“Mimic Warfare”

1916 04 28 2Percy’s battery was receiving a good share of vice-regal attention in late April. On April 28, 1916 it was the Governor General, the King’s representative in Canada, witnessed manoeuvres in Toronto’s High Park. Field Marshall His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught “took a keen and intelligent interest in the battle, which raged throughout the morning. He had witnessed many similar operations in the great Victorian days; when a boy he would ride out to manoeuvres with his parents, the beloved Queen Victoria and Prince Consort. But it is doubtful if he ever witnessed a more impressive sight than that which was presented … in High Park.” (1)

Five thousand troops were divided into two forces, the Whites and the Blues. Percy’s battery1916 04 28 1was one of those assigned to the White side, who were positioned in a valley and ordered to take the ridge held by the Blues. Despite “withering fire” from the Blues, the Whites took the ridge, and went further, before they encountered some hidden machine guns intent of moving them down, but “they refused to be mowed and dug themselves in.” The victory was short-lived, however, for the Blues called up their reserves and

at the sound of the bugles, and with a great shout… they swept forward like a brown avalanche, overwhelming the Whites and driving them from the position they had gained. The firing at this point was terrific, and the din of shot and shell was deafening. … It was a really thrilling finale … and seemed like the real thing.(1)

The realism of the exercises was somewhat undercut by the presence of schoolboys who 1916 04 23mingled with the soldiers, and of the “‘movie’ man [who] was the only calm person present. He turned the handle mechanically; he recorded the movement and the smoke, but not the noise and the thrill of the battle.” (1) Even the soldiers advancing up the ridge seem to be paying more attention to John Boyd taking photographs than to their goal.

(1) The Globe (1844-1936). April 29, 1916. 9. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.

The images are from John Boyd’s First World War Photographs, City of Toronto Archives. The caption in the album reads: “Artillery bombardment. Duel between big guns of the 47th and 48th Batteries, who have taken positions at opposite sides of High Park. Between them infantry battalions are fighting at closer range. The tactics of the day have a realistic touch that impresses the onlooker as to what war is like.”

Copyright 2016. Please see “More about this project.”

 

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