Visual signalling, of which semaphore was one form, was acknowledged from the beginning to have limited practical use, being “apt to disclose positions to the enemy and, except when the use of the heliograph is possible, is slow and uncertain.” (1) Its use was therefore generally limited to “lateral communications, where it is possible to conceal the use of flags, etc. from the enemy’s view.” (1) Lateral communication is parallel to the front lines, and presumably, behind them. Standard procedure in the artillery was to have two signallers at a battery, and two at an observation station: the observers’ reports of the gunners’ fire were thus sent back to improve the accuracy of the shelling. (2)
By 1916, when the officers of the 34th Battery, CFA were studying the Field Artillery Training Manual in Kingston, Ontario, in the light of reports from the front, they learned that flag signalling was rare, (2) now that the war had settled into trenches. It would still be used when mobile warfare was resumed, and the laying of telephone wires could not keep up with the movement of troops.
(1) Field Artillery Training. . 1914.237.
(2) FAT. 392.
(3) Notes on Field Artillery Training compiled by the officers of the 34th Battery, CFA, CEF. 1916. 111.
The photograph of signallers at flag drill, taken in Toronto on April 2, 1915, is from John Boyd’s First World War Photographs, City of Toronto Archives.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”