The Biggs' Boys

By Ken Stofer

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved

Biography of Captain Henry Seymour-Biggs

Captain, Boer War, Battle of Jutland, World War I, Royal Navy - World War II, Merchant Marine

    Born in Bombay, India, Harry Biggs attended St. Mary's College there in 1888. At age 15 he ran away to sea and joined the cadet training ship Conway, maintained by ship-owners of the merchant navy in England. Later he took his apprenticeship on the sailing ship Bankhall. A sailor was paid one shilling, eight-pence a day then, and was responsible for loading and unloading all cargo by hand.

    The captain of the Bankhall wrote to Harry Biggs' mother from Valparaiso on 29th November, 1895: "Dear Mrs. Biggs: I'm glad to inform you that Harry is turning out very well...and gets on very well with the other boys. he is a very willing obedient boy, not a lazy bone in him and likely to make a good sailor."

    Harry Biggs sailed nine times around the Horn and on the Bankhall, eventually becoming her second mate. He obtained his Extra Master's Square-rigged Certificate in 1908, entitling him to command square-rigged sailing ships or steamers. Later he transferred to steamships and became third officer of the Lake Manitoba, the largest ship of the Beaver Line, which was bought out by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

    During the Boer War, at the Battle of Majuba Hill, midshipman Seymour-Biggs, with sailors and a gunnery officer, rolled some guns up a strategic slope. A burst of gunfire killed the gunnery officer before they could get set up. As there was now no commissioned officer to order a return of fire, they had to withdraw.

    On another occasion, a sailor caught his arm in a winch. There wasn't a medical officer present, so Biggs had to cauterise the wound with boiling tar.

    In World War 1 he was commissioned to H.M.S. Dwarf, and sent to the Cameroons. While ashore he took a young parrot out of a tree and named it Polly. It remained his close companion throughout his career and much of his retired life; so close, that during the Battle of Jutland in 1916, he kept it inside his jacket. It was a great old bird with a spicy vocabulary, as one might imagine.

    After missions off the coast of Africa, Biggs returned to the United Kingdom and was in charge of mine-sweepers off the coast of Ireland. He was later an intelligence officer in the Shetland Islands, until the end of the war.

    Captain Seymour-Biggs retired from the Royal Navy to Canada in 1923 to a house and garden in Victoria, B.C. He enjoyed his leisure for many years. One day in 1937 his furnace required repairs and he met the young man who wanted to join the RAF; Andy Southall. The meeting not only changed their lives, but the lives of hundreds of other young men.

    When Canada's war machine eventually got rolling, entry into the R.C.A.F. became somewhat easier and suddenly one day Captain Henry Seymour-Biggs, R.N. (retired), had no need for his Victoria office.

    You might expect that this man who had served in the Boer War and the Battle of Jutland, would now relax with a sense of accomplishment, to his garden in Victoria and wait for letters from his R.A.F. boys serving in many parts of the world - not so.

    At age 65, this wiry little man went to Montreal, dyed his gray hair a youthful dark brown and enlisted in the merchant navy. He survived the sinking of two of his ships and after the war retired once again to home and garden in Victoria. He moved to Kamloops, B.C. where he died in 1952.

    Journalist Frank Kelley wrote in the Victoria Daily Colonist in the early 1950's: "Captain Seymour-Biggs richly deserved some official recognition for the immense amount of work and time, to say nothing of personal expense, he put into a scheme (helping young lads enlist in the R.A.F.) that was to turn out so advantageously for the Mother country and the Dominion. In my humble opinion he was entitled to an MBE..."

----- Ken H. Stofer




The Scene

Captain Henry Seymour-Biggs

Robert Frank Hawes, MD

Dale Stephens, DFC

More to Come

Copyright 2001 Ken Stofer, All Rights Reserved


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