Friday, February 24, 2012

The Webley and Scott .455

The Webley and Scott Mark VI was the standard issue handgun for officers in British forces in World War I. Weighing two pounds, the Webley was known for reliability and sturdiness. A six-shot revolver, .455 calibre, the Webley had an impressive heft and no doubt inspired confidence in the men carrying it. It is another question, of course, how much use it was to a mounted man; I know my father put no faith in his ability to hit what he aimed at while on horseback. During the charge of Flowerdew's "C" Squadron at Moreuil Wood in 1918, Flowerdew drew his sword, not his Webley, for the attack.
My father owned a Webley when I was young, although not the one he carried as a troop sergeant. That one was abandoned on the field so he could better crawl, wounded, out of the way of bullets and pounding hooves.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The 1908 Pattern Sword--a medieval weapon in a modern war

For much of World War I, the Canadian cavalry were in the trenches along with their infantry brothers, their swords and spurs left behind.
When planning for the terrible battle on the Somme, however, it was hoped that the infantry would manage a breakthrough and the cavalry would charge into the gap. That didn't happen on the Somme, but the cavalry did see mounted action in 1917 when the German army staged a fighting retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and again in 1918 during the German's Operation Michael and the last 100 days.
On those occasions the troopers' primary weapon was a straight-edged, sharp-pointed stabbing weapon known officially as the "Sword, Cavalry, Pattern 1908 Mark I". Fanciful drawings of cavalry slashing wildly were not accurate; the ideal maneuver was to pierce the enemy as horse and trooper galloped past, then jerk the sword out, and swing the arm forward to thrust again. The "1908" weighs about three pounds, is straight-edged with a sharp point. It is 35 inches long and has a leather grip with a round guard to shield the hand. Infantrymen in the open, faced with a cavalry charge--the thunder of hooves, screams of men, and levelled swords--would be tempted to turn and run. Exactly what the cavalry hoped for.
It is not without irony, as noted elsewhere, that the ideal cavalry weapon was not available until the cavalry itself was on its last legs.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sam Hughes and the Ross Rifle

Minister of Militia and Colonel, Sam Hughes was the driving force behind Canada's mobilization in August 1914. He was what we would call a Type-A personality, but he made a lot of mistakes.
One of Hughes' more glaring ones was his insistence that the Canadian army carry the Ross rifle. The Ross was made in Canada, and Hughes was its natural champion. Superbly accurate, the Ross was used to win international shooting competitions, but it proved to be unreliable under battle conditions. That didn't deter Hughes, however, who had so much of his own personality invested in the Ross that it was impossible for him to back down, and he continued to champion it at all costs. Early photos of Canadian troopers show them sporting the Ross during training.
In spite of that, the Canadian Mounted Brigade, made up of the Royal Canadian Dragoons, Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), and the 2nd King Edward Horse, crossed the Channel in early 1915 and went into battle--carrying the British-made Lee Enfield Short Rifle. It was not the only time the cavalrymen broke away from Hughes' guidance.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Blogs for 2012

This year I will be publishing blogs relating to the Great War, and more particularly to the role of the Canadian cavalry in that terrible conflict. In addition to the "historical" entries, watch this space for more immediate material as it relates to Soldier of the Horse in a general way, and, from time to time, Lord Strathcona's Horse.
All three areas of interest will be in front of mind as I proceed on a book tour, proposed for March 15th through 25th. I will be making my way by road to "Moreuil Days" at the Edmonton Garrison and back again, stopping at book stores and other locations en route.
Whether on the road or at home, new blogs will follow on at least a weekly basis; the first of the series will be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Soldier of the Horse" touring to Edmonton Garrison

I’m making it official—my Spring book tour will be underway as of March 15th, 2012.
The impetus for the trip is provided by Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) who will be observing their annual Moreuil Days on March 20th through the 22nd, at their home in Steele Barracks, Edmonton Garrison. The Straths have observed Moreuil Day since 1927, in honour of the men and horses who took part in the Battle of Moreuil Wood on March 30th, 1918. The festivities will include regimental sports, dinners, and a regimental parade as well as meetings and informal get-togethers.
My dad, who “attended” the inaugural battle at Moreuil, never made it to Moreuil Day. I am very excited at the prospect of attending in his honour, and look forward to sharing the event on my blog.