The Biographer

Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Urquhart, D.S.O.
43rd (Cameron Highlanders of Canada) BattalionUrquhart

There remains but to refer lightly to the characteristics typical of the Canadian soldier in that crisis which probed into the innermost recesses of character. This is not to claim that the Canadian possessed merits not shared by his comrades in arms everywhere; the soldierly virtues is the birthright of the true fighting man in all lands. But the soldiers of the Dominion exhibited those instincts in their own way. They were hidden under an exterior of independence, which sometimes misled the casual observer as to the soldierly spirit, potent in its strength, lying beneath this mask.

(Urquhart, History of the 16th Battalion CEF, 1932, 332)

A native of Scotland, Hugh MacIntyre Urquhart was born on 13 August 1880 and immigrated to Canada in 1909. He originally enlisted with the 16th Battalion at Valcartier in August 1914. In recognition for his courage in the field, he was awarded the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order. In Canadian military historiography, he is best known as the author of Arthur Currie: The Biography of a Great Canadian (1950).

Urquhart later served as aide to General Julian Byng and assumed temporary, command of the 43rd Battalion on 23 December 1917. He received a D.S.O. Bar for displaying “leadership and skillful handling of the highest order, and outmaneuvered the enemy. On subsequent occasions he made daring personal reconnaissances which resulted in complete defeat of the enemy. On the last enterprise he was severely wounded.”

Urquhart wrote the official regimental history of the 16th Battalion in 1932. Shortly after Arthur Currie’s death in 1933, former staff officers encouraged Urquhart to write the biography of the late corps commander. It took sixteen years of research and writing before the first official biography of General Currie was published in 1950, shortly after Urquhart’s death.

In addition to recounting the life and wartime leadership of Currie, the book served to rebut the petty political smears which at one time had portrayed a vainglorious general who wasted soldiers lives for his own ambitions. As the subtitle of the book suggested, there was no doubt where the author stood on the question of Currie’s reputation. As one reviewer remarked:

Col. Urquhart, and the unnamed “sponsors” of the biography who must have financed the work, to a large extent, naturally were convinced of the greatness of Currie as a soldier and man … It does not conceal the fact that Currie was not “popular” with the great majority of the rank and file of those who served under him. But it zealously searches out and present all the evidence to prove that the men did Currie an injustice.

In his review of Urquhart’s work, First World War veteran and former director of military intelligence, Colonel W.W. Murray, stated:

He has produced an outstanding work … When one has said that, however, one must hasten to add that, in a way, it is an unhappy book. The biographer knew long before he assumed his task that that would be so; but he carried out the assignment with the painstaking thoroughness which was always one of his distinguishing characteristics.

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