Witley, July 18, 1917

Wednesday         Rained all night last night & all day today went into action about 9 am as [sic] stayed in till 1:30 rain all time we got pretty went [sic] went on to Frensham this afternoon got there about 8 pm[,] supper at 9[,] bed at 10:15[,] up again at 12 pm an alarm was sounded

He added a few details later: we got a little wet [during the night] however we were up again at 5 and took up a position about 9 to 1:30 and still raining[.] lunch was served in the field at  last which consisted of 1 slice of bread & margarine some lunch for a hungry soldier & wet weather[.] that was all we got until 10 o’c Wed night at Frensham where we put out the lines for the night. by now the rain had eased up a bit and a strong wind came up we made our beds down wind proof [sic] & rain proof however we did not have much use for it for an alarm went at 12:05 

IWM 18 pdr RFA 1916 Q 70189They were playing their part in a complex game. The back story is that the Germans invaded Britain a fortnight ago, with two columns moving quickly westward with the apparent goal of destroying the harbours and shipping at Portsmouth and Southampton. A third column is “destroying railways and interrupting traffic etc” on the western outskirts of London. A fourth column, landing in Scotland, has been repulsed, and the victorious British forces are moving quickly south to support the British (and Canadian) defence of the major ports. This is the situation when the game begins: British and Canadian forces are driving the Germans back toward London. (1)

For the gunners, the exercise was miserable hard work: harnessing and unharnessing, setting out and taking down wagon lines, establishing and vacating gun positions, transporting and firing blank ammunition (which is just as heavy and awkward as live) — all in the steady rain. At the same time, it is all unreal. The enemy “will be represented by pole targets carried by a skeleton force,” say the instructions. “Enemy will wear white arm bands. Each pole-target will represent one platoon.” (2)  In pursuit of these token enemies, the defending forces are warned to “avoid doing any damage to crops or property [and to show] every civility … to the local inhabitants. Troops will on no account move across any crops or growing hay.” (3)

The photograph is © the Imperial War Museum(Q 70189) and shows a Royal Field Artillery 18 pounder in action in November 1916.

(1) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 6 (July 1917): Appendix II: 1. Library and Archives of Canada.
(2) War Diary. Vol. 6 (July 1917): Appendix II: 5.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”



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