CAPTAIN H. M. J. McCANCE
An appreciation by the Colonel of the Regiment
will have received the news of the death of Captain H. M. J. McCance with
the deepest regret. In him goes one who for many years gave his all
for the Regiment, and his passing will leave a blank most difficult to
As an Army historian he
was appealed to by many units who recognized his deep and accurate
historical knowledge, to which his share in compiling the "Regimental
Records of the Royal Scots" bears abundant testimony.
He was the editor of
THE THISTLE from March, 1904, to February, 1905. For the last ten
years he was a regular contributor to our Regimental Journal and always
contrived to produce some notes of interest in each issue.
He further served on
the Regimental Colours and Uniform Committee at the Royal United Service
One of his greatest
interests lay in showing newly-joined officers his unique museum at his
attractive little home in Seabrook, Hythe.
He was a charming
character, and I am confident that his old friends who, from time to time,
visited him at his home will long remember his cheery welcome and generous
The fortitude and
courage he showed during his long and terrible illness were the admiration
of all who knew what he must be suffering.
To his family the
Regiment would like to express its deep gratitude for his unceasing toil
together with its deep and abiding sympathy in their terrible loss.
G. C. Loch.
Colonel C. C. Daniel writes:-
thus a very prominent landmark has been removed. Captain McCance,
late 1st Battalion The Royal Scots, answered his last Officer's Roll Call
in the closing days of August at his residence, 86, Seabrook Road, Hythe,
Kent at the age of seventy.
He was gazetted to the 1st Battalion in 1888, but
only remained with the Regiment for six years, resigning his commission at
Chatham in 1894.
Shortly afterwards he married Jean, the younger
daughter of Dr. Joseph Bell, of Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, a man
remarkable for his extraordinary intuition and power of deduction.
Under his guidance there was a young student, by name Conan Doyle, who,
coming under the powerful influence of Dr. Bell, acquired the inspiration
or, as we call it today, had a brain wave, and created that well-known
character, Sherlock Holmes, whose facility to deduct the motives of every
crime and laying bare every clue have interested the whole world.
After Captain McCances' marriage he made his home
at Mauricewood, Milton Bridge, and in later years moved to Canterbury, the
name of his house being Menteith, and there he resided until some years
after the Great War. At Canterbury his wife died; then he moved to
the new home he had made and where he has just died.
Shortly afterwards he married a second time, Miss
Biddy Bower. She only lived a few years, dying in a nursing home in
All this tended to leave him a very desolate and
pathetic figure, and so the natural consequence was that he clung all the
more closely to his old friends for companionship and so ward off the
loneliness of his days. His decision to live in this locality can be
attributed to his desire to be near those whom he knew so well - for
instance, Major Stisted, an old Royal Scot, who married the elder daughter
of Dr. Joseph Bell, now living at Egerton, only a short distance from
Ashford, then Lieutenant-Colonel Dyson (always known as "Poor
Pa" in the Regiment) living at Dover, and then myself. Of we
three old Royal Scots I have known Captain McCance by far the longest.
Now this is but a mere sketch, and I will pass on
to what I personally and the more intimately know about him. To
start with, I will drop the "Captain McCance" and write just as
I have always known him, and that is "McPants" or
I have known him for forty-nine years, and this
is how I first met him. I was walking over the veldt by our camp at
Entonganeni, a large plateau just south of the famous Ulundi Plain in
Zululand, when I noticed a small figure climb down from the leading
buck-wagon of a convoy that had just then arrived at the camp; he was
wearing the most enormous hat I had ever seen in the whole of South
Africa, simply erring as so many newcomers to Africa do, believing that
they will have to live under a fierce tropical sun and should, therefore,
take first precautions to protect the head, whereas all
"up-country" colonials wear but the slightest sort of felt hat,
knowing the mistake of wearing heavy headgear for the reason that such
merely makes the head hot, whereas one strives to keep it cool.
I can imagine that Pants either hunted all round
Durban for this gigantic hat or else brought it out from home.
Moreover, the brim was wound round with yards of a sort of muslin puggree.
I have some faint recollections that we
subalterns took the matter very gravely, and that this offending hat, very
much like what one sees on the film and generally worn by some cow-boy or
by some wild Mexican bandit, was with all ceremonial rites committed to a
decent burial and placed on a funeral pyre. Anyhow, Pants missed his
huge hat, and so could never wear it again.
He came down to Pietermaritzburg in 1890 with the
Regiment after the Zulu rebellion had been crushed before he joined, and
when Dinizulu and his uncle, N'Dabuko, had been side-tracked and skidded
into the ditch and kissed themselves good-bye. When in Natal, Pants
played a little cricket, and though his batting average was not stirring,
he had the merit of always playing with a straight bat.
The end of 1890 he was invalided home, rejoining
the 1st Battalion when they arrived at York in 1891. Thence he went
on to Chatham, and there he left us, as I have previously mentioned.
It is not easy to write up an obituary notice where one has no data to
refer to such as service records, notes, letters etc., so I have to trust
wholly to my recollections of many years back and to my friendship of the
When Pants left us he started on his wonderful
research work, extending over years, in compiling the present splendid
history of the Royal Scots, which was published in 1915 and, not finding
this sufficient satisfaction for his keenness, he commenced his most
interesting museum, hunting the country over to build up his collection of
badges, plates, uniform, etc., all forming part of the equipment of the
Royal Scots two centuries ago and continuing up to the present date.
He was in constant touch with dealers all over
the country, and whenever any of them came across any old print associated
with the 1st Regiment of Foot they always communicated with him. He
was, however, very alive to the discrepancy in dress of that particular
period, and did not hesitate to reject anything submitted for his
acceptance that was not strictly pukka. Last year I unearthed in a
shop in Inverness an eighteenth century painting of a Royal Scots officer
and handed it over to Pants. This he accepted on the grounds that
the buttons on the leggings were the correct number. This shows his
marked ability for the examination of detail.
Officers from Shorncliffe often visited him if
they were anxious to clear up some debated questions of dress or
custom. Pants was seldom at a loss to afford the information
sought. He was a most clever military historian. Often in
conversation he pressed the point that every young officer gazetted to the
Regiment should be sent to spend the day with him in order that he should
be properly instructed about the history of the famous Regiment he was
about to join.
Then, further, in his ardent and active interest
on behalf of the Old and Bold Corps, he volunteered to take over the
editorship of THE THISTLE somewhere about 1904, I think. In
referring to the journal I have only to write that on nearly every
occasion of its publication there was a contribution from Pants, another
point displaying his interest. He surely entertained a great love
for his old Regiment.
And now I have recalled another incident of
bygone days. When he joined us in Zululand he caused much laughter
and chaff in the Mess by telling us that he had come from the Donegal
Militia. No one had ever heard of this gallant corps, though
appreciating such distinguished descent, but we all wished to know why he
had come all the way from a remote spot in north-west Ireland to join a
Scottish Regiment. Not until many years later did we all realize
what a great acquisition he was to be to the Regiment. In time to
come this grand old Donegal Militia appeared to have been expunged from
the British Army, since I can find no trace of it.
Officers attending the Small Arms School at Hythe
were always made most welcome at his home. Foremost among his
friends there was Ashmore, who was on the staff. He was a constant
Pants had a large mail, for he maintained correspondence
constantly with old officers - naming just three, "Besom" (Capt.
O. R. Brush, living in Switzerland), "Strum" (Lt.Col. H. P.
Versturme-Bunbury, generally to be found sitting in Kenya) and
"F.J." (Maj.Gen. F. J. Duncan).
Pants and I did not correspond very much, for we
met each other every week, either at his home or mine, and he had dear
friends living next door to us, Mr. and Mrs. Sherman. Mr. Sherman
had been most of his life in Burmah, and was a big man in the Burmah
He and his wife knew Joseph McCance quite well
out there. They always called him "Angus" but why, they
did not know for, as a matter of detail, his name is not Angus.
Pants used to say to me that he thought Joseph had too much weight for his
age. Has he?
Pants possessed a delightful personality which
just made him so popular with all; ever charming and cheery, with plenty
of laughter, always so willing to help lame dogs.
And now I draw to the close of his life.
About three years ago he underwent an operation; he was not told the truth
at the time, but he insisted he should be told; it was connected with an incurable
disease. He used to confide in me that now he knew the
whole truth, he was satisfied and would not worry.
And so he went on, never complaining. Then
came an attack of appendicitis, and for this the doctors dare not operate
because of the weakness of his heart. Then started his last, long
trek; he grew slowly worse, and on the 8th Jan this year he was ordered to
bed. He never came downstairs as a living man.
And so, slowly dropping down the ladder, be
became for ten days before his death completely unconscious, and then the
poor old tired life passed away. He leaves a son and a
daughter. The son, Joseph, we all know. His daughter, Edith,
is Mrs. Fulton, wife of Lt.Col. J. S. Fulton, O.B.E., M.C., commanding
The Lancashire Fusiliers, at Colchester.
One more word. In 1914, at the time of the
Great War, Pants applied to the War Office for any suitable
employment. He was appointed to a branch of the Intelligence Service
and granted the rank of Captain.
To sum up, the Regiment has lost the finest
historian it has ever known, and I say good-bye to a dear, good and valued
Colonel C. Stansfeld
McCance was a most delightful friend. A good listener, with a keen
sense of humour, he generally had an interesting bit of news for his
friends. They will remember him as one who made their interests his
own, and will feel his loss very deeply.
He was exceptionally methodical, and his love of
method helped him in his many kindnesses and in his thought for others.
His courage and perseverance during his last
illness were extraordinary. One day, when he was so weak that he
could hardly get through his newspaper, he had had cuttings made of a big
score at cricket that a cousin of mine had made, and he had also waded
through the Oxford Pass Lists to see that a nephew of mine had got a
Others who read THE THISTLE are better qualified
than I to speak of his knowledge of military history, uniforms, prints and
what he called military relics. I was sometimes privileged to do
Watson to his Sherlock Holmes, and it was very interesting to see him work
out the answers to many conundrums he received.
It often meant a lot of spade work, but he knew
where to dig and was never happy till he had not only answered the
conundrum but had proved his answer up to the hilt. A striking
instance of his perseverance was his writing of the article on Lieut-Gen.
Sir John Waters, K.G.B., in the last issue of THE THISTLE.
He began the article when he was still able to
sit up in an armchair for a few hours in the evening. He would sit
there surrounded by books verifying every detail. He was confined to
his bed when he finished it, and he still checked every detail most
He knew it was his last contribution to THE
THISTLE, and he was determined that it should be not only interesting, but
accurate in every respect. He will be sadly missed by many, not only
for his knowledge and ability, but for his kindness, his friendliness and
his sense of humour.