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A British horse artilleryman in 1916

1034 Views 2 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  Calgacus
Here is a picture of my grandfather, who served as a horse artilleryman on the Salonika front from 1916 to 1919. While this is just conjecture, there is a good chance he was with the territorial horse artillery battery from Ayr in Scotland, which went there in that year. I know it was on the way out, for he came back a corporal, mostly of horses.

He was 37, and a farmer with children, including my mother who was born in January 1916, and dubious eyesight. So he could probably have got out of going then, although they'd probably have got him later. He used to tell me how the recruiters tempted him:

"Work wi' horses? That means the Middle East. Ye'll no' have tae go tae Flanders."

"Is Flanders that bad?" he asked, producing much indecision and weighing honesty against duty.

"It's no' that great."

I think it was my sister or a cousin who asked if he did anything heroic in the war, and he said "No' a thing, except I went." Indeed his only war wound was a permanently bent finger, sustained showing Bulgarian prisoners how to play leapfrog. He was in Salonika by November 1917, for he remembered Col. Dimitrijević being shot by the Serbs, officially for a domestic Serbian assassination, but actually for getting his country into deep trouble by masterminding the Sarajevo assassination plot. I'm not sure whether it was later than he heard that bit of the story. He had mixed views on the Serbs, whom he considered the keenest, toughest, most efficient people in the region. But he didn't like them. He told me "They started it a', for their ain advantage, and they'll do it again someday. But don't worry, this Communism business means it'll be after your time." Not bad for a 75-year-old ex-corporal.

He also told me how when he was younger than I was then, which would have been the early 1880s, he met an old man who had fought at Waterloo. All he could remember was "We fired three shots tae their twa, on land as we did at sea," because he was scared to ask questions. He said "Let that be a lesson tae you, laddie. Ask the questions."

There is a good chance that he was in the London area on the night of the 2nd September 1916, as he had a distant view of a Zeppelin being shot down, and that was the night Lieutenant Leefe Robinson did so. For more than forty years after his death I've known his memory was confused, for he called it the Graf Zeppelin, which was a civil aircraft. But only recently I found out why. I've seen a German aerial photograph taken just six miles from his farm, by Graf Zeppelin II on her famous spying mission just before the Second World War. I know he was in London sometime in the war, for he and one or two others walked under Marble Arch at night on their own, that being the unique privilege of the Horse Artillery, which his battery had been negligent in exercising.

The other picture is the centre of town, with a window of my apartment visible, and the poster for the one-day visit of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which he therefore saw on the 13th September, and was greatly disappointed that miss Oakley wasn't there. I'd like to think that that could be him walking down the middle of the street after seeing the poster.

My mother told me of the night he came home. When they got up and were about to go to bed, she brought him his knapsack, because male visitors always left the house. Many a man would have been glad to see that.
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My maternal grandmother also watched that Zeppelin, L13, coming down in 1916!

She was born in the east end of London in 1890, and had some tales to tell, and did so, thankfully, to both me and my mother, her only daughter, who died earlier this year aged 93.

One of the best things she ever told me was how, at the street party to celebrate Queen Victoria's 60th Jubilee in 1897, a neighbour, a very old but sprightly gentleman with a long flowing beard and a chest full of medals, came over to her and gave her a great big hug.

'That is a hug from the Battle of Waterloo!' - he said to my astonished gran. He had been a twelve-year old drummer boy at the famous battle, and had been knocked out by the concussion of a passing round-shot and left for dead by a wagon of ammunition. After the battle, his sergeant had come searching for him and having found him alive, had given him a great big hug of relief.

When we were celebrating MY seventh birthday, my gran passed the hug on to me, as I did many years later to my daughter, and will, I hope, to my little grandaughter in her turn.


BTW - here in the British army we call our junior rank soldiers in the Royal Artllery by a special set of titles - we don't use the term 'artilleryman' -

Private = Gunner

Lance Corporal/Corporal = Lance Bombardier/Bombardier.

Later on, as they move up the ranks, they might, if they are good enough, become a SMIG = Warrant Officer 2nd Class [WO2] Sergeant-Major, Instructor, Gunnery. These gentlemen wear white covers to their officer-style service covers, carry a silver-topped stick and are treated as gods by all ranks, as indeed is right and proper.

...and if they REALLY get up there.... Major-General/Master Gunner - a one-at-a-time post.
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