Liévin, January 12, 1918

Saturday          Fritz shelled us heavy with W. bears today in three series. The heaviest shelling I’ve seen for many a day he certainly made us keep low ducking & dodging  he shelled heavily at our rear with H.E.  Put a new bock [sic] in the pit today Weather much better, am well

1918 01 12.jpg

“The gunners were kept busy improving the gun-pits,” the Battery historian tells us, “even to the extent of painting them red and white inside. It was desired to have them ‘5.9’ proof, and so the original pits were built up with bricks, sand bags, rails and logs.” (1)

Percy’s spelling is never a strong point – his formal schooling ended at age twelve after all. “Bock” is probably “balk,” a “roughly squared beam of timber” or a tie-beam (OED) installed to reinforce the pit, especially the weight of its roof sheltering roof: one of the logs mentioned above, in fact.1

Woolly bears” are German high-explosive shells, such as those fired by the five-nines, heavy howitzers with a calibre of 5.9 inches. They seem to have got their name from the appearance of the smoke that unfurled as they exploded overhead, like furry caterpillars. “Big black shrapnel,” says the Battery historian, “whose loud bark was worse than their bite.” (1)

“Increased activity shown by hostile artillery,” notes the Brigade War Diary: at least the 55th Battery, unlike the 53rd, wasn’t the target of an attempted “destructive shoot.” Two guns were damaged and a soldier wounded. (2) The Divisional Diary assesses both the gun damage and the human injury as “slight.” (3)

1 Thanks to Timothy McTague for the help in interpreting Percy’s “bock.”

(1) MacArthur, D.C. The History of the Fifty-Fifth Battery, CFA. 1919. 27.
(2) War Diary of the 13th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. Vol. 12: 6. January 12, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.
(3) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 12: 8. January 12, 1918. Library and Archives of Canada.

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