The Minute Book
Thursday, 21 May 2015

Seeing Trenches as Soldiers See Them
Topic: CEF

At Home in a Ditch

Seeing Trenches as Soldiers See Them

Boston Evening Transcript, 9 February 1915
(From the Manchester Transcript)

I wonder how many people have a mental image of the trenches which is at all like the real thing. I have seen photographs of men standing in a trench behind a covering line of mangel wurzels, or was it beet-root?—which are true enough, but hardly characteristic. No doubt many people imagine the trenches to be a regular and formidable series of earthworks which turn a whole valley into a sort of fortress. They have heard of all sorts of elaborations which get mentioned in letters, not because they are characteristic, but just because they are peculiar. As a matter of fact, the surprising thing about the trenches is that, like everything else in this war, they make so little difference to the normal appearance of the landscape until you get quite close to them. If an invisible wayfarer could walk past them during the day he might very easily get through without noticing anything peculiar unless an artillery bombardment happened to be going on. Rifle fire and attacks are nearly all at dawn or dusk or night. He would have to be invisible, for any visible wayfarer near the trenches by day would, of course, be snipes. A few do make their way to and fro—orderlies with messages mostly, who creep along ditches and dash across exposed intervals. But the traffic is by night. Every evening a little party of men and mules goes to a point as near as it dare to the battalion and takes shelter behind a house or a wall, where it is met by one or two men of each company to take the daily rations back to the trenches.

elipsis graphic

Every evening, too, the stretcher-bearers make their way into the trenches and remove the men who have been wounded during the day. And every evening all these men are "sniped" at by the enemy as they go about their work. As you approach the trenches in the dusk the lack of anything abnormal to the whole aspect of things is, of course, even more deceptive than by day. And knowing as one does that once is within a few yards of two lines of men which extend from the sea coast to Switzerland, the blank appearance of everything is tinglingly suggestive. You are walking along an ordinary country road. You have just passed the house where the medical officer and his assistants have taken up their quarters and whence they pass on the wounded by motors to the field ambulance. A couple of days ago he had a house farther up the road, but he was shelled out of it. You pass other houses—you are walking crouched in the ditch by this time. By day you would notice that many of these houses have holes in them and that there are patches of tiles wanting in the roof; but by the evening light they look quite normal, except that the windows are lit up in none of them. Cattle and fowls wander about over the fields, and across the road. They look quite normal too, though in daylight you would see that the cows have not been milked, and the fowls are starving. By daylight, too, you might notice here and there in a field a cow that has been struck down by a shell and killed or another—poor beast—that had been merely wounded. It was to put such a one out of its pain that an officer of ours crept out of his trench the other morning and was killed as he crawled back. A little farther still you may at last come upon the trenches themselves at a point where they chance to touch the road. The reserve trenches these will probably be , and they have perhaps just been lined by a battalion that has marched out to be in support during the night in expectation of an attack and will march back before sunrise in the morning. They are, maybe, an Indian cavalry regiment which has never yet had a chance of fighting on horseback and can contribute only in this way to the defence.

elipsis graphic

From your ditch by the roadside will probably be a communications trench to the first of these reserve trenches, and from here, if the entrenchments have been in existence for some time, you will find yourself at the beginning of a whole rabbit warren. From here you may be able to get to every point, not only in the reserve trenches, but the fire trenches, too, without ever putting your head above the ground. Walking in slush (here and there modified by straw or bricks thrown down), rubbing clay onto your shoulders from either wall of the narrow passage, you may pass along a whole series of reserve trenches, which seem to be deserted unless you lift up one of the pieces of canvas fixed against the wall and see a silent Indian cavalryman curled up in his little niche. It will be for many reasons a very tortuous walk before you arrive at the fire trenches, or at the colonel's little "dug-out." First of all, because the communications trenches are planned in every sort of zigzag and curl and twist, to be as little as possible end-on to the enemy, and so enfiladed. The colonel's headquarters, for instance, is entered from the back, and approached by a trench which twists around behind it. Moreover, the line of the fire trenches is broken at intervals by traverses—also to protect against possible enfilading—and connected by little semi-circular trenches which skirt around the solid interval of earth. But the way will be tortuous for other reasons. The whole line of the two armies is tortuous beyond the suspicious of any reader who sees it twist a little along the frontier, but suppose it will be straight enough for half a mile. Losses here and gains there are partly a cause of this, but much more is the fact that the whole series of trenches is developed from a skilful use of natural conditions. Sometimes the trench is merely a ditch which has been deepened. At other times the adaptation of a pit or a hollow makes it ten feet deep, and the men have to climb up on ledge to fire out of it. Here and there the connecting trench becomes a tunnel, by having been roofed in. At other places a convenient bush or hedge affords cover which has enabled quite a little cavern to be dug under its protection.

elipsis graphic

Though the hardship is severe enough the men manage to make themselves more comfortable than might be supposed. They have charcoal braziers which help to keep them warm, and there is even talk—serious talk—of installing electric light. The adjutant has made quite a little office of his "dug-out" and pins up notes and orders and telegrams onto the clay wall in front of him. When the trenches have been in existence long enough there is communication everywhere, though it is often difficult to squeeze by, and as for sleep—well, you can take a little of that as soon as the shelling starts, for you know he will not attack till that is over. The only thing that you can hardly anywhere do is to stand up. If you try it, "ping" almost at once, and you are lucky if you only get your face spluttered with mud. And just out there—sometimes only fifty yards away—they are taking the same precautions about all of us, and peeping with the same curiosity. And between the lines is fifty yards of ordinary field where no one dare venture by day, and only at imminent danger by night, in that fifty yards is now lying one of our officers, killed in last night's attack. Tonight we hope to get him back, but today we can but peep at him. His hand is hanging down, and on his wrists is his watch. It is still going, and from where we are we can see the time.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Ranger Handbook; Leadership


Ranger Handbook, Ranger Training Brigade, United States Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia, February 2011

Leadership, the most essential element of combat power, gives purpose, direction, and motivation in combat. The leader balances and maximizes maneuver, firepower, and protection against the enemy. This chapter discusses how he does this by exploring the principles of leadership (Be, Know, Do); the duties, responsibilities, and actions of an effective leader; and the leader's assumption of command.



  • Technically and tactically proficient
  • Able to accomplish to standard all tasks required for the wartime mission.
  • Courageous, committed, and candid.
  • A leader with integrity.


  • The four major factors of leadership and how they affect each other are–
    • Led
    • Leader
    • Situation
    • Communications
  • Yourself, and the strengths and weaknesses in your character, knowledge, and skills. Seek continual self-improvement, that is, develop your strengths and work to overcome your weaknesses.
  • Your Rangers, and look out for their well being by training them for the rigors of combat, taking care of their physical and safety needs, and disciplining and rewarding them.


  • Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions; exercise initiative; demonstrate resourcefulness; and take advantage of opportunities on the battlefield that will lead to you to victory; accept fair criticism, and take corrective actions for your mistakes.
  • Assess situations rapidly, make sound and timely decisions, gather essential information, announce decisions in time for Rangers to react, and consider the short- and long-term effects of your decision.
  • Set the example by serving as a role model for your Rangers. Set high but attainable standards; be willing do what you require of your Rangers; and share dangers and hardships with them.
  • Keep your subordinates informed to help them make decisions and execute plans within your intent, encourage initiative, improve teamwork, and enhance morale.
  • Develop a sense of responsibility in subordinates by teaching, challenging, and developing them. Delegate to show you trust them. This makes them want more responsibility.
  • Ensure the Rangers understand the task; supervise them, and ensure they accomplish it. Rangers need to know what you expect, when and what you want them to do, and to what standard.
  • Build the team by training and cross-training your Rangers until they are confident in their technical and tactical abilities.
  • Develop a team spirit that motivates them to go willingly and confidently into combat.
  • Know your unit's capabilities and limitations, and employ them accordingly.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Physical Training; Vehicle Manhandling
Topic: Drill and Training

Physical Training; Vehicle Manhandling

These images, contrary to looking like methods of recovery and cross-country mobility, are taken from the publication Basic and Battle Physical Training, Part III, Syllabus of Battle Physical Training and Battle Physical Efficiency Tests (1946). The diagrams show recommended physical training exercises using available vehicles and equipment to develop both strength training and teamwork.

An interesting option for physical training once troops tire of the obstancle course and of throwing logs and medicine balls around. Vehicle manhandling exercises would also have developed both minds and bodies for those times when the manhandling of a vehicle or gun just might be needed to get it into or out of a battle position.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Monday, 18 May 2015

Personal Honour in Regency Society
Topic: Officers

Personal Honour in Regency Society

An Elegant Madness: High Society in Regency England, Venetia Murray, 1998

The mores of Regency society may have changed as fast as the fashions, but in one respect, at least, they remained steadfast. The code of honour was as rigid as ever. To the modern mind the idea that a man could be ostracized for life because he once cheated at cards seems unnecessarily harsh: but then so does the concept of fighting a duel over a difference of opinion about politics. In 1809 Castlereagh and Canning disagreed so violently over the management of a military campaign (the Walcheren expedition) that the only resolution seemed to be to fight it out. These two senior cabinet ministers, therefore, went off to Wimbledon Common at dawn, along with their equally distinguished seconds, and shot at each other with pistols. Fortunately neither was killed, though Canning was wounded. Both, understandably, resigned from the government. Even the Duke of Wellington, England's national hero, was involved in a political duel, with Lord Winchilsea, over the question of Catholic Emancipation: the participants met and exchanged shots, but the Duke missed and Lord Winchilsea 'deloped' (fired wide). And that was twenty years later, when the practice of duelling was said to be on the decline. When Lord Charles Lennox felt he had been slighted in the matter of his military promotion he actually challenged his commanding officer, HRH the Duke of York, to a duel. In the event nothing came of it because the Duke was persuaded that his royal status made it impossible for him to accept the challenge and duly refused to fight. For more ordinary men, however, it was impossible to refuse without loss of honour, as in the case of General Thornton, who was forced to resign his commission simply because he declined to fight a duel. There had been a row at a party, between the general and Theodore Hook, the novelist and editor of John Bull in the course of which the latter insulted the former. According to the received notions of honour at the time, the general should have immediately issued a challenge, and when he failed to do so his fellow officers set up a full-scale inquiry into the affair, found him guilty of cowardice, and demanded his resignation.

elipsis graphic

The Rogue notes:

The quoted text states that no duel took place between the Duke of York and Charles Lennox. The Duke's wikipedia page, however, states the following:

On 26 May 1789 he took part in a duel with Colonel Charles Lennox, who had insulted him; Lennox missed and Prince Frederick refused to return fire.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Sunday, 17 May 2015

What Officer Must Know Before Selected (1915)
Topic: CEF

Officers of the 207th Ottawa and Carleton Battlion, CEF,
Pridham Photo, Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada

What Officer Must Know Before Selected

List of Subjects Canadians Must Know before Selected For Service in Field

Quebec Telegraph, 8 December 1915

The following War Office circular is promulgated for general information in Canada, giving a list of subjects which a young officer must know, or have some knowledge of, before he can be selected for service in the field. Of course, no officer should be selected as fit for service in the field unless he is physically fit and of an age to make it likely that he will be able to bear the strain of war.


  • Must have attained a high school standard of discipline.
  • Must have attained sufficient self-confidence to command his platoon.


  • Must know squad drill, extended order drill, platoon commander's duties in company drill, bayonet fighting drill.
  • Must have obtained sufficient self-confidence to drill a squad, drill a platoon, explain on parade simple movements to a squad.


  • Must know and be able to explain to a platoon the service rifle, the musketry exercises, the care of arms, the reporting of messages, the judging of distance.
  • Should have a knowledge of the theory of rifle fire, the supply of ammunition in the field, range duties.
  • Must pass a severe test in the control and direction of fire, the indication of targets, the instruction of a recruit.
  • Must be able to carry out test laid down in Musketry Regulations.

Tactics and Field Warfare

  • Every officer should be able to handle a platoon in the field.
  • Must be able to tell off and post sentries. Arrange posts and reliefs.
  • Must know the duties of a commander of an outpost company, a picquuet commander, a sentry and sentry groups, a patrol.
  • Should have a knowledge of a company in attack and defence, protection at rest and on the move, telling off an advance guard, telling off a flank guard, telling off an outpost company, composition of a brigade, battery, squadron and battalion.
  • Must have a thorough knowledge of march discipline, use of cover, control of men in extended order and in night operations.
  • Must be able to write a field message.
  • Should have thorough training in writing clear and concise reports of happenings in his vicinty.


  • Must have a good knowledge of map reading, drawing plan of his and adjoining trench, the construction of a range card, use of compass.

Trench Warfare

  • Must have a knowledge of handling of commonest bombs and explosives; telling off a working party and allotting a task; loopholing and revetting; common types of trenches and dugouts; entanglements; obstacles; the relief and handling over of a platoon in the trenches by day and night; construction, repair, holding and capture of trenches.
  • Must have a knowledge of duties of a leader of a grenade party; methods of training and employment of grenadiers.


  • Must have a general knowledge of arrangements for billeting; how a platoon is fed in billets, sanitary arrangements; orders for sentries in billets; alarm posts.

Machine Guns

  • If possible, have a knowledge of how to fire a machine gun in case of emergency; how to disable a gun without explosives.

Interior Economy and Military Law

  1. Powers on an O.C. company.
  2. Forfeiture of pay.
  3. Fines for drunkenness.
  4. How to make a summary of evidence.
  5. Definitions and differences between various crimes that may come before an O.C. company, before taken to C.O.
  6. Powers of an officers when on detachment.
  7. Procedure when a man reports sick; asks for an advance of pay; asks for extension of leave; asks for pass at unauthorized time (i.e., when the O.C. company is away.)
  8. Duties of the orderly officer, orderly sergeant, N.C.O.'s of his platoon.
  9. How a soldier is paid:—at home; on active service. How to make out a requisition for cash; quittance rolls.
  10. Regimental orders, part I, and part 2, as far as affects the pay of the men of the company.
  11. Procedure when a man requires new kit:— (a) A free issue; (b) on payment.
    Where the payments appear in the company pay list.
  12. What to do in case of a military disturbance outside barracks.
  13. When he is on leave; how to deal with men asking for passes and advance of pay.
  14. Compliments to be paid to senior officers:— (a) when in command of men; (b) when off duty.
  15. Restrictions of an officer on the sick list and how to report sick.
  16. How to write an official letter, and the proper channels for it to pass through.
  17. What to do when on sick leave.
  18. How to keep a trench store book and the procedure on handing out any stores or handing over completely.
  19. How to take over a platoon from another officer.
  20. Procedure when a soldier is brought up on crime.

Physical Drill

  • Must have sufficient knowledge to take his platoon for physical drill parades in billets; taking his platoon for bayonet exercises.


  • Must have slight knowledge of field telephones, and how to mend a broken line; the form of telephone message used in the service. How to read, take down and write down a verbal message.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Saturday, 16 May 2015

Feeding Soldiers on the Firing Line
Topic: Army Rations

Feeding Soldiers on the Firing Line

I heard an officer just back from a week's riot in London, where he had lived at the Savoy and Romano's, exclaim with undoubted sincerity, as his batman set the familiar trench dish before him once more: "Good old bully beef! It tastes like real food after the fussy stuff back in civilization.

Britton B. Cooke, in The Toronto Globe
Fort Frances Times, 27 January, 1916

Anyone returning from the front finds innumerable questions leaping at him from the lips of his friends who have not been there. Soldiers still in training in Canada want to know such things as whether the Sam Brown or the Web equipment is used at the front. Civilians who follow the war summaries closely want to be told just how many men there are behind our lines, and how the wire entanglements are laid out, and what is wrong or isn't wrong with the Ross rifle. Youngsters want to know what a shell looks like when it is bursting under one's nose, or some question equally difficult to answer, and young women inquire as to the whereabouts of "A" Regiment or "B" Regiment, or such-and-such an artillery brigade. But older women, when all the others have fired their questions and been disappointed in their answers, have just one question to ask. They wait, as a rule, until no-one else seems to be within ear-shot, and then ask: "Have you enough to eat? Have they plenty to eat? What should one send them to eat? What sort of horrid plum pudding will they give my Tom, do you suppose? — Oh, dear me, are you sure they're not hungry? Or if they want anything to eat — between meals? Or if they should get hungry in the night—or—?"

Men Are Well Fed

If all questions sprang from such deep, kindly affection and if they could all be answered as happily as these, the war itself would soon be over. The men at the front are so well fed that their families will have to improve the standard of living when they come home—most of them at all events. They may be wet very often—though conditions this winter are much better than last winter—and they may miss the dire operation of carving the turkey at home and satisfying the hysterical appetites of small persons with round eyes close down near the table cloth, but the army in France and Flanders uses the same calendar as the people at home do, and attached the same importance to the 25th of December as others. In London when I left in October there were hundreds of women in the indirect employ of the War Office commissariat making special puddings for Christmas in the trenches. This same Christmas dawn that sets the birds chattering under the eaves of Canadian houses and sets the hardy songsters of northern France fluttering out from under the thatches on French and Belgium straw stacks behind our lines saw military cooks, like domestic cooks, making special preparations for the day.

A Top-Hole Day

"Christmas!" exclaimed one of those always merry young subalterns that occur every here and there among the men, something like the almonds in the cake. "Why, last Christmas was just about as jolly a Christmas as I ever had. We had a top-hole day." He was English, of course. "And except that—well, one didn't have one's folks with one—except fopr that it was a bully sort of a day. We were in a pretty bad country just then, not nearly so good as this, and the roofs of the dug-outs leaked because we hadn't got onto the corrugated iron stunts for a roof. But we had a feast, and some games—and potted at a few Boches in between whiles.

You never can believe all these subalterns tell you, especially if they have only got one "pip" instead of two on their cuffs. For the difference between one "pip" and two is more than just the difference between a first and second lieutenant. It is the difference between responsible and irresponsible authority. In this case, however, the truth was not deeply disguised. There may be homesickness buried under nonsense, but at least there is a meal of meals on the day when nobody is supposed to lack happiness.

Getting Food to the Front

The getting of the food to the men on the firing line is the only real difficulty of this branch of the service. Last night if one had been in some high place looking down over the line of battle one might have seen little parties being formed at regular intervals along the line of trenches. Each party, lined up first with its back to the rear wall of the trench, numbered in subdued tones, and then marched off under the command of a non-commissioned officer or a subaltern toward the rear. One might, in one's imagination at all events, have seen those hundreds of little parties stealing back through hundreds of long, tortuous communications trenches, emerging finally from behind a bit of cover—a hedge or a low hill or ruined building—on the road leading back toward brigade headquarters. Shells dropped in this vicinity occasionally, because the enemy probably knows it is a very important part of our line of supply; rifle bullets go whinging by every now and then, or a machine gun from the German side is spraying the vicinity. Here the ration party connects with the detail that has brought the food supply from the local depot. With quick movements the load is taken up by the front line party, and they drop back into the trench with beef and pork, bread and potatoes, salt, and all the odds and ends of provisions. As one party returns so hundred all along the front have been returning. Some have had a casualty or two. Some even more than that. But the food gets back ultimately, and is parcelled out, platoon by platoon, bay by bay. There will be no cooking done now at night, but bye-and-bye, when the light begins to show over the German parapet across the way and the sentries stand down for the day, you may imagine you see countless small spirals of smoke curling up from the trenches and the jewel-like glow of countless small fires perched precariously in home-made braziers at various points along the trench wall. Over each fire hangs a smoke-blackened, crescent-shaped saucepan (the mess tin), and in the quiet glow of the brazier you may make out the face of the man who is tending it. He probably has a long spoon or a jack-knife or a real fork wherewith he gravely stirs the contents of the tin. The smoke from the brazier licks up around the sides of the saucepan occasionally and takes a sort of taste of the contents, leaving its flavor therein. But what is a bit of smoke in a trench stew? If you are not careful the spoon or other weapon with which you stir the mess may become a bit gummy and encrusted with the deposits of many stirrings, but the flavor, even then, is excellent. I heard an officer just back from a week's riot in London, where he had lived at the Savoy and Romano's, exclaim with undoubted sincerity, as his batman set the familiar trench dish before him once more: "Good old bully beef! It tastes like real food after the fussy stuff back in civilization. I pretty nearly asked for it on the steamer train coming from Victoria Station."

Daytime is Resting Time

Except when an advance is being prepared, or is expected from the other side of No Man's Land, daytime is the resting time of the men, or if they have had enough sleep, it affords then unlimited scope for the practice of mending, shaving, cleaning one's rifle, or cooking. From Stand-down at dawn till Stand-to at dusk there is always somebody cooking something in the trenches. It is not only a pastime, but it is a subject for infinite research work. In one trench I heard of a man, a six-footer with a beard, who in other days used to do plumbing in Toronto, who had become so immersed, not to say buried, in the mysteries of cookery that his dishes, albeit limited in number, were in great demand. He had learned to make a sort of chop suey seasoned with a strange herb discovered in what used to be Anton's (Antoine's) farm.

That concerns the feeding of the men in the trenches. They are their own cooks for only a limited number of days while living in the front line. When, however, they get their relief and are sent back first to the reserve line and then go to the billets, they are served by real cooks from real kitchens and have a chance to wash the grime off their hands if they want to. Also there is more water to drink than in the front line, where there is a drinking supply fairly convenient and under cover. But the problem of feeding the biggest family in the world, except the Russian Czar's family of fighting men, is not solved merelkyu by the ration parties and the stew-tenders either in the trenches or in billets.

Some Sunday in London take a twenty-four bus down Oxford street past the Bank and down Commercial road to, say, the East India Docks. While all the rest of London is warming itself at its grate fires or sipping tea, down here a beef boat from Uruguay or the Argentine is working her way into the still waters of the dock, through the narrow gate that cuts off the open River Thames, with its constant rise and fall, from the docks proper. There are already seven other ships in the dock, not counting insignificant little trawlers and wind-jammers. These seven black-painted liners are all unloading food: wheat, cheese and butter from Canada; mutton from New Zealand; canned eggs from China; pork from the Netherlands. Watch the newcomer as she is warped round a nasty cement corner of the entrance channel into the basin and then towards her berth. In a few minutes her hatches, like those of the other seven, are broached. The stevedores swarm into her holds and the donkey engines start whining and grumbling under the gravely moving derrick arms. Presently, what was an empty dock-section is heaped high with the cargo and a string of "goods vans" is toting it away. Follow it to a Government cold-storage place. Thence it emerges presently in wooden cases and is teamed to another dock, where sundry small steam trawlers lie waiting for errands to do. Their errand is now to take that beef, with probably a couple of military automobiles and a few thousand rounds of eighteen pounder shells, across the Channel to France. Watch the trawler as she quits her dock and gets out into the Thames, down past the old wooden wall of England, where she lies in the river, past the lightship at the Noro and the rows upon rows of nets and mines, and nets again, till she is in the open Channel. See what that is that circles her and her sister ships, protecting them against submarines. See them arrive at a French port that looks exactly like Quebec from the upriver side, and see the cargo land on French soil.

That load of bully beef is all but lost sight of in a great mound of stuff on the wharf. It lies there for many hours till finally a gang of workers clears it away and it resumes its journey by rail to a certain inland point. Here the long motor transports pick it up along with other goods, and it is distributed between several divisional depots. Its motor journey may last two days. When German Taubes appear overhead the convoy keep sunder the shade of the trees at the side of the road as much as possible. At night the long caravans lie hidden under avenues of trees if possible, and by day go on, closer and closer to the front. Occasionally, when an enemy airman has been able to spy the convoy and give the range, the convoy is shelled. It may lose some of its bully beef. There may be casualties, but the service has to be kept up across areas where the enemy has concentrated fire enough to daunt less courageous men. Yet in the midst of dangers the routine is still preserved. The officer in charge of the column collects written acknowledgements of the receipt of so much bully beef, so much pork, so much flour, and so on, from each depot. These in turn keep similar records.

In the stock of the commissariat there are not many dainties. Marmalade is about the best of them in ordinary times. But even that rule is abated as it gets toward Christmas. It is safe to say that there was probably more plum pudding in the British trenches in France this year than in all of Canada put together. And if in the list of extras which the military post brought the men there was nothing for certain men without friends of family back home, they would find themselves made partners in the things the more fortunate men received. For that is another point about the trenches; one man's wealth is for the moment every man's wealth. A ten-pound plum cake received by one man would probably yeild him just one fair-sized slice. The rest would be distributed in less than ten minutes.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Friday, 15 May 2015

The Citadel Condemned
Topic: Halifax

The Citadel Condemned

Historic Fort of Halifax to be Abandoned

Daily Mail and Empire, Toronto, 5 May 1899

Halifax, May 4.—The citadel overlooking this city, which has heretofore been considered the strongest fortification in North America, has been condemned. The fort was supposed to be impregnable, but it has seen its last days of usefulness in the capacity of a basis of defence in case of war.

Already the guns have been dumped, and hereafter the place will be little less than a resort for sightseeing tourists. The citadel is 253 feet above the level of the sea, and overlooks the city. It is nearly a mile in circumference. It was constructed at an enormous cost by the British Government, Maroons having been brought to this country to assist in the work. The mortality among these men, however, was so great that the British Government was compelled to send them to the River Niger.

The citadel has several subterranean passages, which are unknown to outsiders. It has been decided by the authorities to use the place in the future for barrack purposes, and one of the regiments now in Wellington barracks will be quartered there.

The dismantling of the fortress will not weaken the Halifax fortification to any appreciable extent, as York Redoubt, which commands the entrance to the harbour, is considered impregnable. It is built of the solid rock, and is mounted with a heavy battery.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Three Musketeers
Topic: The RCR

South African War Anecdotes

The Three Musketeers

Canadian Army Journal, Vol 16, No 4, Fall 1962
Contributed by Dr. A.S. McCormick

It is June 1900, and the First Provisional Battalion is in Kroonstad, Orange Free State. It is composed of men who have been left behind because of illness or wounds. Eventually the battalion will catch up with the main body and the men will rejoin their regiments. No. 5 Company is composed of 17 members of The Royal Canadian Regiment under Corporal A.S. McCormick, 25 Gordon Highlanders under Corporal Buggins, and 40 Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. It is an easy life: no drill, no duties - just be available for any call. Food is a tiresome repetition of the same old thing. So Lance-Corporal MacDonald of Halifax, N.S., Pte. Woodliffe of London, Ontario, and I decide to do something about it. At 10 p.m. with everyone else in bed, we set out on our expedition. We cross the dam over the Valch River and go to a supply depot on the far side of the town. We stop far enough from the depot not to be seen by the sentries. Woodliffe scouts around to see the layout. Then when the two sentries have met, turned about, and started back along the beat, he darts in and grabs a box and hurries to join McDonald and me. In the dark we make out the label "biscuits" - hardtack, the last thing anyone would select for a change of diet. "Blasted old biscuits," exclaims Woodliffe and he makes another raid. This time he brings a box with 12 two-pound tins of Bruce's Army and Navy rations a lovely stew. Now my Corporal's stripes do their part. The two men shoulder the boxes and I march them through the streets as a fatigue party. We pass two or three men in whose hearing I angrily say: "This is a fine time to send out a fatigue party!" We stop to rest. Through the darkness looms a figure with slow and measured tread. Looks like a police man, confound it. If it be a military policeman, he is about to see three men make a new world record for the mile. My heart is in my throat and if I cough, I am likely to spit it out. But we wait, the figure approaches, peers into each face and moves on. It is a Kaffir policeman. We breathe again. We continue the march. In camp, we open the boxes and divide the loot. A Gordon sticks his head out of his blanket tent, we beckon to him and when he approaches, hand him a tin. "J—-," he says and goes back to his tent. Happy over a brave deed carried out in the manner worthy of the best traditions of The Royal Canadian Regiment, we sleep like innocent babes. And as long as the food lasts we live happily. But in the long history of The RCR, no men were ever so frightened as we three when that policeman approached. Had our thievery been discovered, it would have been just too bad for the Three Musketeers.

The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Lingo of No Man's Land
Topic: Soldier Slang

Lingo of No Man's Land

The Lewiston Daily Sunday, 13 May 1918
Copyright 1918 by British Canadian Recruiting Mission

Counter Battery Duel

A counter battery duel occurs when a battery on one side is answered by a battery on the other side. Two methods of "return" are used:

  1. When an enemy battery shells one of our batteries, if the enemy position is successfully located, we may answer shell for shell in an effort to silence if.
  2. 2. The usual method, however, is for the battery which is the target of enemy shells to keep quiet, but get into communications with several heavy artillery batteries, which will direct a fierce return fire from big guns until the enemy is silenced.

High Explosive Shell

A high explosive shell contains no bullets. It does not explode until it hits the ground but on explosion, the bursts into fragments which are thrown in all directions.


The lowest non-commissioned officer attached to an artillery battery. He wears one stripe on his arms and his rank is equivalent to a lance corporal in the infantry.

Ammunition Column

An ammunition column is a train of transports or wagons drawn by horses or mules, engaged in carrying munitions from the railroads to the munitions dumps and from the dumps to the batteries.

Dud Shells

A dud shell is a dead one, that is, one does not explode after being fired. Removing these unexploded shells is one of the dangers of reclaiming the waste land over which the armies have been fighting.

Knife Rest

A wire entanglement made in sections behind the line and carried forward at night to be set up in No Man's Land. This method is easier and quicker construction than out on No Man's Land exposed to enemy fire.

Concertina Wire

Coils of wire like a concertina are one of the methods of wire entanglement. These coils are linked together to form an obstacle more difficult for the Germans to get through than the ordinary tangled wire protection.

Patrol Parties

These are groups of from three to 20 men usually accompanied by an officer, sent out into No Man's Land at night with some definite object in view, either to report on enemy movements in the trenches, conditions of the barb-wire entanglements or locations of breaks through which attacking infantry may go. Small parties usually go out on this work and move by stealth, creeping and crawling from shell-hole to shell-hole to keep out of sight of the enemy when a rocket or "star-shell" makes No man's Land as bright as day. Large patrols armed with machine guns are sometimes sent out to attack and capture an enemy patrol and secure information from the prisoners.

Star Shell or Very Light

Is a rocket fired from a pistol. It bursts in the air with fireworks display bright enough to illumine No Man's Land and reveal enemy scouts. Colored shells are used for signals. The Very bright SOS rocket is called by the soldiers "Save Our Souls." A scout in No Man's Land upright in the glare of an exploding rocket is often entirely safe if he stands perfectly still.


A sharp-shooter, located in some place of advantage like an old tree or ruined tower, close enough to the enemy lines for him to be able to pick off any man caught above the parapet. The contour of the ground and the constant shall-fire makes many places where the trench walls are low or have been partly blown away, and any soldier who forgets to duck his head in passing such a spot, is a fair target for the sniper.


Rehearsing the plan of attack behind the lines, so as to avoid misunderstandings and delays in action is called "Over–the–tapes." From aerial photographs, a map of white tape is laid out in some field behind the lines, showing the relation and direction of enemy trenches from our own and the distance between the various points. Each soldiers learns exactly how far and in what direction from his own post, is the part of the enemy trench which he is to reach and capture.

Wiring Party

Wiring parties are sent out at night to repair damage in the barb-wire entanglements, or to put up new entanglements in front of the trenches. The work is always done at night, in order to avoid the danger of enemy fire.

Pushing Up the Daisies

This expression means a man has been killed and buried.

M & V

Meat and vegetables, or in army official language, rations.

Bully Beef

The soldier's name for the canned corn beef, which is a principal part of his diet.

Iron Rations

The special 24-hour emergency allowances of bully beef and hard tack or ship's biscuits which the soldiers receive before going into the trenches.


When the soldiers come out of the trenches for rest, they are housed with French families in the neighborhood, or given sleeping quarters in barns or outhouses [i.e., outbuildings]. These are their billets.


The French word adopted by the British soldiers, meaning "drinking house" or saloon, where they can buy beer, French wines and similar drinks.

Rum Jar

Not a drinking vessel, but a term for the German home-made trench mortar. It looks like a piece of stove pipe on a wooden base, it is filled with all kinds of metal bits, and is fitted with a time fuse.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Updated: Friday, 23 September 2016 9:26 PM EDT
Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The Mess Account Discrepancy
Topic: Officers

Infantrymen of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment advancing through Motta, Italy, 2 October 1943. Photographer: Lieut. Jack H. Smith MIKAN Number: 3525793

The Mess Account Discrepancy

And No Birds Sang, Farley Mowat, 1979

In the circumstances, it was inevitable that we would begin to feel a festering contempt for the pompous paper-pushers of our behind-the-lines bureaucracy, whose only discernible reason for existence seemed to be to make our lives a trial.

One such was a pasty-faced, pot-bellied major from some arcane financial section who appeared every time we withdrew into reserve, but never came near when we were within artillery range of the enemy. He pursued us with dogged tenacity through Sicily and Italy for six months, demanding that we rectify a discrepancy in the officers' mess accounts amounting to the horrendous sum of three pounds, nine shillings and six pence. He would not accept my explanation (I was mess secretary during much of this period) that my predecessor had been blown to bits together with the account books and the mess funds themselves when a landmine went off beneath his truck.

"That just won't do—won't do at all," the major huffed.

"He should have been blown up by a two-ton bomb instead?" I asked innocently.

The major glared angrily. "There should have been copies of the mess accounts kept in a safe place. The missing monies must be accounted for or you will be held personally answerable to the auditor-general!"

He demanded that I institute a full-scale Court of Inquiry to trace the missing funds. What I actually did was lead him a merry chase for months, until I got so sick of his face that I collected the equivalent of the missing sum in captured German marks and sent it off to him. In due course I received his official receipt, properly stamped and signed, in quintuplicate.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Monday, 11 May 2015

Canadian Army Develops New Baseplate For Mortar
Topic: Mortars

Canadian Army Develops New Baseplate For Mortar

Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, Jan 1955
A News Report By The Directorate Of Public Relations (National Defence)

The Canadian Army has solved a problem which has baffled military researchers for years. Army Headquarters said it has developed a lighter, more durable and cheaper medium mortar baseplate which has passed all tests with flying colors. It is now available for issue to infantry units. The new, 25-pound, circular baseplate is made of high-grade aluminum alloy and can be produced for $65, about 50 per cent. cheaper than the steel plate now in use. Production has been carried out by the Aluminum Company of Canada, Limited, at its Kingston, Ont. plant. The baseplate is adaptable for use with both the U.S.-built 81-millimetre mortar and the British-built three inch weapon. Extensive tests resulted in excellent reports on the new baseplate. Research has gone on since 1949 when the Directorate of Armament Development was first assigned the job. The aluminum plate has been tested on every type of surface – mud, sand, turf, solid concrete, rubble, frozen river beds and thick lake ice, as well as off concrete with the centre unsupported. In all these tests the hammer forged disc withstood the 45,000 pounds-per-square-inch pressure exerted on it each time the mortar was fired. The plate has been subjected to temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero and hundreds of rounds fired from the mortar. Super charges were used to boost the pressure thrust considerably but the plate showed no signs of cracking or breaking. Biggest drawbacks of the steel baseplate were its cumbersome weight (40 pounds) and its tendency to crack or break after rough or prolonged usage. Seeking to overcome these drawbacks, the Army took its problem to the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys. This department put its experts to work on the problem. Before long they had met the rugged standards required by the Army for this new and unique design of mortar baseplate. Research into the use of a still lighter metal, magnesium, is continuing at the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys.

elipsis graphic

To many readers, this baseplate will be most recognizeable as that used with the following weapons:

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Sunday, 10 May 2015

Breakfast at the Siege of Bhurtpoor
Topic: Officers

An Officers' Breakfast at the Siege of Bhurtpoor

Cadet to Colonel, Vol I, Major-General Sir Thomas Seaton, K.C.B., 1866

One of our most agreeable duties [at the Siege of Bhurtpoor, 1825] was that of being sent as a working party into the forest, felling trees to form an abattis to prevent the enemy's horse from making sorties and annoying our camp. These occasions were regular picnics, each officer taking his own dinner with him, and when all were put together any stranger officer was heartily to our feast. But the duty we liked best of all was duty in the trenches. We had several reasons for this preference. One was that our doctor, who was a capital fellow, always organized a grand breakfast for us in the parallel near Baldeo Sing's garden on the right. At 9 o'clock, when all was quiet, we used to leave our native officers in charge of our companies and go to breakfast. Our table was laid at right angles to the trench, not, perhaps, the most prudent position which we could have placed it, but, from the formation of the trench, just then very convenient. Our kitchen was behind the trunk of a large tree close at hand, and the regimental doolies (litters) were our plates, baskets, and larder. No one sat at the outer end of the table, where our empty plates, teapots, cups, and saucers were put, and fortunate it was that no one selected that position, for one morning a chance shot from the fort struck the top of the parapet, covered us with clouds of earth and dust, knocked off the teapot, smashed the empty crockery, and cleared the end of the table. The cloud of dust, the flying clods, the crash of the broken crockery, the whiz of the shot, made all our servants think that at least half of us were killed, one of them, the doctor's servant, began to cry and beat his breast, singing in most doleful tones, "Bap re bap. Bap re bap. Oh dear; oh dear! Mere sahib l'g; mere sahib l'g. My poor masters; my poor masters!" Hearing us laugh, however, he started looking thoroughly indignant that we could appreciate his grief; and perhaps he was a little disappointed at having lost an opportunity displaying his talent. He would have made a capital professional howler at funerals.

One morning, when we were in the midst our breakfast, laughing and enjoying ourselves, Lord Combermere passed on his way to inspect the works. "What officers are those?" he asked.

"The 35th, my Lord."

"Comfortable dogs, let 'em alone."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Saturday, 9 May 2015

Canadians Obtain Good Experience; Salisbury 1915
Topic: CEF

Canadians Obtain Good Experience

Bad Roads Help to Harden Men for Work in France
Finishing Touches
Disciplione Has Been the One Failure—Disobedience Well Punished

The Toronto World, 12 January 1915
By John A. MacLaren, one of The World's Staff Correspondents with the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Salisbury, Eng., Dec. 22.—To turn the raw material into the finished product, to make the recruit—with his woeful lack of knowledge of matter military, probably the most important of which is discipline—into a real soldier, authorities have said that nine months of hard training is necessary. In the British regular army a soldier is not supposed to know all the ropes in less than that period. The Canadians have now been drilling for four months, and they believe they are ready to meet the enemy at any time. Their work has been harder than that of a recruit in the British army in times of peace. They have been living under practically active service conditions in the rain and mud of Salisbury, and not in barracks, with two or three weeks in the autumn of manoeuvres, which is the only occasion when the British regulars get a taste of what war may be like. So after four months, on account of the great emergency, the Canadian volunteers, who have had to undergo untold hardships, may be almost as well equipped for genuine fighting as the man who spends nine months picking up the rudiments of the game in a barracks.

There is much talk of the force going to France in the latter part of January, or five months after the call to arms was sounded throughout Canada, and if this should occur it will not come as a surprise but as a relief. The long wait and surprise will be over.

Stand the Strain

There appears to be every indication that the finishing touches are being applied to the training course. It is recognized that as far as endurance, or ability to stand the strain of warfare is concerned, there are none better than the Canadians. The fact that so few men fall out of the ranks before the conclusion of a twenty-mile march is a revelation.

There is no doubt that the men are physically fit. Their muscles are hard, and working during such bad weather has placed then in splendid condition.

The old system of double company formations instead of platoons is now working smoothly, and officers who were rather green at first, are handling their men with greater confidence and success. The reason for discarding the platoon formation was because it did not work satisfactorily in France. Right here it may be said that the men in harness in England getting ready to fight are taught to a great extent, according to wrinkles found in the firing line. That platoon system would never had been dropped had it not been found unwieldy in France.

There is a certain soldier greatly admired in England. He wears a blue-and-white ribbon on his sleeve. This ais a sign that he has returned from the front on furlough. While he is in England his short vacation is nor one entirely of leisure. In many instances he is found teaching the young soldiers what he himself learned first hand. In the Canadian camp a few of these men have been giving instructions to those who are getting ready. For example, in the important matter of digging trenches they teach the Canadian the width and the depth of trenches and other valuable things in the use of the spade. It has been said that next to the gun the spade is winning this war. At all events the Canadians are taught how to dig trenches properly. These ditches zig-zag here and there across the downs, an indication of the industry of the men who may soon be performing similar work in France.

Leave Cut Off

As has been pointed out in a cable all leave will be cut off after January 1st. One would imagine that this order would disappoint the men. But not so. It has had the other effect. The Canadian believe that this means an early departure, and that is what they want.

Some new equipment has been added to the force. Four or eight new machine guns will be used in each battalion, and each officer of a machine gun squad has been taking instructions on their use. The quick-firers are somewhat different from those formerly used. This type of weapon has been recognized as a great factor in the war. Captain Mckessock, who practiced law in Sudbury for years, and Lieutenant MacDonald of the Queen's Own, are both officers in command of machine guns. This branch if the service has proved very fascinating, if the large waiting list is any criterion.

Poor Discipline

One of the most difficult tasks confronting commanding officers is teaching their men to obey. There has been a lack of discipline apparent and this undoubtedly is due principally to the fact that neither Canadian officers nor men are professional soldiers. But there has been a great tightening up, and the men are gradually learning that it pays to obey. The penalty for disobedience is strict. Not long ago a man received his pay and went over the the canteen. He didn't come back for a week, for, after visiting this little wooden hut where light beer is served, he journeyed to London. When he returned he got thirty days in a military prison. It was his second offence. When the contingent first arrived here overstaying leave was quite common. But this has all been changed.

The Canadians—many of them—salute only when necessary. They look upon this form of exercise as an inconvenience and unnecessary except when they meet their own officers. But, as in many other things, they are quickly learning to do the proper thing—to pay respect to the rank. British officers are sticklers for etiquette, consequently the British rankers are always very proper.

The other day General Pitcairn Campbell, commander of the Southern Command, while walking along a Salisbury street, passed a couple of westerners. They did not salute him. The general wheeled around and shouted, "Hey, hey, why the devil don't you salute me?"

No answer.

The Canadians immediately came to attention and saluted very briskly.

"You're not supposed to salute with one hand in your pocket," said the general to one of the offenders. "See that you salute an officer hereafter," and then the general and the two miscreants, whose nerves were greatly on edge, parted company. The Canadians were thankful that nothing further occurred.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Friday, 8 May 2015

A Short Talk With Chief Petty Officers (USN 1917)
Topic: Leadership

Summary of Points; from
"A Short Talk With Chief Petty Officers."

The Bluejacket's Manual, United States Navy, by Lieutenant Norman R. Van Der Veer, U.S. Navy, 1917

1.     You have a position in which you must have expert knowledge of every detail that applies to your branch of the profession.

2.     Your duties in training and instructing men of lower ratings are even more important than your duties in connection with the matériel.

3.     Your conduct must be entirely above reproach, and your daily life such as to set an example both from a personal as well as from a professional point of view.

4.     Whatever may be your special branch, always bear in mind the military side of the life. Comply strictly with the formalities of military life and require the same of your juniors.

5.     Yours is a position of honor and responsibility. Do your work from a sense of duty. Be thorough in all you do, and require of your subordinates thoroughness and military exactitude.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Thursday, 7 May 2015

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 2)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 2)

War's Something More than Charts, Headlines

There's more. Much more, to the war in Vietnam than battle reports and casualty figures, statistics and strategy. Above all, there are the soldiers, the "GI Joes," each fighting for his life in a very personal way, in his own personal war. John Wheeler, who has been covering Vietnam for The Associated Press for years, recounts some of those personal experiences, funny and bitter, tragic and ironic, that make up the war in Vietnam.

Eugene Register-Guard, 18 August 1968
By John T. Wheeler, of Associated Press

For all the horror of war, there is still humor.

A reconnaissance team sat in its Army helicopter as it dived toward a landing zone deep in enemy territory. As the chopper leveled out, the door gunner panicked and pushed the first heavily laden recon man out while the chopper was still 25 feet in the air.

As the chopper dropped lower, the next man paused at the door, got a firm grip on the door gunner's arm and dragged him out when he jumped.

The door gunner, without adequate field gear, spent the next five days with the recon team. When the patrol was over, all the recon men were decorated. The door gunner got an official reprimand.

elipsis graphic

For a man on night ambush, there are many perils. Cpl. Jim Shepherd didn't know it that night, but he had one standing right beside him.

The Montpelier, Idaho, infantryman said later, "I felt something hit me on the arm. I thought it was the squad leader jabbing me.

Shepherd turned and faced not his squad leader but a grown tiger. The tiger, apparently satisfied that the 19-year-old corporal would make a satisfactory dinner, began dragging Shepherd away.

Shepherd pounded the tiger's face with his free right hand. He was afraid to try and jerk free for fear of losing his left arm. His buddies were afraid to shoot for fear of hitting him.

"He got me into the water and I guess he figured he couldn't get me across the creek. He probably didn't know what to do with me," Shepherd said.

What the tiger did do was drop Shepherd in the water and move majestically into the night in search of slightly smaller prey. Shepherd went to hospital for stitched and two weeks of antirabies shots.

elipsis graphic

The interdependence of men, especially in jungle warfare, has wrought what one officer called a revolutionary change in race relations in the military. Vietnam is the first war in which all U.S. units are thoroughly integrated.

A 25th Division battalion commander once said, "There is no room for bigotry in foxholes." The comment was made after a particularly bitter battle in "Hell's Half Acre" near the division's headquarters at Cu Chi.

During the fight, one U.S. squad was being systematically shot to pieces by Viet Cong snipers. Four bodies of white GIs lay deep in the snipers' kill zone. A powerfully built sergeant called out for volunteers to race out and pull the bodies and weapons in.

Spec. 4 Newman heard the call in the bottom of a trench where he was resting a hip wound. The Baltimore, Md., Negro was under no military compulsion to volunteer. There were enough unwounded men to do the job. But he scrambled painfully out of the trench and began running with a heavy limp into the kill zone.

The wound slowed him down. Everybody made it to protection in shell holes but Newman, whose side was opened up by a burst of enemy automatic weapons fire. Two men immediately leaped from the trench to rescue Newman. One was white, the other Negro.

Earlier in the war, a U.S. 101st Airborne company was commanded by a Negro captain from Atlanta, Ga. The captain was articulate, well;-educated and very much the commander of his men.

The company's first sergeant was the product of the Mississippi Delta, a white with little formal schooling.

The captain and the sergeant worked together in near perfect teamwork with frequent gusts of humor.

The battalion commander said that more of the company's men undoubtedly returned home alive that they would have if the relationship had been any different.

If race had been elbowed out of the foxholes, at least one chaplain says that the long-held belief that atheists are also absent is not true.

The chaplain, Navy Lt. Ray Stubble of Milwaukee, Wis., ministered to the 26th Marine Regiment during the worst days of the siege at Khe Sanh south of the DMZ.

Sitting in a bunker during one shelling, Stubbie said the proportion of atheists in foxholes and trenches was about the same as on any peaceful street in America.

What about the old saying, then, "There are no atheists in foxholes?"

"Maybe it was true once, but it isn't now. Perhaps the world has changed. I don't know. But the shelling isn't bringing in any more men for religious purposes," he said.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 1)
Topic: The Field of Battle

Vietnam Sketchbook (Part 1)

War's Something More than Charts, Headlines

Eugene Register-Guard, 18 August 1968
By John T. Wheeler, of Associated Press

There's more. Much more, to the war in Vietnam than battle reports and casualty figures, statistics and strategy. Above all, there are the soldiers, the "GI Joes," each fighting for his life in a very personal way, in his own personal war. John Wheeler, who has been covering Vietnam for The Associated Press for years, recounts some of those personal experiences, funny and bitter, tragic and ironic, that make up the war in Vietnam.

SAIGON—In the battlefield, where the killing is done, the chaos of war makes a mockery of the neat, mimeographed battle plans and colored symbols arranged on wall maps back at headquarters.

For in the field, an incautious step, a minute flaw in a howitzer's sights, a commander's mistake, fortune's whimsy—almost anything—can kill a man or cripple his body.

Most GIs learn to conquer or control their fear of the predictable dangers of combat. But many find dealing with chaos and the bitter ironies it spawns a much tougher proposition.

They find that life—and death in the rice paddies, swamps, jungle and mountains often is the direct opposite of their backgrounds in a well-ordered civilization where the question "Why?" usually has an answer.

For the combat infantryman here, the question often is not only unanswerable but unasked.

elipsis graphic

For one Marine sergeant, the ironies piled up one atop the other at the very end of his 13-month tour in Vietnam.

During the hectic days of the siege at a Khe Sanh, routine paperwork often was delayed. One piece of late paperwork contained the order for the leatherneck to go home.

A day after he should have left Khe Sanh, the sergeant finally got his orders. His friends congratulated him. Home, today he was starting home.

The sergeant joked with his comrades in the trenches until the morning fog lifted and it was time to go to the airstrip for the last ride out.

Looking toward a hill infested with hidden North Vietnamese troops, the Marine emptied his pistol in their general direction. "Well, those are the last shots I'll fire in Nam," he said and climbed out of the trench.

Moments later, one of the 800 shells that hit Khe Sanh that day exploded near the sergent, sending steel splinters into his body.

Later when he was being evacuated by helicopter, he could muse not only on the red tape, but that he had won a much undesired third Purple Heart.

Under Marine regulations the third Purple Heart automatically means a man is sent out of the war zone no matter how long or short a time he had spent in Vietnam.

elipsis graphic

GIs are deeply superstitious about being "short-timers," men who are near the end of their combat tours. There have been many cases where battlefield savvy, extreme care and an unbroken chain of luck have failed a man at the last moment.

The sergeant major of one Marine battalion in the demilitarized zone area was within 14 days of returning to the States after fighting in his third war. In two months he would leave the military for good and retire.

One of his men called the grizzled veteran "the mole" because of the way he stayed near his sandbagged bunker.

One day during a prolonged lull in the routine enemy shelling, the sergeant major crawled out of his bunker and headed rapidly for the foxhole of another oldtimer who had hot coffee.

The lull ended midway between the bunkers and the sergeant major was killed instantly.

A few hours later a Marine CH46 helicopter began spiraling down with a full load of replacements, men just starting their Vietnam tour.

As usual, Communist mortar and artillery shells began dropping around the off-loading area as soon as the chopper landed. An 18-year-old Marine who had been in Vietnam only two days sprinted out the back door of the chopper and raced toward the safety of a trench line 100 yards away.

An older man, cursing his age and slowness was clear of the blast from the shell that exploded virtually at the private's feet 40 yards ahead. The youngster had led the field, but lost the race. He was the only one of 25 men to be hit.

elipsis graphic

Although the war unquestionably brutalizes most men who fight it, GIs sometimes voice another side they see to the coin.

A young, sandy-haired corporal from St. Louis stared into his half-emptied can of cold C rations and said:

"Somehow we're both better and worse than we were before we were pushed into this war up to our necks.

"Half the things I've seen and done here I hope I never have to think about again. And I sure wouldn't want my wife or family to know some of the things I've had to do.

"But at the same time there are times when we are all better than we were. I've never known friendship like I've found here. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for the guys in my fire team. And I sleep better knowing most of them feel the same way. Yeah, that's it. Sometimes we are better."

elipsis graphic

The better side, as the corporal called it, is the wellspring for much of the positive side of the war—heroism, endurance, determination and sacrifice—sometimes the ultimate sacrifice of giving your life for your comrades.

Many in Vietnam have heard the thump of an anemy grenade landing near them and in the midst of their comrades. Sometimes the grenade is on a trail, sometimes in a shell hole, sometimes among men huddled behind trees or termite mounds firing at an enemy only yards away.

More than a score of men have reacted instinctively—there is no time to pause and consider—by throwing themselves on the grenade to save their friends. The results normally are fatal to the man who cared enough.

Some men welcome war as a personal proving ground. Because they are in some way unsure of themselves, they press harder than most, taking reckless chances that will put some nagging fear or uncertainty to rest. Often these men return to the United States with several rows of ribbons on their chest. Often they go home in caskets, the questions and proof no longer relevant.

"You know, I'm going to sign over for another tour when my 12 months is up," a beardless 24-year-old lieutenant nicknamed Buddy said one night in the central highlands.

"This is the life for me, I'm going to try to stay in Vietnam for as long as the Army'll let me."

The next day Buddy's company was caught in an ambush which killed or wounded half the unit. Buddy was killed early in the action, leading a counterattack at the head of his men.

Only later did a correspondent who was with the unit learn from a family friend that Buddy was the son of a much-decorated World War II Army officer who was killed in action.

"All through childhood Buddy tried to live up to the standards of a father he had never known," the friend said.

elipsis graphic

No one questions the courage of the American fighting man and not a few tributes have come from the enemy which sets some pretty high standards for its own men. But the idea that Americans always charge into the guns or are spoiling for a fight isn't true.

In one instance an American unit under heavy fire lay behind what cover it could find. They had been ordered to assault up the hill. The sergeant called out the order, "When I count three, everyone move out." the order was passed down the line without elaboration. Minutes later the sergeant called out loudly, "One. Two. Three. Go." Everyone, including the sergeant, began running toward the rear—away from the hill.

"Nobody is going to be interested in that hill in a couple of days," the sergeant explained later. "We would have taken two or three men killed for each one we got. Those are very bad odds."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Grange Tunnel to be Preserved
Topic: CEF

Famous Tunnel at Vimy Ridge Will Now Be Preserved

Grange Labyrinth Was Discovered by Canadian Engineers After Search
Bomb Dump Found
Names and Messages, Written on Chalk With Indelible Pencil, Are Well Preserved

The Montreal Gazette, 5 November 1927

London, November 4.—Canadian engineers have discovered at Vimy Ridge the only portion left intact of all the battlefields on the Western Front, reports the Daily Express. It is the famous Grange Tunnel. Everything is as it was in 1917, from scribbled names to unused bombs. The dugouts are being permanently preserved, and the place will become the most remarkable relic of the war.

The story is told by H.V. Morton, special correspondent of the Express, in a letter from Vimy Ridge. Mr. Morton's narrative follows.

Thousands of former soldiers are visiting the battlefields of France and Belgium in the hope of finding trenches, dugouts, or the exact spot where they received their "blighties."

In the Ypres Salient they see nothing but flourishing fields of corn, flax, oats and barley. There is not a trench left in Belgium except a few doubtful examples on Hill 60.

France the scars of war are more visible, but a strenuous peasantry has filled the shell holes and has rebuilt its farms on the front line. It is amazing how swiftly the plough and the building contractor have wiped out all traces of war.

I found today the only spot in France where a man can feel that he is back again in 1914-1919; where he can stand at a sniper's post and fit the rotted butt of a rusted rifle to his shoulder as he peeps out towards the German trenches. The wire is still up in "No Man's Land," duck-boards lie in the trenches, officers' beds, rotting and collapsed, still lie in the chalk dug-outs.

Hundreds of names and many messages are written on the chalk in indelible pencil, as fresh as when they were written ten years ago. Mills bombs with the pins in them repose on ledges, cans of bully beef, tin hats—all the familiar debris of those sad days—are to be seen as they were left in 1918.

This amazing spot in the famous Grange Tunnel, on Vimy Ridge, which has just been opened by the Canadian Battlefields Memorial Commission. It is to be preserved for the benefit of posterity as a kind of textbook on trench warfare, and is destined to become the most remarkable relic of the war.

General Pershing visited it recently and said it was the only living war memorial in France. Every soldier who has seen it wonders why no one ever thought of preserving a section of the front line.

The project began a year ago as a side-line to the Canadian memorial on Vimy Ridge, which will not be completed until 1931. The stone for this stupendous shrine comes from the ancient Roman quarries round the Bay of Spalato in Dalmatia. While waiting for supplies of this stone to arrive, it occurred to the Canadian engineers that it might be interesting to locate the famous Grange Labyrinth—the miles of underground passages which the Canadians pushed out to within a few yards of the enemy's lines.

Map references were taken, and the entrance to the tunnel was discovered choked up with brushwood. The work of clearing the tunnel has taken a year, and it is not yet completed.

To Preserve Trenches

So interesting were the discoveries that the commission decided to rebuild the trenches, preserve the dugouts and make the Grange Tunnel a permanent site. The trenches have been lined with concrete sandbags. The concrete is poured in wet, so that when the sandbags rot the marks of the mesh will remain; the duck-boards have been cast in concrete, all wood has been taken out of the dugouts, and the passages have been reinforced with concrete and metal. The Grange Tunnel has at least a century of life before it.

I was shown around the tunnel by Captain Unwin Simpson, Royal Canadian Engineers, who is in charge of the work. On the way down is a notice: "These walls are sacred to the names of soldiers who inscribed them during their occupation in the war of 1914-1918. Please omit yours."

We entered a dark tunnel and found ourselves in a labyrinth of passages, dugouts and battalion headquarters cut far below the ground level in the white chalk of Vimy Ridge. It was as though we had been switched back to April, 1917—that time when the Canadian divisions advanced to the conquest of Vimy Ridge. Nothing has changed.

The smoke from the candles once set in niches to light the passages was still black on the chalk. The dugouts and the walls of the communicating passages were covered with names carved in the chalk or written in pencil and as legible as when they were inscribed during the great battle of Arras. The maple leaf of Canada was carved with an original variety in a hundred different places, and on the walls I read at random such inscriptions as these:

I cannot describe the feelings with which a man in these days approaches the inscriptions written below the earth of the Arras sector. In their cheery naivety we who have survived and can look back on 1917 with the calm unconcern of historians, seem to touch hands once more with these Canadian boys, who, 10 years ago, crouched in these chalk dugouts, still "alive and kicking," still "untouched by whizz-bangs," joking, laughing, waiting, quite unconscious that they were carving not only their names, but also history.

We walked for about half a mile, going deeper into Grange subway, until we came to battalion headquarters. On the wall of a dark, deep, chalk chamber, which had been used as an officers' mess during the Canadian advance on Vimy, were carved the following names: Major McCaghey, Major Collins, Lieutenant Abbott, Lieutenant Jamieson, Lieutenant H. Cook, May 10, 1927, 52 Battalion Canadian, B. Company. In a little carved shield were the words "Dick Swift."

We stood there, lighting matches in the dark, wondering what had happened to these men, wondering whether they still live somewhere at home in Canada, or whether they fell on Vimy Ridge. No matter whether they are alive or dead, their personalities live beneath the soil of France so vividly that one expects to meet them round the next corner.

While we were going on towards Mine Shaft, which the Canadian drove beneath the enemy lines, my foot kicked a small object. It was a tin of bully beef! It had been opened, but it had not been eaten, and it was ten years old. I leave to the imagination of any man who knows what bully beef was like when comparatively young to judge how this specimen looked and smelled.

Found Bomb Dump

"See this?" said Captain Simpson, holding up a queer grey slab. It was gun cotton, stamped 1916.

"Down there, about 100 feet below our present level," he said, "we found a dump of Mills bombs and also sacks of T.N.T. We have removed them reverently."

In the amazing collection of names written on the walls I came across two which roused my curiosity. They were:

  • Ship No. 7129, 1st Section, 7th Division, U.S.M.C., Texas Leather Neck Corps
  • Ship No. 3112, G.M., 2nd Class, 3rd Division, Flagship, U.S.S. Saratoga, Asiatic Fleet.

What on earth were these two American sailors doing with the Canadian armies on Vimy Ridge? How did they get there? Were they deserters from the American navy who, becoming weary of America's indecision, had joined up with the Canadians? Or were they shipwrecked mariners who had gone to Vimy in search of life?

I prophesy that books will some day be written about Grange Tunnel and the names which it perpetuates. The Canadian Battlefields Memorial Commission has carved, perhaps unwittingly, a grater memorial even than that expensive shrine which the Canadian Government is now building on the crest of Vimy Ridge.

Here in this dark tunnel, and here only, do we seem to meet the men who fought and died. Here only do we seem to see gain in the long chalk passages those well-known faces; here only can we read their signatures—no doubt in many cases their last-written words—written with the indelible pencils with which they wrote their letters home.

Canada has, with splendid and characteristic foresight, carved a shrine which is sacred not only to her army, but also to all the Allies. Here British, French and Belgians will gather in years to come and say: "This is how our men lived during the Great War." The Grange Tunnel is, and always will be, the greatest and most touching sight on the western front.

Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Monday, 4 May 2015

2-inch Mortar Ammunition (1949)
Topic: Militaria

2-inch Mortar Ammunition (1949)

During and after the Second World War, the 2-inch mortar was carried as an infantry platoon support weapon in the British and Canadian armies (among others). A variety of ammunition types were available for the mortar, including high explosive, smoke, illuminating flares, and signal flares.. The following diagrams, taken from Infantry Training, Volume I, Infantry Support Weapons, Pamphlet No. 8, The 2-inch Mortar (1949) show the ammunition types, identifying markings and mechanisms.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Sunday, 3 May 2015

An "Officers' Mess" in the Crimea
Topic: Officers

The Routine of Military Life

An "Officers' Mess" in the Crimea

The Newfoundlander, 25 January 1855

The correspondent of the Morning Post gives the following account of military life in the camp:—

"Let me briefly tell you how the day is passed. Early in the morning, generally at half-past four, there is a scraping at the tent door, and a voice is heard, "Signoir alzate, vi prego, in cafe a pronto," to which a lisping voice responds, "What Thpero, it ith'nt five, thurely?''Si, signoir, vbicino a'le cinque,' cries the faithful old idiot (our best servants have been in lunatic asylums), and the British officer is soon up and doing, his coffee is drunk, biscuit and pork are consumed, a wallet is thrown across the shoulder, containing provender for the day, and a flask of rum; the sword is girt on, and away goes out companion to the trenches, there to remain until 6 p.m., leaving us to snooze away until the sun has afforded us a cheering supply of light and heat, when we rise from our bed of blankets, and, having drunk in pure air during the night, rush to breakfast with ravenous appetites.

The breakfast table, made of two pieces of plank, nailed upon four stakes, is covered with tin spoons, tin pots, tin plates, tin canisters, and all those little tin articles for salt, pepper, &c., so well known to campaigners; and when we are seated, waiting anxiously, like hungry coach travellers of old, in comes a fine-faced finger-begrimed soldier, with a large supply of fried pork or beef frizzling from a black frying-pan in one hand, and in the other hand a cargo of soaked biscuit which, to give it flavour, has been baked in the fat of ration pork; this, with now and then a potato, or onion for a change, and a cup or two of coffee, forms our breakfast.

The pipe, that indispensable friend of the soldier in the field, follows every meal pour exciter la digestion; rud [sic] after it, should no duty (rare occurrence) call us away, each employs himself as inclination prompts; but the soldier can never be certain of a moment's quiet, for, not seldom when an affectionate son has settled himself expressly to soothe the anxiety of a worthy parent, an officer is seen pacing over from the commandant's tent. The scribe looks at him with awe, and, as he approaches, asks breathlessly, 'For whom are you looking?' to which the dreaded answer is given. 'You are the man for me, sir. The colonel wants you to take half a brigade of Sappers, and go to complete the cutting in the Inkerman road; it has not, he considers, been thoroughly done.' Of course, go the subaltern must and without a moment's delay, and at the road he is engaged until sunset, with his clothes drenched with rain, and rum and ration pork his best friends.

Our regular dinner hour is three, and as we have a mess of five, ours is strictly military time. As to what we get for dinner, that depends very much upon circumstances, but we generally have a good meal, as we go upon the principle that the best preserver of health under our sharp trials of constitution is good and regular food, and therefore that it is wiser to have a well-supported body rather than a richly supplied purse; and what laughing and joking is there over the reeking camp-kettle! One is accused of taking all the meat, another of forgetting that the delicacies of the season cost money; a third is placed under arrest for consuming more than his ration of grog; indeed, each in his turn is voted a robber of his neighbour and all that with such perfect good humour, that we are like the family in Trafalgar-square, for the slightest disagreement is unknown to us. When the dinner is over; and the ration coffee (far from bad) in tavola, a voice is heard in the distance, 'Thpero, puth the dinner ready, for I cannot thwait—I'm ravenous,' Spero knows well the voice and the order, and at once exclaims—'Momento, Signior, moment! Pranzo subito, subito!' and with lightning speed the pot reappears, and right good pranzo the man of the trencher makes. In truth, pure air works wonders upon the dyspeptic stomachs, and, with us even the hypochondriac finds himself hungry; imagine, then, how an officer just in from the open air, one who has never known a day's sickness, how he eats and drinks; yes, and as he enjoys his food, thanks God for his mercy. By the time the last dinner course is over, darkness has well set in; then it is that we all gather beneath the canvas and talk over the occurrences of the day—and very pleasant chats they are, save when the loss of some officer causes a damp to come over us all."

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT
Saturday, 2 May 2015

Inspection at Poona 1942
Topic: British Army

Inspection at Poona 1942

Troop Sergeant Clive Branson, Royal Armoured Corps RAC, quoted inThe Mammoth Book of War Diaries and Letters; Life on the battlefield in the words of the ordinary soldier, 1775-1991, Jon E. Lewis, 1998

Today a General paid us a visit. In one squadron they had many men change into PT kit, some ready to box, some to do PT, some to form two basket-ball teams, etc. They were kept sitting about doing nothing for ages until a scout saw the General's car. The scout signalled, and immediately everyone began boxing and playing basket-ball.

Nr Poona [Indial
20 June 1942

You have little idea how badly we need the news of the second front—it is the difference between a body of good, stolid-humoured Britishers and an inspired army of warriors. This morning we went out on a scheme on foot in units representing tanks. We covered ten or twelve miles or more over ploughed fields. It was magnificent exercise and although I felt pretty tired I enjoyed it no end. That sort of thing will make real soldiers of us.

But tonight I had a terrible set-back. On parade this morning we were asked who had seen active service. I said I had. When we came back from the scheme I was told that I was to go on an inspection by the Duke of Gloucester in a few days' time. This parade is purely bullshit. It will take several days to polish boots, brasses, etc. It will take days and nights for some eight Indian tailors to alter, clean, press, etc. clothes for the white sahibs to wear like bloody waxworks. The Indians, of course, will not be on parade, the lucky fools. I have often been asked, "Have we got a fifth column here?" Yes, we have! For nothing could help the enemy more by undermining morale, destroying enthusiasm and making us incompetent fighters than this kind of tomfoolery. The farce develops. This morning we had an inspection. The Duke's show is in five days' time. On the day we get up at 5 a.m. Our clothes will be packed in boxes and taken by lorry to the scene of battle, where we will get into them. Sebastopol is falling and our CO is disappointed at the lack of polish on the topee chin straps.

Well, the Duke's show is over, at immense expenditure of precious petrol, wear and tear of vehicles, deadening bullshit. The Duke merely shook hands with unit commanders and squadron leaders—the men just didn't exist. Today a General paid us a visit. In one squadron they had many men change into PT kit, some ready to box, some to do PT, some to form two basket-ball teams, etc. They were kept sitting about doing nothing for ages until a scout saw the General's car. The scout signalled, and immediately everyone began boxing and playing basket-ball. As soon as the General disappeared the men were marched back to their tents. This is how things are going on here.

The Senior Subaltern

Posted by regimentalrogue at 12:01 AM EDT

Newer | Latest | Older

The Regimental Rogue.

Follow The Regimental Rogue on facebook.

« May 2015 »
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Army Rations
Battle Honours
British Army
Canadian Armed Forces
Canadian Army
Canadian Militia
Cold Steel
Cold War
Drill and Training
European Armies
Forays in Fiction
Martial Music
Military Medical
Military Theory
Pay; the Queen's shilling
Sam Hughes
Soldier Slang
Soldiers' Load
Staff Duties
Stolen Valour
Taking Advantage
The Field of Battle
The RCR Museum
US Armed Forces
Vimy Pilgrimage
Wolseley Barracks

You are not logged in. Log in
Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile