Sir Sam’s Pet Toy

Thursday, November 5, 1914

Camp Salisbury Plain, West Down South

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “Rain.”  [1]

05 Nov 14Sir Sam’s Pet Toy: Colonel Sir Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia, had a number of pet projects which he promoted, one of which was the MacAdam Shovel.

“An item of personal equipment for the troops in which Colonel Hughes took a special interest was the “MacAdam” shovel, an implement modelled upon a pre-war Swiss invention and patented by the Minister’s woman secretary, whose name it bore.  Designed to serve as a combined shield and entrenching tool for the infantryman, it had a blade 8 ½ by 9 ¾ inches made of three-sixteenths inch steel (said to be capable of stopping a bullet at 300 yards).  When used as a shield, it was stuck into the ground on a four-inch handle which formed an extension of the blade, two loopholes being provided, a large one for shooting and a smaller one for sighting through.

Twenty-five thousand MacAdam shovels, purchased in Philadelphia at $1.35 each, were taken to England, where even with the addition of a special folding handle they proved unsatisfactory.  The Commander of the 1st Canadian Division reported that they were not effective as shields, were too heavy for the men to carry and were awkward to dig with.  The issue of entrenching tools of War Office pattern to the Division brought prompt instructions from Hughes to “hold a tight hand on all that improper work over there” and to cancel the order for the English implement, which he termed “absolutely useless for any purpose”.  * Nevertheless, the 1st Division proceeded to France without their MacAdam shovels, and when trials in the field by the 2nd Division brought more adverse reports, ** all were withdrawn from use and eventually sold for $1,400 as scrap metal.”  [3]


* Telegram to Special Representative of the Minister of Militia and Defence, 9 Feb 15, Carson file 4-10-14.

** G.O.C.-in-C. British Forces in France to War Office, 12 Feb 16. On H.Q. 130-19-2-3.

[1] War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Nov 4, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa,
[3]  Col. G.W.L. Nicholson, CD., Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War: Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919, Duhamel, Queens Printer, Ottawa, 1962, pp. 26-27.


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