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Artillerymen - a soft option?


John_Hartley
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I think I'm seeing a pattern amongst Stockport's war dead in that the artillerymen generally seem older than the infantrymen.

Would anyone else agree this seems likely? My conclusion is that, perhaps, the older men (say, in their 30s) were deemed to be not fit enough for the infantry. Anyone care to knock holes in that theory please.

John

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I think I'm seeing a pattern amongst Stockport's war dead in that the artillerymen generally seem older than the infantrymen.

Would anyone else agree this seems likely? My conclusion is that, perhaps, the older men (say, in their 30s) were deemed to be not fit enough for the infantry. Anyone care to knock holes in that theory please.

John

John

You may be right about the age, one of my Grandfather's was 30 when he was recruited into the RFA in 1916.

Not a soft option though. You see plenty of REF and RGA graves in the cemeteries.

Gunner Bailey

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One of the key requirements for a gunner is upper body strength and stamina, so it could well be that in that era of widespread manual work that the older man had had ten to fifteen years to achieve his maximum strength and thus be better suited to the type of graft required. The ability to vault trenches and race around with a load was less important.

Jack

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Jack

a lot of the RAMC men that im researching tend to be older so I think I will go along with your theory

Chris

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Gents

Thanks for the comments - sounds as though I'm on reasonably safe ground.

John

(GB - the "soft option" was not intended to be taken seriously. I'm currently researching the town's dead artillermen - 157 of them.)

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(GB - the "soft option" was not intended to be taken seriously. I'm currently researching the town's dead artillermen - 157 of them.)

I'm pleased!

GB

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Having been an Artilleryman for 22 years, I can add that there is nothing soft about it. Less walking, perhaps (nowadays). Much heavier weapons, ammunition and accoutrement to deal with. Very little down time. The precision and teamwork required of a gun crew or team is such that constant practice is required. The "rehearsal" aspect acquired the name "Cannoneer's Hop" and never ended except when in fire missions. When not firing or training, there's a good deal of (very heavy) maintenance on those beasts.

In Great War context, nothing was mechanized except some heavier transport later in the war. The horse teams brought the gun carriage to the firing point, then were removed whereupon sweating, grunting, cursing gunners maneuvered the piece into place. In terms of "my" gunners - the mountain gunners - they were required to hoist the cannons, in pieces onto the backs of mules or ponies, walk with them into the battery/gun area {At the end of the war, they covered 50 miles in three days with 5 deaths resulting, but the mission was accomplished} , take the various pieces down, re-assemble them and maneuver them all by manpower. At the Gallipoli landings, their ponies were removed to 'W' Beach to become the ONLY transport for the landed soldiers providing ammunition, food and water, while the gunners, almost all the artillery the landed parties had at their disposal, had to move their guns by manpower for three days. When targets required that the gun be on a clifftop, they had to carry it up there (in pieces), reassemble it, fire, disassemble it and move it down - all before the enemy artillery found their range.

Any age findings might be attributable to TF (pre-war) service or coincidence.

Just my 3 cents worth.

Mike Morrison

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Having spent 27 years in the RA, I can assure you that being a member of a Gun Detachment is not a soft option and I have on 25 Pdr, 5.5 in and 105 mm Pack Howitzer. Its not just being a Gun Numbers you must be able to do all the other jobs on the gun, I don't know how they maintained the pace in the Great War. I totally agree with your observations Mike.

John

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This is my favourite picture of the RA. Im sure its just the way his shirt is hanging over his belt <_<

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You will find it is the firing lanyard which is around his waist, it was the favourite place for the No 4 to put it around his waist, when not employed in action, it saves it getting wet and muddy and it won't get lost, just think your at rest at night and you get a target you have to know where your firing lanyard is, that is unless the gun is laid and loaded on a S.O.S. and then the lanyard is attached.

John

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I stand corrected...his shirt hanging over his firing lanyard.

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Would say that if a person wanted a soft option then wouldn't pick the artillery. Hard work physically, and also mentally need to have your wits about you. Imagine carrying shells etc with a respirator on. Would also say that RAMC, whilst men may be older, that still quite physically demanding, carrying a stretcher gets to be quite hard work, also mentally can be demandng. Men working in Field Ambulances, and CCS, would be at the brunt of the stream of the wounded, who may be awkward to carry/move (due to wounds), will be a the demand of many at one time, and encounter stress such as the majority of us will never encounter. For the men in the base units, such as orderlies, they may have been away from the front line, but still encountered having to move heavy loads (patients). It could be said that an older man is a wiser one.

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John

My own research of the Artillery casualties in North Bucks paints a picture which broadly mirrors your Stockport research - Quite high percentage levels of 30+ aged casualties compared with Infantry which has a more even spread. I've also found this to be the case with my ASC casualties.

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OK, OK, OK.

Before any more irate artillerymen (current or ex) take umbrage at my obviously completely mis-judged and inept attempt at an attention grabbing headline, let me please honestly, humbly, sincerely apologise for such a crass, stupid, tactless statement that appears unwittingly to insult the memory of dead artilleryman and impugn the manhood, decency and integrity of every living one.

Needless to say that, had I done a real job instead of being a clerk all my life, I would not have been so bloody stupid as to even post such an insulting thread.

John

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Just to give your enquiry a historical perspective. If we return to the era of the newly forming Rifle Volunteers around about the late 1850's This is the War Office advice in a letter dated May 25th 1859

(para) 12 As regards Artillery Volunteers, their primary object will be to aid in the most efficient manner in the manning of the Batteries erected for the protection of our Coast Towns, so that the Royal Artillery and Militia may be, to as great an extent as possible, disposable for other services.

13 These Volunteers may consist of a different class from that which will come forward for the more active duties of Rifleman in the field. Married men resident on the spot, and such either could not absent themselves, even for a day, from their usual business, or might be physically unfit for field duties, may yet find ample time for learning how to work a great gun mounted in their immediate neighbourhood, and might be fully adequate to whatever exertion its exercise might require. The interest they would have in thus contributing to the security of their property and families, which would be at once endangered by any hostile attack, would be even stronger than that which would lead Volunteer Riflemen to the field.

So as you can see it has long been War Office thinking that Gunners especially those of the Garrison type may well be slightly over the edge of the peak of physical fitness.

It was not a soft option though, a 68Ld studded common shell is very heavy, and as for laying the "Great Gun" by hand spike, that don't sound like a rest cure either.

Gareth

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Needless to say that, had I done a real job instead of being a clerk all my life, I would not have been so bloody stupid as to even post such an insulting thread.

John,

I suppose they did not have spreadsheets in your office? I struggled with this one but it looks interesting. On the left is the age-at-death distribution of around 18,000 with the rank of Gunner and on the right, around 21,000 with rank of Rifleman.

The peak for gunner is 21 and rifleman 19 and much higher. Also the higher percentage in the upper age for gunner is evident. Sorry there are no scales, vertical axis is %. Not too easy to compare without a horizontal scale but an example, at age 30 gunner is 4% and rifleman 2.8%. I have the raw numbers if anyone is interested.

I wonder how much attention was paid to the question on the attestation forms of trade or calling, and did the army make much use of this or just push em into PBI regardless, to meet the immediate need.

I understood the intention of your question. Would you rather be a gunner or a bayonet man? In reality, both are bloody dangerous places to be.

post-4982-1192486315.jpg

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Some members of RGA Mountain Batteries may have been of maturing years towards the end of their careers but I don't think anyone would suggest that they were unfit. Apart from the obvious gun handling, officers and men normally marched at 120 paces/hour with their mules in train on and off road. A horse would normally only be used by an officer for reconnaissance and liaison.

Kipling:

"They sends us along where the roads are, but mostly we goes where they ain't.

We'd climb up the side of a sign-board an' trust to the stick o' the paint:...............

If a man doesn't work, why, we drills 'im an' teaches 'im 'ow to behave.

If a beggar can't march, why, we kills 'im an' rattles 'im into 'is grave.

You've got to stand up to our business an' spring without snatchin' or fuss.

D'you say that you sweat with the field guns? By God, you must lather with us." (Screw Guns)

Lean and mean. Things were much the same for them in the Great War!

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Have you looked at the proportions of older men between field and heavy (garrison) artillery? It was the prctice before the war for many units of the latter (especially the coastal batteries) to have a high proportion of local volunteers (I have a photo of a great grandfather of mine in the uniform of a Lt in the RGA about 1900). These would often be professional men or local merchants who, as another contributor to the thread has suggeted, would not be available for field days etc but were interested in defending their locality in case of war. These men would be more mature and potentially a source of ready trained artillerymen in WW1

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Perhaps this thread should stand in silent testimony to every artilleryman of whatever nationality who has steadfastly served his guns as the enemy counter battery fire has come closer and closer.

Between meetings, I stood in front of the wonderful memorial at Hyde Park Corner just a week ago and took a minute to remember thousands of these "softies".

(And cleared a number of rotten apples that had been flung at the nearby MGC Memorial - certainly the most useful and rewarding thing I did on that particular day in London)

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ianw,

quite right. Another piece from the same Kipling poem:

"There's nothing this side of 'eaven or 'ell Ubique doesn't mean".

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No offense taken. I've seen threads on the forum in the past asking what Grandad in the RA did. This thread has provided some specifics and that additional knowledge is always good. There is, and has been, a certain mystique about artillery as evidenced still in the wording on the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.

"Greetings... {My Rank and Name} having been tried and found worthy to be numbered as one of our trusty members, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of this traditional brotherhood of Stonehurlers, Archers, Catapulters, Rocketeers and Gunners."

Artillery takes a good number of skilled folks to get steel on target. The infantry and armor don't know and, usually, don't care how we do it, they just want it and they want it now. The Great War was no exception. I read notes by a F.O.O. at Gallipoli and they are in a remarkably familiar position, independent of, yet dependent to a certain degree on the infantry they are giving their all to support. Struggling to maintain communications with their batteries, having to know several ways to communicate over these distances, for, as one method fails, they move to the next, sharing their infantry's dangers to provide the punch to try to dislodge the enemy. The tools have changed as have the capabilities, but gunners of today perform the same mission as the gunners of The Great War. I can remember my grandfather, a Lieut. in the Mountain Guns of the RGA, rolling his eyes almost 60 years after the war, recounting the marches.

There is a reason Artillery is called "King of Battle".

Mike Morrison

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"Greetings... {My Rank and Name} having been tried and found worthy to be numbered as one of our trusty members, has been gathered to our fold and duly initiated into the solemn mysteries of this traditional brotherhood of Stonehurlers, Archers, Catapulters, Rocketeers and Gunners."

As the owner and user of the only working Leach Trench Catapult, can I join? .........Gareth

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Age very much depended upon when and where you enlisted and what skills you possessed.

A 1914 recruit would have chosen the artillery or been directed there after his skills were shown to be more relevant than in the infantry. Later the choiice disappeared and the reccruiting office made the decision based upon need, age, fitness etc.

RFA probably had more younger men than the RGA as there were far more horses.

My own research shows that many RGA were later transferred to the RE which indicates pre - existing skills and trades that the younger men may not have had the opportunity to acquire. Mechanical, driving, numeracy and commercial skills found their place in the structure of a battery and ammunition column.

Apprenticships were minimum 4 years , working your way up to anything other than general labour took longer. Thus the RGA who needed specific levels of skill in various areas of their service would seek the older men by default.

Roop

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