Topic: Soldiers' Load
From the War Diary of The Royal Canadian Regiment (The RCR), we have a very clear description of what the soldiers of the Regiment were carrying as they assaulted the slopes of Vimy Ridge on the morning of 9 April, 1917. The following is taken from an appendix to the April, 1917, portion of the War Diary, entitled "Summary of Operations of The Royal Canadian Regiment".
The battalion attacked wearing battle order, i.e., ammunition pouches with Haversacks on shoulder straps. Leather jerkins were worn and waterproof sheets carried. Rifle Grenadiers carried in addition 20 No. 23 Mills Rifle Grenades, 4 Smoke Bombs with attachments for firing from Rifle, cup attachment for firing grenades, 50 rounds blank ammunition. Bomber carried 20 No. 5 Mills Bombs and 2 Smoke bombs.
Riflemen carried two Mills Bombs in Haversack, 170 rounds of ammunition, pair of wire cutters, pair of hedging gloves and 4 riflemen per platoon carried Turnover wire cutters for attachment to Rifles.
Each man carried a ground flare for Aeroplane contact and a VERY light (large or small) and S.O.S. rockets were distributed among all ranks proportionally.
The first wave (attacking platoons) carried only their fighting equipment.
Each man of the two remaining platoons per Co. carried either a shovel or pick (350 shovels, and 50 picks were taken across).
In addition, these two platoons per Co. carried 20 rolls of barb wire or its equivalent of concertina or French wire each and 35 large screw stakes.
Rations and Water
Each man carried two Iron rations and one days rations.
Each man went over with a full water bottle.
A hot meal was issued at the latest possible moment before the attack and Rum ration issued within hour of jumping off.
Even within these few short paragraphs, we can see that the battle these troops were trained to fight was very different from the stereotypical media portrayal of First World War attacks with static waves of infantry sweeping forward. The assaulting platoons have rifle grenadiers and bombers, to force entry into enemy trenches with high explosives and to deal with dugouts and bunkers. Flares and rockets, in the absence of radios and not trusting wire to remain intact, provide a basic means of communicating with over-watching aircraft and protective artillery batteries. Tools to cut enemy wire, and then supplies to establish new obstacles at the point of consolidation are brought by the immediately following troops. And also the necessary picks and shovels to dig in where the attack ends, ready to defend the ground taken and to keep it against the inevitable German counter-attacks.
"The Battalion went over, the leading two companies in waves at 20 paces distance and three paces interval, the two rear companies following at 50 paces distance in Artillery formation in file."
An officer of the Regiment, in diary notes, described the tasks assigned to The RCR:
"The task allotted to the regiment was the capture of two objectives, the first a line of trenches about 800 yards forward, the second the Ecole Commune, the chateau and western edge of La Folie Wood some 400 yards further on. The frontage was approximately 250 yards with 4th Cdn Mtd Rifles on the right and P.P.C.L.I. on the left. Assisting were four guns of 7th Cdn M.G. Co., two guns 7th Cdn Trench Mortar Battery (Stokes guns), a party of 7th Field Co. Cdn Engineers with the Brigade wiring party, and two platoons of 49th Cdn Battn (Edmonton Regt) which acted as "moppers up"."
See his notes for a description of the day's fighting. Section "C" OBSERVATIONS of the "Summary of Operations" provides a detailed description of what preparations were most effective and which, due to the thorough artillery preparations of the battlefield, were not needed as much as they might have been.