Kipling wrote admiringly of British artillery drivers’ skills, when he described a six-gun battery returning to its camp in the grounds of a stately home now taken over for military use:
“They came in at last far down the park, heralded by that unmistakable half-grumble, half-grunt of guns on the move. The picketed horses heard it first, and one of them neighed long and loud, which proved that he had abandoned civilian habits. Horses in stables and mews seldom do more than snicker, even when they are halves of separated pairs. But these gentlemen had a corporate life of their own now, and knew what ‘pulling together’ means.
“When a battery comes into camp it ‘parks’ all six guns at the appointed place, side by side in one mathematically straight line, and the accuracy of the alignment is, like ceremonial drill with the Foot, a fair test of its attainments. The ground was no treat for parking. Specimen trees and draining ditches had to be avoided and circumvented. The gunners, their reins, the guns, the ground, were equally wet, and the slob dropped away like gruel from the brake-shoes. … They said nothing; their officers said little enough to them. They came in across what had once been turf; wheeled with tight traces; halted, unhooked; the wise teams stumped off to their pickets, and, behold, the six guns were left precisely where they should have been left to the fraction of an inch. You could see the wind blowing the last few drops of wet from each leather muzzle-cover at exactly the same angle.” (1)
This photograph is of a Witley gun park; the foreground shows what William Calder described as “our guns;” he was in the Fourth Divisional Ammunition Column. In the background are the guns and wagons of the 15th Brigade.
A glimpse of what it was like to bring field guns into line at speed can be obtained from a Pathe film of Belgian cavalry.
(1) Kipling, Rudyard. The New Army in Training. London: 1915. 21-22.
Calder’s photograph is from the Canadian Letters and Images Project. The still (copyright Pathe) is from BritishPathe.com, whose “WWI — The Definitive Collection” is well worth exploring.