Witley, March 29, 1917

Thursday    I must miss these days as I’ve no record of them with the exception of the weather which has been cold & raw all we seem to do now is just while away the time we have had no mounted parades for some considerable time

Here is a further selection of the instructions for mobilization (1) which the Fifth Divisional Artillery was working through.81 PH Helmet drill crop.jpg
“(32) All men to be passed through Gas.”

Archie says the masks left with a rotten taste in their mouths.(2)

“(34) Send in certificate to Witley Headquarters that no Cameras are in possession.”

“(36) Identity Discs.”

At this point in the war, a single aluminum identity disc had been superseded by two discs, Canadian id tags 19960008-002made of “fibre.” A British or Canadian soldier now wore a greenish octagonal one hung around his neck on a cord, and a red circular one, hung on a second cord from the first cord. In the event of his  death on the battlefield, the red disc was to be removed and brought back to the man’s officer so that family could be notified. The green disc remained with the body so that it could be identified for burial should that be possible. Both discs were stamped with the same information:Regimental Number, Name, Unit, and Religion. (3)  Discs for soldiers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force were stamped CDN. Identifying rank on the disc was now optional — perhaps reflecting how frequent promotion was when casualties were so high.

A less utilitarian disc might also be worn: William Calder received one as a gift from his mother, from the Canadian jewellery store Henry Birks and Sons: “it is fine, has a nice silver chain & etc [sic],” he told his father, “& the engraving is awful nice on it, thank Mamma very much for me.”(4)

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 2 (March 1917). Appendix 5:4. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4:19. March 21, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(3) “Identification.” The Canadian Soldier in the 20th Century. <Canadiansoldier.com>
(4) Calder, William.  Letter to his father. February 20, 1917.Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

The photograph is from Percy’s small album, and is entitled “PH Helmet Drill.” The PH helmet was one of several developed to protect against poisonous gases: it consisted of layers of fabric dipped in a phenate-hexamine solution which neutralized phosgene and hydrogen cyanide.

The identity discs pictured are from the Canadian War Museum: they belonged to George Aaron Ransom of the 2nd Howitzer Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. He was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele on 6 November 1917 at the age of 24, and buried at Brandhoek Cemetery, Belgium. His discs identify his rank as Driver (DVR) and his religion as Methodist (METH).

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”
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