Field­ing knew Huggan brav­ery war­ranted a Vic­to­ria Cross

The Rugby Paper - - Feature -

RUGBY fa­mously honours four Vic­to­ria Cross win­ners for con­spic­u­ous brav­ery among its for­mer in­ter­na­tion­als – Eng­land’s Arthur Har­ri­son and the Ir­ish trio of Tom Crean, Fred­er­ick Har­vey and Robert John­ston – but many have felt there should have been a cou­ple more.

Blair Mayne al­ways gets a men­tion in that re­spect and the other Vic­to­ria Cross that ‘got away’ is Lieu­tenant James Laid­law Huggan, a fast and clever wing with Lon­don Scot­tish and one of those pic­tured in the 1914 team group.

Huggan, from Jed­burgh, was a medic and sur­geon who grad­u­ated from Ed­in­burgh Uni­ver­sity where he also cap­tained the rugby team and after join­ing the Army and mov­ing to Lon­don he soon made his mark.

He im­pressed play­ing for the Army against the Navy and was a star turn for the im­mensely strong Lon­don Scot­tish side which led to his try scor­ing de­but against Eng­land in 1914, the fi­nal game be­fore the Word War and a match which saw 11 of those in­volved per­ish in hos­til­i­ties.

As a sur­geon, he was gazetted to the RAMC in 1912 and was about to leave for In­dia in 1914 when he was di­verted to France on Au­gust 13 with the 3rd Bat­tal­ion Cold­stream Guards and pitched head­long into the first bloody ac­tions of the Great War. He was dead just a month later, the sec­ond rugby in­ter­na­tional to be killed dur­ing the war, just a cou­ple of days after his Lon­don Scot­tish col­league Ron­nie Sim­son.

Huggan died on Septem­ber 16, just hours after he had demon­strated con­spic­u­ous brav­ery by play­ing a huge role in sav­ing the lives of 60 wounded Ger­man of­fi­cers who he had found in what ap­peared to be an aban­doned field hospi­tal in a barn. In the chaos of War, as the war­ring armies ad­vanced and re­treated, the Ger­mans seemed unaware that the out­build­ing housed their own wounded and were bom­bard­ing it with shells and mor­tars.

Dis­re­gard­ing his own per­sonal safety and faith­ful to his Hip­po­cratic oath, Huggan hur­riedly or­gan­ised the evac­u­a­tion of the barn as its burn­ing tim­bers and roof fell to the ground. Re­peat­edly, the young Scot sprinted in and out of the barn fer­ry­ing the wounded Ger­man sol­diers to rel­a­tive safety and, re­mark­ably, he and his small med­i­cal team saved the lives of all 60 Ger­mans.

Trag­i­cally, Huggan was then killed when a shell ex­ploded nearby as they re­cu­per­ated in a nearby quarry where he was op­er­at­ing on one of the Ger­man of­fi­cers.

Huggan’s com­mand­ing of­fi­cer Lieu­tenant Colonel G Field­ing has no hes­i­ta­tion in im­me­di­ately rec­om­mend­ing his young medic for the VC but was promptly told that Huggan did not qual­ify be­cause his hero­ism did not ac­tu­ally in­volve en­gag­ing the en­emy and that he had saved the lives of Ger­man sol­diers, not Bri­tish or French.

It seemed an in­ad­e­quate ex­pla­na­tion then and still does. Field­ing wrote to Huggan’s brother soon after. His use of the word “con­spic­u­ous” on two oc­ca­sions is very telling, leav­ing us in no doubt as to his train of thought with re­gards to a pos­si­ble VC.

“If ever I met a brave man, he was. At Lan­drecies, when un­der heavy fire for some hours dur­ing the night, he re­mained up in the front all night, helping and dress­ing the wounded as coolly as if he was in a hospi­tal in time of peace. At Villers-Cot­terets he was con­spic­u­ous for his brav­ery. This was a rear­guard ac­tion at the line.. dress­ing the wounded and helping them back.

“At the Aisne he was most con­spic­u­ous every­where. On the day on which he was killed, he again did a very brave ac­tion. There were in a barn about 60 wounded Ger­mans, they were all cases that could not move with­out help. The Ger­mans shelled this barn and set it on fire.

“Your brother, in spite of shot and shell rein­ing about him, called for vol­un­teers to help him save these wounded men from the burn­ing build­ing and I am glad to say that it was greatly in con­se­quence of his brav­ery that they were all saved.

“After he had run this great dan­ger suc­cess­fully, he moved many of the men to a quarry in the rear when a big shell came into it and killed him and many oth­ers.”

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