Witley, April 29, 1917

Sunday     Warm & Bright going out bivouacing tonight 7:15

A tactical exercise is occupying the Fifth Divisional Artillery. Two days ago the Division positions were prepared and communication lines set up on Frensham Common; they were building a system of trenches to represent Vimy Ridge, to be occupied today. (1)

The exercise in which the Fifth Division is engaged fits with the plan that the Canadian Fifth Division will be a garrison force, left to defend Britain in the event of a German invasion. Notes for the exercise explain the background:

“A Trench Warfare situation has been in existence for three months….He is well dug in, strong in T.M’s [trench mortars] and trench weapons, and having landed large reinforcements in men and material, is considered likely to assume the offensive on the whole or selected portions of his front.” (2)

Archie Wills’s battery was involved in the preparations. Yesterday they left camp early, in “beautiful weather” to work on their gun pits.

19b Behind sandbags crop.jpg“It was so warm that we stripped to the waist and are now nicely sunburnt.We had to dig in about 3 feet and made our walls of sandbags. This did not prove a success as one of the walls caved in owing to the undermining of the foundations. We then cut poles and built up a wall and placed sand bags on top of them. All around the gun pit we have planted trees and shrubs and on top to make our concealment all the more secure we stretch [sic] a net and threw heather on it, thereby making it appear like the rest of the grounds. We placed our wagon in another pit under a big tree. Our dug out is roomy and there is no danger of it toppling in.”(3)

(“Gun Pit material may not be available,” is one of the notes on the exercise. “All Units will now make up camouflage mats etc, of any pattern they may devise.”) (4)

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 3 (April 1917): 5. April 27, 1917. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) War Diary. Vol. 4 (May 1917) Appendix: 30.
(3) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4: 43-44. April 28, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(4) War Diary. Vol. 4 (May 1917) Appendix: 32.

The photograph, labelled “Behind sand bags,”  is from Percy’s large album.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”
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