Hard Luck For Artillery Crews in WW1

Tuesday, July 20, 1915

Reserve Billets – Grande Munque Ferme

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Supplied day and night working parties.  On the night of the 20th Battn. “Stood-to” from 9:15 pm until 10:45 pm.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: The Battalion history explains “ Working parties occupied much of the time on July 19th and 20th, though at night on the latter date the Battalion ‘stood to’ for an hour and a half, pending the outcome of some operation further forward.  At 10:45 p.m. the ‘stand to’ order was cancelled and the men dismissed.” [2]

Losses of Division Reported Greatest Sustained by Any During War

Heavy artillery losses“London, July 20. – It is likely some misapprehension still exists in Canada concerning the part played by Canadian artillery in the recent engagements. After the battle of Ypres, for instance, the Canadian eye-witness omitted mention of the artillery engaged, which were Canadians. The casualties which then occurred among the infantry battalions were published at once, but the artillery casualties came out in driblets for six weeks, which with other incidents aroused an impression among Canadians that their own artillery were not engaged at Ypres.

HEAVY LOSSES: The indisputable facts are that the Canadian artillery lost more men at Ypres than any other artillery division has so far lost during the war. Losses in killed and wounded were over 350, which were very heavy when it is remembered that most of the time only actual gun crews, amounting to about 120 per brigade were under fire, the remainder being far to the rear with the horses. The first artillery brigade, for instance, lost 82 at Ypres, chiefly gunners, out of 120, while at Neuve Chapelle the heaviest losses in any single British battery were 12, and the total for the most exposed brigade about 30.

The artillery actions under the present siege conditions are not as spectacular as if going into action with horses, and ammunition wagons in the open, but Canadian losses at Ypres were quite as heavy as those of the infantry. The tenth battery lost 123 men out of 140, because they had to manoeuver in the open. The first battery lost one major, two subalterns, a sergt.-major, four gun sergeants, and a signal sergeant out of about 40 actually in the gun emplacements. Six out of 16 guns were smashed by direct hits.” [4]

LIEUTENANT’S DARING: “For sustained pluck, the feat of Lieutenant Davidson, of the 119th Field Battery, would be hard to beat.  Discovering that the only way to locate certain German guns was from the steeple of the church at Lourches, Lieut. Davidson, in spite of the fact that the Germans, recognizing that the steeple was the only point of vantage, were pitching lyddite shells into the church, cooly climbed the tottering tower and, seated at the top, proceeded to telegraph information to his battery. For seven hours he stuck to his post, with the result that our gunners were able to hold an overwhelming force of the enemy.  At dark the Lieutenant’s task was done, but not until then did he come down to join his battery.” [5]

“‘Luck in battle,’ is the subject of an ever increasing number of anecdotes.

20 July 15_BThe Colonel of a regiment that was in the battle of Morhange, in the battle of the Marne and at the attack at Eparges, participating in more than a dozen battles and a score of charges, marching each time at the head of his troops and each time running 90 chances out of 100 of being killed, received not a scratch, though his regiment was cut to pieces at Morhange and Eparges.

The other day he retired with his staff to an isolated village behind the lines to rest. It was a spot the German heavy artillery had neglected, although it was in range. The chances were that he would pass his days of rest there in security. The evening of his arrival the Germans remembered there was village there and began to bombard it. The last shell they fired fell in the very centre of the messroom. The four officers around him escaped with insignificant bruises, but the Colonel was killed outright.

Six artillery officers were at mess in a little house from which the fire of their battery had been directed. A shell struck it; five of them were killed and the sixth was untouched. His men pleaded with him to go to the cellar as long as the bombardment continued, but he insisted on remaining where he could better direct the fire of the battery. Scores of shells fell around the spot without touching him. Finally he was prevailed upon to go into the cellar, and he had no more than disappeared when a shell went through the cellar window and killed him.

Shells are more uncertain than bullets, the soldiers say. The latter are expected, as the soldier knows whence the are likely to come, while the former strike in spots and at moments least expected. Wind and weather enter into the elements of luck. The dampness of the map from which an artillery officer calculates distances may account for the chance that brings a shell to a soldier, or sends it a hundred yards from him.” [7]

[1]   War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, July 20, 1915.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089763.jpg
[2]   R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pg. 65.
[3]   “Canada’s Artillery Had Severe Losses,” The Toronto World, Toronto, Ontario, Wednesday, July 21, 1915, pg. 5, col. 2.
[4]   Ibid
[5]   “Lieutenant’s Daring,” The Quebec Chronicle, Quebec City, Tuesday, July 20, 1915, pg. 2, col. 4.
[6]   “A Colonel’s Luck In Present War,” The Quebec Chronicle, Quebec City, Tuesday, July 20, 1915, pg. 2, col.4.
[7]   Ibid


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