Witley, February 6, 1917

Tuesday    Still cold we are supposed to be in the 5 Canadian Division now and they are not going to put the 5th Div of Canadians in the field unless absolutely necessary

That was the word among the ranks, anyway, and men like Percy who had enlisted a full year earlier were disappointed that they might never get to France and do what they had been training to do.  We will see what happens.

Meanwhile, the new Fifth Divisional Artillery begins a month-long training scheme: two weeks of section training (a section is two guns, or a third of the newly reorganized batteries), followed by a week of battery training and finally a week of training at the brigade level. (1) The hard weather is not expected to interfere with the training, as the soft turf of the common is “hardly affected by the frost.” (2) Just as well, as there is a shortage of frost nails and cogs for the horseshoes. (2)

Horse shoes don’t give much traction on slippery surfaces, and even if the turf was not frozen, the roads probably were. There are such things as winter horseshoes, but reshoeing hundreds of horses was not something army farriers would be glad to do, or repeat whenever the weather changed. Instead, frost nails could be driven in relatively quickly to provide traction, or cogs screwed into holes provided in the shoe. The following description is provided by Benjamin Clouting, a British cavalry man:

“Every horse shoe had nine holes for nails and four for variously-sized frost cogs, two cogs (size four) at the toe and two (size five) at the heel. As a matter of course, these holes had been filled with tow (strands of old rope, available from the farrier’s tool kit) and were packed in place by dirt once the horse had replaced its foot on the ground. Every hole was threaded so that each frost cog could easily be screwed in like a little bolt, giving horses  better footing on icy ground, in the same way studs give footballers grip on a bad pitch.

800px-wwi_winter_horseshoe“The frost cogs were arrow-shaped, and sharp when new. Each was an inch long, including the thread, and was carried in a separate compartment in the sword frog. [A sword frog is a kind of open-ended pouch attached to a belt, designed to hold, obviously, a sword.] The frog also held the frost cog spanner, the tool designed to fix the cogs in place. The spanner was pointed at one end, so as to clean the tow out of the screw holes, while at the other end, the tool was stubbed with a square-shaped hole used to tighten the cogs.” (3)

The image purports to show, on the left, a horseshoe with a frost nail and on the right, shoes with normal nails; I would argue that the image on the left is of a shoe and a frost cog spanner. See Wikimedia Commons for the description.

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery.Vol. 1 January 23, 1917 to February 28, 1917.Appendix 4. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) War Diary.  February 1, 1917.
(3) Extract from Chapter 6 of  Teenage Tommy: Memoirs of a Cavalryman in the First World War. Ed. Richard van Emden. 1996. Reprinted in  Pen and Sword. An Anthology of World War I 1914-1918. Extracts from Selected Titles. 2014.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”



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