Witley, May 1, 1917

Tuesday           We slept in the wood last night & awoke this morning quite fresh
that was about 8 AM we fire a barrage this P.M. of 2 hrs & 40 mins

Girls traditionally go out early on May Day to wash their faces in the morning dew, thereby ensuring a beautiful complexion.  For Percy, the May dew must be refreshing to the spirit, if not to the complexion, after months of sleeping in the fug of a hut with twenty-nine others.

And in the afternoon, they begin to fire. “The opening of fire at the time ordered was rather ragged & the lifts were not simultaneous but the whole barrage [sic] was fired & all ranks understood the procedure.” (1)

A lift occurs in a creeping barrage when the artillery ceases firing on a particular position or line, and begins firing on one about 100 yards/90 metres farther ahead. The infantry follow the barrage safely across no man’s land while the barrage pins defenders in their lines and away from their machine guns until the infantry are upon them.

That’s the theory. And in practice, the creeping barrage worked better than the old practice of a bombardment of enemy positions followed by an infantry charge in the expectation that the enemy had been incapacitated by the bombardment.  Now gunfire and movement take place together. (2)

Vimy advance LAC MICAN 3404765.jpgInfantry following a barrage, however, are in danger of friendly fire if a shell falls short, and the danger increases if some guns do not lift when and where they are supposed to. And iron discipline is required of the advancing troops. Sir Julian Byng told his troops before Vimy” “You shall go over exactly like a railroad train, on time, or you shall be annihilated.” (3)

Back in Surrey, the temperature rises as the day progresses. While Percy is preparing to fire, Archie is in the wagon lines, where they are busy cleaning harness. “Everyone seeking shelter from the sun and also from the N.C.O.’s, so as to have a sleep,” he adds. (4)

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. $ (May 1917): 1. May 1, 1917. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) Cook, Tim. Shock Troops. Canadians Fighting the Great War Vol. 2 1917-1918. 2008. 331-33.
(3) qtd in Freeman, Bill and Richard Nielsen. Far from Home: Canadians in the First World War. Toronto, 1999. 102
(4) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4: 44. May 1, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

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