Witley, March 14, 1917

Wednesday     The same as yesterday Am feeling in the best of health

Under the strict rules now in effect, those quarantined were excused from the instructional sports that had been under way in the camp, two afternoons a week since the beginning of the month. (1)

tug-of-war-horseback-iwm-q17364The intention was to have competitions at every level, leading to a championship, in “sports” intended to develop artillerymen’s strength and skills. “It is good training as well as excellent sport,” (2) said Archie Wills of their practice afternoons. Today they competed at the battery level:

“Everything went fine. We had our casualty race, SOS race, changing gun wheels, tug-of-war, wrestling. The victors are to compete with the winners of the other three batteries in the brigade sports.”(3)

A casualty race is one in which something goes wrong and competitors need to compensate: for example, one of the gun team horses is declared a casualty, and the riding horse used by Number 1 gunner must be put into the traces before the race can continue. (3)

An SOS race presumably involves the SOS line, which is a defensive  line of fire, more or less fixed ahead of the trenches when warfare is static, but relaid when the infantry advances, so that it can be called down when needed. To quote a contemporary expert, “it is a sort of continuous curtain of fire laid down in front of our own trenches, so that any [enemy] advance… would have to pass through this fire, its object being to stop the enemy altogether, or to make their casualties so heavy that the infantry would have no difficulty in beating off an attack which did succeed in reaching our trenches.” (4)  I imagine that the competition might involve how quickly guns could be laid to provide the SOS fire. Macpherson tells us that when not actually firing, guns in the field were kept laid on their SOS lines; when firing on other targets, the guns immediately switched back to the SOS lines if they were summoned to do so by an established (but frequently changing) pattern of flares or rockets, a message confirmed by telephone. (4)

The tug-of-war on horseback was more challenging than the usual version, requiring co-ordination of the mount as well as the rope. And if, as in this photograph, the horses have no saddles, it must have been quite an exercise: the horse on the left seems unmoved; the one in the middle, whose rider seems to have lost his head, is restive; the rider of the one on the right is paying more attention to his horse than to the rope. The image of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders (August 5,  1915) is copyright IWM Q17264.

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery.Vol. 2 (March 1917) 2. March 7, 1917.Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4:10 March 1, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4:15-16 March 14, 1917.
(4) Macpherson, J.S.B. “The Canadian Artillery.” In Volume 6: Special Services, Heroic Deeds etc. of Canada in the Great War: An Authentic Account of the Military History of Canada from the Earliest Days to the Close of the War of the Nations. Toronto, 1921. 5.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

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