It is recorded that on one occasion, Captain Billy Duff entered the Club-house late and called for supper. The bill of fare was so meagre that he angrily declared it was a rag and famish affair. The nickname caught on and was quickly known and appreciated as a good joke both in the Club and out of it. Captain Duff himself was so pleased with it that he soon afterwards designed the Club button which was at one time worn by many Members in evening dress.
William Higginson Duff was the son of Alexander Samuel Duff, late Ensign in the 3rd Foot Guards, a large land-owner in Shropshire and Denbigh. He was born in 1811, was gazetted to the 21st North British Fusiliers on July 6, 1830, promoted Lieutenant, October 26, 1832, and exchanged to the 10th Light Dragoons, November 28, 1837. In 1839 he again transferred to the 23rd Welsh Fusiliers but sold his commission for the end of the year.
He joined the Army & Navy Club in 1838. The story of his giving it its nickname does not appear to be recorded in any contemporary work, but may have been handed down by tradition. It first appears in print in Major Griffiths’ Introduction to the Rules and List of Members in 1849.
There can be no doubt that Duff did not invent the name himself, but had visited the original Rag and Famish in Cranbourne Alley and mentioned it as the lowest and worst place of resort in his experience. The date of the incident is unknown, but it may be suggested that it was in 1839 while he was still in the 10th Light Dragoons.
The buttons are still made today and may be purchased from Reception.