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Duggan, Bernard Oscar Charles (1887–1963)

by Anne Beggs Sunter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Bernard Oscar Charles Duggan (1887-1963), soldier and farmer, was born on 12 January 1887 at Sutherlands Plains, near St Arnaud, Victoria, son of John Duggan, farmer, and his wife Sarah Frances, née Olarenshaw, both native-born. He was educated at the Sutherland and Swanwater state schools and the St Arnaud School of Mines, then became a farmer. Developing an early interest in military affairs, he joined the Victorian Rangers (militia) as a private in 1907; he was commissioned second lieutenant in 1910 and promoted lieutenant three years later. By 1914 he was in charge of home defence training in the St Arnaud district; he was also a prominent sportsman, excelling at football and tennis, and a competent violinist, much in demand at social gatherings.

In November 1914 Duggan was assigned to the Broadmeadows officers' school and for a short time served as second-in-command of the infantry garrison at Queenscliff. In April 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant in the 21st Battalion. Promoted captain on 1 May, he sailed from Melbourne a week later as officer commanding 'D' Company and, after a period of training in Egypt, reached Gallipoli on 7 September. He commanded parts of the defences at Courtney's Post and Lone Pine and, during the evacuation, was in the rear party. An elaborate system of self-firing rifles had been devised along the trenches to prevent the Turks from suspecting an allied withdrawal and it was Duggan who in his area, late on 19 December, discovered that the fuses were wet with dew and in danger of not firing. He experimented with fuses of tow, which worked well, and the ghostly rifles continued to fire at random intervals until morning. He was one of the last to leave Anzac Cove.

Duggan's battalion was rested and reorganized in Egypt and in March 1916 he was promoted major and sent to France. He fought first on the Somme, at Pozières and Mouquet Farm, serving as second-in-command. From September 1916 to January 1917 he was in the Ypres, Flers and Gueudecourt sectors and several times was acting commander. On 31 January he was transferred to the 23rd Battalion as commanding officer but relinquished this appointment on 27 February when he was evacuated with trench fever. Promoted temporary lieutenant-colonel in June, he rejoined the 21st Battalion as commanding officer and served in the 3rd battle of Ypres late that year and at Warneton and Ploegsteert early in 1918. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in the 1918 New Year honours. From then until the Armistice he commanded the 21st in all its operations, except at Hamel when he was again evacuated with trench fever, serving in the capture of Ville-sur-Ancre, Frise, Mont St Quentin and Montbrehain. He won a Bar to his D.S.O. for exemplary zeal and energy at Montbrehain on 5 October; he and his shrunken battalion were then withdrawn from the line. In addition to his D.S.O. and Bar he was mentioned in dispatches three times during the war.

Bernie Duggan returned to Australia on 10 May 1919, exactly four years after his departure. He received a rousing public welcome at St Arnaud where he was described by the men of his battalion as well liked and highly respected, an officer who had 'won his laurels through stepping from shell hole to shell hole, and not in the security of a dug out'. On 17 November 1920 he married Annie Jackson, an army nurse, at St Mary's Catholic Church, East St Kilda; they had no children. He was placed on the reserve of officers in 1921 and returned to the family farm at Sutherland. In World War II he acted as lieutenant-colonel in charge of the 2nd/23rd Training Battalion and as commander at the Ballarat training camp. In retirement he lived at Geelong and Ballarat where, survived by his wife, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 27 December 1963. He was buried in the Catholic section of St Arnaud cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • London Gazette, 28 Dec 1917, 1 Jan, 31 Dec 1918, 2 Apr, 11 July 1919
  • St Arnaud Mercury, 5 Jan 1918, 24, 28 May, 4 June 1919, 28 Dec 1963
  • Duggan file, war records section (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Anne Beggs Sunter, 'Duggan, Bernard Oscar Charles (1887–1963)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/duggan-bernard-oscar-charles-6031/text10309, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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