b. 07/11/1884 Bo’ness, Scotland. d. 01/05/1982 Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Henry Mateus “Harcus” Strachan (1884-1982) was born in Bo’ness, Scotland on 7th November 1884, and attended the Royal High School, Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh before emigrating to Canada in 1905. He homesteaded a farm in the Chauvin district, near Wainwright, Alberta. Prior to being awarded the VC, Harcus Strachan was initiated into freemasonry in his birthplace, at the Douglas Lodge 409 Bo’ness, on 22nd January 1917.
Strachan joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force in July 1915, and following arrival on the Western Front, he was part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. He was promoted to Lieutenant in the Fort Garry Horse, which was part of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade. It has become traditional for the Garrys to hold a Regimental dinner every year on the anniversary of Strachan’s unlikely cavalry exploit.
His VC action took place during the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. It occurred on 20th November 1917 at Masnières, France, after Lieutenant Strachan took command of the mounted squadron of Garrys when his commanding officer, ‘B’ Squadron leader Captain Campbell, was killed by machine gun fire.
Believing that 29th Division with tanks already held the village of Masnieres, Brig. Gen. Nelson of 88th Brigade, ordered the Fort Garry Horse to advance across the St Quentin Canal. On approaching the river bridge in front of Masnieres, the Garrys could see that the town was still held by the enemy and that the bridge across the St Quentin Canal was broken. The Garrys then found the Hampshire Regiment were crossing, in single file, over the lock gates. Tearing up a wooden pier, they built a bridge suitable for horses to cross. By 4pm ‘B’ Squadron set out through a gap in the enemy wire, and approached the German front line at a gallop. B Squadron leader Capt. Campbell was killed, and Strachan took command, leading ‘B’ Squadron at the gallop across the countryside toward Rumilly.
Due to the state of the crossing at Masnieres and the limited available daylight Major-Gen W. H. Greenly commanding 2nd Cavalry Division, ordered any large-scale cavalry action to halt and ordered the recall of the units that had crossed the Canal. Neither Lt. Col. RW Patterson, commanding the Fort Garry Horse nor mounted orderlies, could find ‘B’ Squadron who were south-east of Rumilly to give them the rcall order.
B Squadron led by Strachan, cut its way through a line of infantry in a heavily camouflaged road and found a four-gunned German field battery in front of them. They charged, and rode down or sabred the gunners. German infantry positioned beyond the guns fired on them them and again Strachan led a charge, They broke the infantry but were under fire, taking more casualties as they rode towards Rumilly. Now with less than fifty men and only five unwounded horses, they sheltered in a sunken road 1,200 yards east of the town. Strachan realised there was to be no support, so he had the horses cut loose and he led the unit in a withdrawal towards the Canal. During this fighting withdrawal, B Squadron scatered four bodies of German troops.
In short, Lieutenant Strachan led the squadron through the enemy line of machine-gun posts and then, with the surviving men, led the charge on the German battery, killing seven of the gunners with his sword. When all the gunners were killed and the battery silenced, he rallied his men and fought his way back at night on foot through the enemy’s lines, bringing all unwounded men safely in, together with 15 prisoners.
Strachan, having been promoted to captain, received his VC from King George V on January 16, 1918. After the war, he returned to his farm in the Chauvin district, Alberta. He ran as a Liberal candidate in the 1921 Alberta provincial election, in the Wainwright constituency, but was not elected, a victim of the Farmers’ sweep. He then decided to go into banking. By 1930, he had moved to Calgary and during the 1930s married Betsy Stirling and they had a daughter, Jean.
Strachan later commanded the 1st Battalion, Edmonton Fusiliers during the Second World War. After the war he retired and moved to Vancouver. Strachan eventually attained the rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1967 he voiced his disdain for the U.S. proponents of the U.S.-Vietnam War.
Strachan died on 1st May 1982, at the age of 97 years and 175 days, at the time, the record longest-lived recipient of the Victoria Cross. Strachan’s ashes were scattered near the Rose Garden Columbarium at Boal Chapel Memorial Gardens in North Vancouver, BC on 5th May 1982.
In September 2013 a lake in Manitoba was named “Harcus Strachan Lake” to commemorate his award of the Victoria Cross. Strachan’s medals were held in private ownership until December 2017, when they were acquired by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: BOAL CHAPEL, NORTH VANCOUVER, CANADA. (ASHES SCATTERED)
Bill Mullen – Image of the Strachan VC Headstone in Boal Chapel, North Vancouver.
Canadian War Museum – Image of the Strachan VC MC Medal Group.