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.

Steam punk engineers

26th September 1914

The Dorsets continued digging in, deepening existing trenches and connecting them with communication trenches.

They were assisted by sappers from the 17th Company Royal Engineers, led by C.E.R. Pottinger, who appears to have been a character out of a steam punk novel. Gleichen describes him; “young Pottinger, a most plucky and capable youth wearing the weirdest of clothes—a short and filthy mackintosh, ragged coat and breeches, and a huge revolver.”

Charles Evan Roderick Pottinger was born in Ahmednuggor, India in 1890. In the 1911 census he’s a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, 21 and living in Gillingham, Kent. This is the location for the headquarters to the Royal School of Military Engineering which is now the Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive.

Gleichen annotates Pottinger’s name with this sad comment: “I grieve very much to see that he was fatally wounded outside Ypres (15th May 1916).” He actually died of wounds a year earlier than that, on 11th May 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres. He also appears in the Irish list of Casualties of World War One, so I wonder if he was from Irish lineage? He lived at “Glenshee”, Cambridge Park, Twickenham, which is my old stomping ground, but I haven’t been able to unearth any more information about him at this time, not even a photograph.

He left an awful lot of money (£14,105 – the equivalent of about £1 million today) to Arthur Godfrey James who, in 1911, is living in bijoux Kensington with his wife Helen and a raft of domestic servants. James’ son’s first name is Evan. I wonder if there’s a family connection here? A little more digging around and it appears that the (very posh) Twickenham address was owned by Sir Henry Evan Murchison James. He’s another Evan. I’ve written to one of his descendants and am still waiting to hear back. I’ll update this post if I learn anything new.