Bomb boy duck

6th February 1915

While Gleichen inspected his transport on this rainy Saturday, the brigade continued to learn the art of “bombing”.

A new grenade became available to the British troops in February 1915; the No. 2 grenade. This was a variant on the much disliked No. 1 grenade, originally designed for the export market but hurriedly pressed into service. It consisted of a stick, like the German potato masher, with an explosive charge on the end, but it looked like it had been put together by a schoolboy in ICT. The new No. 2 version had a shorter handle which was designed to prevent it catching against the lips of trenches but it still didn’t get away from the reality that the design was too cumbersome and too obvious to the enemy to be used as an assault weapon. It had cloth streamers on it which gave its trajectory away for a start. No wonder men on the ground were making their own bombs out of jam pots. The grenade was later adopted by the RFC to be used as a hand-dropped bomb by simply adding a frayed rope to the end.

Unfortunately the 15th Brigade’s diary also allows us to see how close the civilian world was to the army. Perhaps too close. A boy, standing “60 yards behind grenade throwers” is injured in the forearm from a bomb fragment. Quite what he was doing anywhere near grenade throwers is another question. Boys will be boys I suppose.

How many bombs would a bomb chucker chuck?

2nd January 1915

Firstly, a big thank you to Stephen Potter for sending me a copy of Charles Lilly’s recollection of the first six months of the war. It’s short and lacking in finer details, having been written well after the end of the war (past the 1930s as far as I can make out – although it’s not dated), but it’s very opinionated and honest about his naivety as a young subaltern in 1914. He gives an insight into some of my ideas about the truth behind the official records of the Dorsets’ early months in World War One. I will return to him very soon and explore whether or not he was Frank’s direct platoon commander and we’ll also hear about what he thought of his superiors.

Another wet and windy day greeted the Dorsets as they lined up with the Royal Engineers for training in revetting and bomb throwing. Revetting refers to work reinforcing and developing trenches. This involved digging features like firesteps, dug outs and communication trenches and strengthening walls.

The British Army was scrambling to provide its troops with the requisite weaponry to fight in trenches. Bomb throwing was a vital skill. But first the British Army had to produce a bomb worth throwing. Gleichen explains about how far the Germans were ahead that winter:

Soon came the period of hand grenades, in which he had six to one the best of us in numbers; and then in rifle grenade ditto ditto; and then in trench mortars, flare-lights, searchlights, and rockets — wherein we followed him feebly and at a great distance; for where he sent up 100 (say) light balls at night, we could only afford five or six; and other things in proportion.

The official British hand grenade in 1914 was the No 1 grenade but it was pretty rubbish and even modifications to the unwieldy wooden handle didn’t make it any popular. The Germans could apparently bat them away using a wooden plank.

The Royal Engineers were beginning to make their own bombs out of jam tins. I’m guessing this is what they were showing the Dorsets how to use.

It wasn’t until 1915 that a decent hand grenade became available to Commonwealth troops: the Mark 5 Mills Bomb. It remained the iconic British grenade up until the 1980s. My Action Man never went anywhere without a belt-load of them. I worked in a building in Twickenham that made the detonators for them and I believe that a factory up the road in Richmond (which was later converted into Richmond ice rink) was where they made the actual grenade body. This article gives you a lot more information about the Belgians who worked there.

The development of the British grenade is explored in detail in this article on the Western Front Association website.

Later in the day Bols, and the Brigade Major at the time (possibly Griffiths), rode to Dranôutre and then onto Wulverghem to see the trenches they were going to take over from 14th Brigade. The sectors they saw, C and D, were “very wet, some undercut, parapet not thick enough and communication trenches impossible”. The Dorsets are in for a treat.