Murdock Dan MacKeigan was born in Coxheath, near Sydney, NS, on June 26, 1875. He was the oldest of four boys born to John and Sarah MacKeigan. Both his parents were born in Scotland and his father was a farmer.
Murdock’s military career began when he was a young man. In 1898 he became a provisional 2nd lieutenant in the 94th Victoria Regiment “Argyll Highlanders”. The 94th was a local Cape Breton highland militia unit with headquarters in Baddeck. Murdock participated in annual summer camps with the regiment in Cape Breton and in Aldershot, NS. Over the years, he was continuously promoted and by 1910 he held the rank of captain.
On September 3, 1908, Murdock married Ruby Jane Johnston from Port Morien, near Glace Bay, the daughter of a mine manager. The marriage took place in Glace Bay. Murdock was 33 years old and Ruby was 23. The couple resided in Leitches Creek, Cape Breton County and would eventually have a daughter and twin sons.
When war was declared in the summer of 1914, the 94th Regiment was immediately mobilized for service. Like most other prewar Canadian militia infantry units, the 94th was not destined to be a part of the new Canadian Expeditionary Force, but was to be used for home defence. The 94th was to spend the war mainly on Cape Breton Island on garrison duty, guarding installations in the industrial areas and recruiting and training volunteers for the newly raised battalions of the overseas force.
During the first couple years of the war, Murdock was the commanding officer of the 94th Regiment’s “E” Company. He and his men were assigned to Louisbourg, where they guarded the Marconi wireless installation located there.
In 1916, Murdock attempted to enlist in the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders). The 185th was an overseas battalion raised in the abandoned mining town of Broughton, near Sydney. Unfortunately, he failed to pass the medical exam because he couldn’t wear a boot, a result of an operation on his foot. Murdock persisted in his attempt to join the overseas force. In September and November of 1916, two military medical boards reviewed his case and still found him medically unfit for overseas duty but fit for home duty, again due to his foot problem. By this time, the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders) had departed for England.
In the spring of 1917, Murdock finally succeeded in joining the overseas force. Another medical board had deemed him fit for overseas duty. On May 4, in Truro, NS, he enlisted in the Nova Scotia Forestry Depot, a unit of the Canadian Forestry Corps. He was immediately commissioned with the rank of captain. At the time, Murdock was 41 years old. His attestation paper states his occupation as telegrapher and his present address as Union Street in Sydney.
Only a month after enlisting, Murdock departed Halifax with his unit and sailed for England on the troop transport Justicia. Upon arrival in England, Murdock was stationed at the Canadian Forestry Corps Base Depot located in Sunningdale, near London. On September 21, 1917, Murdock was given command of No. 76 Company of the Canadian Forestry Corps. They immediately crossed the English Channel and landed at La Harve, France, on September 23rd. On September 29th, Murdock and his men, along with their horses, wagons, field kitchens, water carts, and all of their supplies, were loaded on a train and moved to the front in France.
The Canadian Forestry Corps was composed of dozens of companies of men that were stationed in Canada, the United Kingdom and France. Many companies weren’t anywhere near the front and engaged in forestry operations to supply lumber to the fighting units for dugouts, fortifications, trenches, etc., while others constructed aerodromes in England and France. There were some companies though, that were utilized as labour units, and were stationed either at or just behind the front line. In Murdock’s case, his 76th Company was attached to the French Army and was engaged as a labour company. They did construction work, moved building supplies to the front, laid telegraph wires, constructed railways to bring up supplies, helped construct gun emplacements and repaired trenches. Much of their work was within range of enemy guns and they regularly suffered through artillery barrages and bombing from enemy planes. For the remainder of the war, Murdock led the 76th Company behind the French lines on the Aisne, Marne and Verdun Fronts. The French government would later award him a Croix de Guerre, a medal created to recognize French and allied soldiers who were cited for valorous service in World War One.
After the end of hostilities, Murdock was posted back to Sunningdale in England. In April, 1919 he came down with the Spanish Influenza which was ravaging the world at the time, and spent 15 days in a hospital. He was also having problems with tremors in one hand, a neurological disorder probably attributable to his experiences at the front. In May of 1919, Murdock left England on the S.S. Regina and landed back in Halifax on May 28th. Upon disembarkation, he was hospitalized for a short time for treatment of his hand before he was released to finally return home. He was demobilized on July 17, 1919 with the rank of major.
During his time in Europe, Murdock kept a detailed daily journal, filled with day to day happenings, events and news. It is an amazing record of his military service. Contained in the journal are numerous newspaper clippings, receipts and brochures related to his service and to places he visited while he was in England and on the Continent.
After returning home to Cape Breton, Murdock settled back into civilian life with Ruby and his children. He worked as a CNR station agent in various locations including Leitches Creek and Iona. Murdock soon resumed militia duties with his old unit, the 94th Victoria Regiment “Argyll Highlanders”. In 1920, when the 94th was reformed and became the Cape Breton Highlanders, Murdock served with the new unit. With the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Murdock became the commanding officer of the Cape Breton Highlanders from 1921 to 1927. With the rank of colonel, he later served as commanding officer of the 18th Infantry Brigade.
In 1932, Murdock and Ruby moved to Pictou, NS. Murdock gave his time freely to many community groups including his church, the church choir, the Nova Scotia Freemasons, the legion, a curling club and the Pictou Yacht Club. He enjoyed sailing when not involved with community activities. In his sloop “Gull” he won races in Shediac, Charlottetown and Pictou.
Murdock MacKeigan passed away on April 13, 1939 at the age of 63. His distinguished military career in both the militia and war service spanned almost forty years. His dedication to military service and his community involvement earned the respect of all who knew him. Murdock was laid to rest in Haliburton Cemetery in Pictou. His wife Ruby died in 1980 and was laid to rest at his side.
For additional information on Murdock MacKeigan's military service, refer to the following online source:
Thanks to Paul MacKeigan of Toronto, Murdock's grandson, for allowing me to borrow and scan family photos, documents and newspaper clippings, and for allowing me to post them on this web page. Paul MacKeigan also provided written infornation on his grandfather and allowed me to borrow and study Murdock's detailed wartime journal which helped in writing the above short biography. Thanks also to Bruce MacDonald of Antigonish, NS, for researching and providing early family census information on Murdock's immediate family.