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RGA railway gun; what unit?


shaunhullis
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Winchester College has been bequeathed a watercolour of a railway gun in action under gas attack on March 21st 1918. The gun has the number 379 visible on its rear right. We possess the following details:

Title: "Artillery, March 21, 1918"

Painted by A. Gladys Holman.

Watercolour, signed lower left. Inscribed on reverse: "A.G. Holman, 107 Ladbroke Grove W11. Drawn from personal narrative of Lieut. W.M. Holman R.G.A. No.27 in Royal Artillery Exhibition R.I. 1919"

Can anybody supply any information as to what unit this gun or Lt. Holman belonged to, so that we can research its background properly and thus provide a meaningful label?

I attach a copy; a larger version is available on request (though not for publication without permission).

Thanks,

Shaun

post-9694-1178228469.jpg

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A somewhat bigger picture would be useful. From first glance it doesn't look like any railway 'gun' I have seen but the bed is very much like a variant used by a type of one of the 12 in railway howitzers, either the Mk 3 or Mk 5. Apart from the bed the barrel doesn't look long enough for a 9.2, 12 or 14 in gun.

There is an NA file for a Lt W Holman WO 339/125735. Cannot tell whether it is the same man.

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Difficult to know how much accuracy we can expect from a lady artist working from a 'personal narrative', although she must also have had at least one photograph to refer to. I think it probably is an Elswick 12" Mk3 or Mk5 railway howitzer. Pic below (from Batchelor & Hogg, 'Rail Gun') shows two Mk3s in action in France.

post-11021-1178274559.jpg

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I concur with a 12 in How, especially with that elevation though its very hard to see detail in the painting,

especially re the length and thickness of the barrel.

Therefore if correct narrows it down to:

18, 22, 44, 52, 53, 63, 64, 65, 80, 83, 89, 103, 104, 128, 243, 333, 359, 381, 444, and 514 Siege Batteries.

post-9366-1178278897.jpgpost-9366-1178278897.jpg

There was a few more but not applicable if the date of the painting is March 1918.

Rgds Paul

(dont know how a double image appeared. It seems much more complicated to add attachments than before!!!)

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Many thanks for all the helpful replies.

You have helped me to discover that Holman is Lt. Walter Manley Holman RGA, but there are two RGA W Holmans (WO339/73977 & 125735) so I'll have to go to Kew and see which is him.

I tried to attach a larger version of the picture, focusing on the gun/howitzer, but the file's too big. The muzzle is obscured by smoke, but it doesn't look like it goes much further, so I'll pursue the 12" railway howitzer batteries suggested.

I think that Agnes Gladys Holman seems to have done a pretty good job for one who wasn't there; Walter Holman must have had a lot of input, I think.

Shaun

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Can't assist with the unit but have the following information on Lieut. Walter Manley Holman:

Born on 1 April 1884

Educated at Oakham School from 1899 to 1901

Before the war he was a bank accountant

Enlisted in the 3rd Bn, The Artists Rifles between 12 and 29 November 1915.

Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the RGA on 8 January 1917

Wounded in action on 21 March 1918

Partially disabled.

In 1920 he lived at 41 Parkside, Eltham, Kent

Was a Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society and ws twice summoned to Buckingham Palace by HM the King to discuss stamps.

Sources: A register of Oakham School, 1875-1929; Regimental Roll of Honour and War Record of Artists Rifles, 1914-1919.

Dick Flory

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  • 2 weeks later...

Shaun

I think the battery you are looking for is 374 Siege. Paul missed it off of his list of probables because, unusually, the Allocation List is incorrect, 374 being shown as on road mountings whereas they were a rail mounted battery of two 12” Howitzers.

During the March Offensive the rail lines behind 374 had been broken which meant they couldn’t get the guns away and therefore, on the night of the 21st March they destroyed the guns prior to abandoning them and retiring. 374 Siege along with the rest of the VII Corps Ha had been under intense counter-battery fire. The more forward 6” batteries also taking machine gun fire such was the advance.

I’ve attached a small map which covers the area in which 374 were located, square 24a. They would have been on the part of the line cutting across the top left hand corner of this square.

I appreciate I can’t be 100% certain but given the number written on the rail how. in the painting, 379, being possibly 374 and the actions and dates it certainly is a good candidate. Also the March offensive mostly took place in the 3rd & 5th Army areas, this alone precludes a number of the suggested batteries.

If you are to go to Kew, then a look in the 5 Brigade RGA & 47 Brigade RGA diaries for this period would be a good idea.

Regards

Stuart

post-6041-1179054287.jpg

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Stuart-

Many, many, thanks for your detailed comments. I've had a closer look at the scan of the picture which I was given by my colleague and the number could quite easily be a 4 instead of a 9. I shall ask him to study the original.

My thanks to everyone who has helped with this; as usual I'm humbled by your depth of knowledge and willingness to share it.

Shaun

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Sorry I cannot elaborate. The only carriages I have seen are those shown already ie twin bogey type. If the artist has not taken too liberal licence the barrel length is too long for the howitzers. I have a rather good pic of a 15 inch railway howitzer but it is not to hand at the moment, shows the carriage in better detail.Will try to post it mid week.

Roop

post-3925-1179090690.jpg

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The RGA was good at showing the unit on the medal roll, well better than RFA anyway!

Medal card of Holman, Walter Manley

Corps Regiment No Rank

Royal Garrison Artillery Second Lieutenant

Royal Garrison Artillery Lieutenant

Date 1914-1920

Catalogue reference WO 372/10

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I have to disagree with you, Roop. That's not a 9.2" or 12" gun, not at that elevation. But the shells look about right for 12", so I still think it's a 12" how. The gun in the pic you posted is evidently not the 15" howitzer you mentioned, so what is it — looks like a 12" naval gun.

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The empirical evidence would not appear to support your idea Mr Roop.

If we assume Roop is correct and it’s a depiction of a 12” Gun, then there are only two candidates, 53 Siege & 92 Siege, RGA 12” Guns on Rail Mountings were as rare as hens teeth.

Each battery had one 12” Gun and one 9.2 Gun, both on railway mountings. Both of these batteries are shown as operating within the 4th Army at this time which was in reality the renamed 2nd Army, the 2nd Army HQ having gone to Italy in Dec’17. This would place both of these Guns miles away from the March offensive directed at 3rd & 5th Armies which is what is being suggested by the date and the action taking place.

Moreover, if this is painted from a personal narrative, then the small hill featured running alongside the tracks and falling away, as depicted in the painting, bears an uncanny resemblance to the terrain in map square 24a. not the ‘hilly’ Belgium countryside.

Stuart

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Chums

I dont think I said it was a 9 or 12 inch, only that it is a gun rather than a howitzer.

To load the gun one has to depress the elevation, hence the apparent angle of the pointy bit in the picture above.

I havn't posted the 15 inch howitzer picture yet, the picture posted was one I found on the web just to illustrat the proportions of a gun barrell against that of a howitzer.

Roop

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I stick by a Mk 3 12" howitzer. Reasons: design of carriage bed and also barrel length. Looks to me to be c. three times the height of the men on the truck which would be about right.

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Ignoring the barrel length I would agree. The carriage is certainly that used on howitzers and as said we cannot expect there not to be some artistic licence.

Roop

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Mick

I had a look a Lt Holman's Officer Record which confirms that he was indeed a member of 374 Siege Battery having left the 28th London Reg't ( Artist Rifles ) to take a Commission in the RGA. I haven't read it all properly yet but a transcript of his letter dated 16th June'18 says it all,

“ Sir,

I have the honour to request I am granted a wound gratuity.

I was severely wounded in the left arm on the 21st March last, between Villers-Faucon and St. Emilie on the Cambrai front and have been in hospital ever since that date.

At present there seems to be some doubt as to whether I shall have the use of the elbow or hand again.

I am now in Alexandra Park Hospital, Stockport, but am being transferred to Lady Ridley’s Hospital in London on the 17th inst.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant

W M Holman

2nd Lieut. R.G.A. (S.R.)

Late of 374 Siege Battery RGA

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