Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Soldier of the Horse" and the Nissen Hut

When I was writing "Soldier of the Horse" and doing research to help with the details, it was fascinating how incidents that my dad had mentioned would come to mind. (The book is based loosely on his story.) Every once in awhile I came across historical records that would tie in with his anecdotes.
One example is to be found among images in the Canadian War Museum's publication, "Military Munnings: The Canadian War Art of an Equestrian Painter". On page 36 of that glossy volume is a painting entitled "Brigade Headquarters at Smallfoot Wood". In the foreground are what look like covered dugouts or huts; and, in the background, a number of what I think of as Quonset huts. These are the familiar steel-skinned buildings, semicircular in cross section, perhaps forty feet long and twenty feet across, looking rather like a large half-buried sewer pipe. The Quonset appears to be a World War II American adaptation of the Nissen hut, developed by the British during World War I.
The connection is this: Dad told me that on one occasion he and a couple of pals had imbibed more than their share of the day's rum, or perhaps local French wine. It occurred to them to clamber up the circular sides of the hut where the brigade commander, General Seely, was holding court with his regimental commanders. They did so, and stomped around on the sloping roof, just so the general and his staff could appreciate the joke.
It turned out the general didn't think the skylark was all that funny, and Dad lost whatever stripes he had accummulated at that point. Given some of his other stories, it is amazing he finished the war as a sergeant.
The cover of "Soldier of the Horse" is part of another Munning painting, "A Canadian Trooper and his Horse (Unfinished)".

For more Munnings paintings and the Canadian cavalry, see my website www.robertwmackay.ca.

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