your article/book is new to me – for which I am grateful. Some is a matter of record and some is a matter of family “history”.

    It is of interest that my son’s “biography” of his great grandfather, circa 1990 is mentioned in your references.

    My visit to St. Julien, Ypres, Kitcheners Wood and the Menen Gate many years ago sure brought home to me the reality of the battle in which Grandfather was killed.

    I would, however, like to thank you so very much for publishing the “clean and accurate” historical record of Herrick’s contributions to Victoria, B.C. and Canada.

    Greg Fowler

  5. I very fine piece of research and writing, Peter.
    As you probably know, but don’t report here, J. Herrick McGregor was the surveyor of record for the Uplands subdivision, and his team produced several plans in 1907 for Olmsted Brothers, the designers of Uplands. The one on topography shows contour lines, areas of different land uses, the location of all trees, etc. JHMc also laid out south Oak Bay’s Golf Links Estates in 1909 for Jones, Oliver et al. He is also responsible for adding the crescents to Prince George’s pre-WWI landscape. In short, Herrick McGregor has left his imprint on so many areas of British Columbia’s landscape, including Oak Bay. Good luck with your Chronicle project.

  6. I am Herrick’s granddaughter, the eldest child of his youngest son, Andrew Rutherford McGregor. Because my father was only two when his father was killed in battle, we really knew little about Herrick and his family. At the age of 20, I travelled from Victoria, where the McGregors lived, to Prince George, to see the river that was named after him. Somehow, I never got around to going back. That was 55 years ago. Since then, I have compiled a family tree, found relations I was unaware of, and amassed loads of info. Peter, I sincerely thank you. You have filled in the blanks; fleshed out the history. I truly hope I will hear from you and also, the two ladies from Nova Scotia.

    Again, my thanks.

  7. Hi. I am Bruce McGregor and Herrick was my grandfather. My parents told my brother Malcolm and I many stories about my grandfather and I am certainly very proud of him and what he accomplished in his life. The two women who made comments above Heather and Susan are two of our daughters. (my wife Beverly) and I. This is a great article and i am very happy to have it! Thanks Peter for taking the time to write it. It’s nice to be a McGregor!! My parents were Francis and Dorothy McGregor. I have now lived in Nova Scotia for 53 years with my wife Bev and our three daughters Susan, Patricia and Heather, 5 grandchildren and a great grandchild expected in June. Thanks.

    1. Francis Herrick McGregor’s first wife, Marjorie Dallen (on the marriage registration she says her last name is Dallen De Laine which is incorrect). Her mother was my late husband’s father’s oldest sister, Matilda Esther (nee Nex) Dallen. When Francis ‘Frank’ married Dorothy Hunt in 1935 he was a widower. I have been trying to find Marjorie’s death, which would have occurred between April 1922 when she and Francis married, and 1935 when Frank, a widower, married Dorothy. Do you have any information on Marjorie? I would be most grateful. Margaret Nex

      1. Margaret, did you ever find any info. In doing our family research, I haven’t found any yet. (I am a great-granddaughter of Frank & Dorothy).

  8. My Grandfather was lost at the 2nd Ypres on 16 April. He was 20 years old and served as a private in the Durham Light Infantry. His company, the 6th, had arrived in France only 6 days earlier. His body and the circumstances of his death have never been discovered. Reading this very detailed account of that battle has been very enlightening and it is in some ways comforting to know he died in such valiant company.

  9. Thorough and entertaining, Peter! It is a fortunate thing that much of Herrick’s story comes from his own diaries. Without them, it would be strictly a history from official sources. You have done well in putting this all together, to the benefit of Herrick’s many descendants who have thanked you, above.

  10. A fascinating and scholarly piece of work. I have further detail for James Walker and Mary Rutherford the parents of Frances Walker should it be of interest.

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