The Penny

War offers its participants a million varied ways to become ill, injured, wounded or die.

For Company Sergeant Major Walter William Herd, reg. no. 53527 an injury he sustained was most unusual and almost grimly comical

C.S.M. Herd[i] enlisted in the C.E.F. with the 18th Battalion on October 26, 1914, and as can be attested by his regimental number, he was one of the original members of the Battalion and joined virtually at its inception. Private Herd had experience with the 22nd O.R. and once the Battalion arrived in England he rose in rank steadily. From Bugler on September 1, 1915 to Corporal just a year later[ii]. Then he had two successive increases in rank to Sergeant[iii] (09/04/17) to Acting Company Sergeant Major[iv] on 20 August, 1917.

C.S.M. Herd’s martial abilities and skill at leading men was impressive as he was only 20 years old when he joined the 18th Battalion. Yet, while serving in the field, he requested on December 10, 1917 to revert back to Sergeant. This request came after he was assigned as in instructor with the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp[v] (C.C.R.C.) at Aubin St. Vaast[vi] and may have been an attempt by Sergeant Herd to get back to active service with his Battalion. The service record does not illuminate the reason for the request but Sergeant Herd continued to serve with the C.C.R.C. until he was taken on strength and transferred to O.M.F.C in Bramshott, England January 1919 and then to Montreal where he was demobilized on July 7, 1919.

During his service, he suffered from the mumps in May 1915 and was treated at Moore Barracks Hospital. Other than that, he served with a clean bill of health until he swallowed a penny.

Two witness statements bear this out:

214038 Pte. Hall, 20th Bn. Witness 204213 Pte. Jeffries, 20th Bn. Witness

I was present and witnessed the accident, on the night of 11th inst and about 20.00 hrs, of 53527 CSM Herd, W.W. 18th Bn.: wherein he swallowed a penny.

Furthermore, I vouch for the occurrence being purely accidental.

[Signed] E. Hall


I was present and witnessed the accident, on the night of 11th inst and about 20.00 hrs, of 53527 CSM Herd, W.W. 18th Bn.: wherein he swallowed a penny.

Furthermore, I vouch for the occurrence being purely accidental.

[Signed] A.H. Jeffries


The witness statements of Privates Hall and Jeffries are not very illuminating. They are written in the hand of a single individual and are identical in description with the signatures and the identifying information indicating the statement came from two separate witnesses.

If the service record left this as the only description then a mystery this would be. We can be thankful for the thoroughness of the Canadian Army’s bureaucracy as the “Report on Accidental or Self-Inflicted Injuries” illuminates the circumstances of the swallowed penny:

“At about 20.00 on the night of 11/12/18 C.S.M. Herd with one or two other men were in their billet at Comtes practicing tricks with coins. C.S.M. Herd had a penny in his mouth and in trying to catch another one inadvertently swallowed the first one & had to be evacuated to hospital.”

page-1-accident-reportThe commanding officer further indicated that the accident did not occur in the performance of a military duty and that C.S.M. Herd and no other party was to blame. C.S.M. Herd was given a “pass” for by the very performance of the penny trick there is no one to blame other than himself. Perhaps, with the war over a month previous to this accident or C.S.M. Herds valuable service in the field and as an instructor, the O.C. of the C.C.R.C. felt that inserting a blemish into his record was not necessary. The O.C. indicated than no disciplinary action be taken.

Medical card from service record showing dates and locations of treatment for C.S.M. Herd.

C.S.M. Herd attended to the 7th Canadian Genereal Hospital from December 15 to 22, 1918 and upon his discharge proceeded to continue his service until demobilized. Apparently, the coin incident did not detract from his material health or from his war record. It is very likely this was not the most danger that was presented to him during his service in the C.E.F.

[i] Library and Archives Canada. (Circa 1919). Service Record: Walter William Herd (53527). Retrieved from

[ii] “Promoted Corporal, vice 54109 Cpl. G. Young, Killed.” September 9, 1916. Per C.S.M. Herd service record.

[iii] “Promoted Sergeant, vice 53406, Sgt. C. Wiseman, Killed.” April 9, 1917. Per C.S.M. Herd service record.

[iv] “Apptd. Acting Company Sergt-Major, with pay, vice 53342, CSM C. Hessey, (W.O.C1.II), invalided to England.”

Per C.S.M. Herd service record

[v] “The C.C.R.C. was formed: To handle all reinforcements for Canadian Corps from date of despatch from Base until ordered to join respective units. Reinforcements, while in C.C.R.C., administered and trained under Divisional arrangements. Under the C.C.R.C. for draft movement only.” Sourced from Canadian Military Mail Study Group Newsletter. No. 114-115, Spring 1994. Page 138. Originating source was compiled by the Historical Section (General Staff) Ottawa. Special thanks to Patrick Dennis and his article Dennis, Patrick (2009) “A Canadian Conscript Goes to War—August 1918: Old Myths Re-examined,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 18: Iss. 1, Article 4.

[vi] For more information regarding this unit reference the C.C.R.C. war diary:

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