Richmond, Melbourne on Christmas Eve 1875, Duigan was educated at Queen’s
College, St. Kilda and from 1895 at Melbourne University, graduating in law.
During his youth he was a noted sportsman, playing eight games at
half-forward for the St. Kilda Football Club (1897-98) while in 1904 he was
champion long-jumper of Australasia; his son Dennis Duigan represented
Australia in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games. On 5 June 1897 he gained a
commission in the Citizen Forces as lieutenant with the 1st Battalion
(Militia Infantry Brigade), and later with the 5th Australian Infantry
Regiment (5 A.I.R) by the commencement of the Great War held the rank of
major. A number of contemporary records note that Duigan fought in the
Gallipoli campaign where he was wounded, however the available information
indicates he enlisted on 7 October 1915 as second-in-command of the newly
formed 29th Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel J. W. B. Field. Joining the
unit in Egypt in February 1916, in mid-May he transferred to the 15th
Brigade to command the 60th Battalion (from 8 June 1916) having been
vigorously sought by Brigadier-General ‘Pompey’ Elliott (Burwood
Cemetery), a fellow officer in the militia and one of Elliott’s closest
friends. Elliott’s success as one of the most inspiring and tactically
competent of the Australian commanders of the war was due to his ability to
appoint commanders for his battalions “that could provide the type of
vigorous leadership and insistence on discipline”; Duigan would describe
‘Pompey’ as “absolutely the best General in the Australian Army”. Indeed,
C. E. W. Bean wrote of Pompey: “with exuberant vitality he overworked them,
strafed them, punished them, and yet they would do anything he asked of
them”. But it was Major Geoff McCrae a company commander under Elliott
whilst in charge of the 7th Battalion (“charming, amiable, and upright”) who
oversaw the 60th’s near annihilation during the bloody battle at Fromelles
on 19-20 July. In the Official History of the War, Bean said “of the 60th
Battalion, which had gone into the fight with 887 officers and men, only one
officer and 106 answered the call”. Thus in its first baptism of fire, the
old 60th lost more casualties than any of the six Australian battalions that
took part. As for Geoff McCrae, sadly he was one of the unlucky ones;
rightly so, Fromelles was to be the most bitter experience for the
Australians in the war, galvanising strong anti-British sentiment towards
the high command. Promoted lieutenant-colonel on 27 July 1916, Duigan was
left to rebuild the shattered unit through the bitter winter of 1916-17, but
his health eventually deteriorated and he relinquished command on 2 February
1917 to be replaced by Norman Marshall (“energetic and fearless, dashing and
inspiring”). He was subsequently recommended to be mentioned in despatches
for preventing “any deterioration however slight being manifested in the
high state of moral and discipline” of the battalion (AWM28 1/255P2 page
27). Battling pneumonia, bronchitis, rheumatism and kidney trouble, Elliott
paid Duigan a visit while recuperating at Harrow, England and noted that was
“just skin and bone”; he returned to Australia in May where he was to later
preside over gatherings of members and friends of the 15th Brigade. Duigan’s
health never fully recovered, yet he continued his professional career in
law with the firm “Duigan & Hall” and also to the War Service Homes
Commission “during a difficult period of administration”. Residing at 240
Dandenong Road, East St. Kilda, for some time he was on the Victorian
Football League tribunal dishing out justice just prior to his death at the
Caulfield Repatriation Hospital on 6 August 1931 at the age of 55.
Monumental Headstone (enlarge
The Argus 7 August 1931.
The Age 7 August 1931.
McMullin, R., “Pompey Elliott” (2002).
Bean, C., “The Official History of Australia
in the War 1914-18”.
Austin, R., “Black and Gold. The
History of the 29th Battalion, 1915-1918” (1997).
Corfield, R., “Hold Hard, Cobbers” (1992).
Holmesby, G & Main, J., “The Encyclopedia of
AFL Footballers” (1998).
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official
History 1914-18”, AWM140.
Notes supplied by Ron Austin (1998).
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