The Royal Regiment of Artillery in the Great War comprised three separate elements, and this post pays tribute to men from all three.
Four Royal Field Artillery drivers in later years. The R.F.A. was responsible for horse-drawn medium calibre guns and howitzers (and later heavy mortars), all deployed relatively close to the front lines.
Two R.F.A. officers, both lieutenants, flank two gunners.
The man on the left here was a shoeing smith, and the R.F.A. was going nowhere without its shoeing smiths (I know my audience), next to him is an R.F.A. man who ended the war as a private with the Labour Corps, having presumably returned to service following an injury or wound, but no longer deemed to be fighting fit, and on the right two drivers, the man on the far right losing his left leg after a gunshot wound to the thigh sometime in 1916.
More R.F.A. men, from left, a corporal, gunner, sergeant and another gunner; the corporal received a gunshot wound to the spine at Villers Brettoneaux in April 1918, sadly resulting in total paraplegia.
Two R.F.A. bombardiers, left & right, with two gunners in the centre; a gunner was the artillery equivalent to an infantry private, a bombardier to a lance corporal.
Two Royal Horse Artillery gunners flank an acting sergeant and a bombardier; the gunner on the far left was wounded in October 1917 at Passchendaele. The R.H.A. was originally intended to support the cavalry with light, mobile, horse-drawn guns, but as the war progressed, it would mainly provide support for the R.F.A.
Three men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, from left, a corporal/saddler, a gunner and a bombardier. The R.G.A., as the name implies, was originally responsible for the big guns that defended British forts across the Empire. Thus, at the start of the Great War, the British Army had very little mobile heavy artillery, although as time passed the R.G.A., operating large calibre guns and howitzers situated some distance behind the lines, would increase dramatically in size.
Two R.G.A. gunners and, on the right, a signaller of over three years’ service who was wounded at Cambrai in September 1918. The extract from his medical notes below shows quite clearly that, some thirty years later, and after a Second World War, the Great War had claimed yet another victim:
Pyelonephritis is a sudden and severe kidney infection which causes the kidneys to swell; chronic pyelonephritis is when repeated attacks occur.
These are the men who came home.
Thank you for another interesting read, talking of shoeing smiths, my wife’s great grandfather was one with the RFA, he died of influensa in Canadian Casualty Station No:3 on the 21st Nov 1918.
Sad. There’s something about deaths from November 1918, in particular, that all seems terribly unfair. Silly really, dates are just dates.
The photos add a particularly touching quality to this post. Thanks.
Indeed Bruce – thanks for commenting.
Most interesting. So just where are you getting all these photos from? And how long after the war were they taken? You say ‘in later years’. A number of them show men in bed convalescing, perhaps at home, perhaps in a hospital or care facility like a hospice of some kind.
John, I don’t want to sound too mysterious, but when I began this series, after a lot of thought about how to go about it, I laid down a few rules for myself; no names, and no clues (well, maybe one in one of the posts) as to where the photos were taken. My reasoning is that a few of these men died well into my lifetime and as all had/have families, I don’t want to appear insensitive in any way. Your deductions are broadly correct, and the photos were mainly taken in the ’20s or ’30s and possibly early ’40s.
my father in law was with RHA in Palestine and survived to came home although he did not marry until his mid 40s – I often wondered if what he saw affected him badly and in reply to John G we don’t have many photos of him in civilian life as he died in 1947
I think cameras were for the better off and certainly the war years from 1939 meant rationing so in maybe that hospital pictures is all the family have of their relatives?
My Grandfather was a Bombardier in the RFA. Joined up in early September 1914 and happily lived the to tell the tale over 4 years plus of war.
He served at Gallipoli, Palestine, Mesopotamia and (I think though haven’t been quite able trace that part of his service properly as yet) France in 1918 during the 100 days offensive that broke through the Hindenburg Line. He was definitely Mentioned in Dispatches but for what we have never been able to find out and he certainly didn’t tell my father what it was for which is a great shame.
It is a shame we don’t know the reason. And it’s the case so often, as well.
Yes certainly is a shame. My Grandfather did once tell me a story of trying to come to the aid of an Officer who was up in a tethered Observation balloon and was attacked by German planes and trying to winch him down (sadly unsuccessfully as the Officer was killed). So in my mind perhaps that was related in some way. He did say it was the Red Baron who was doing the attacking but whether that was “poetic licence” or not who knows !
I suggest poetic licence! My Red Baron books seem to suggest, without re-reading them, that all of hs 80 victories were air-to-air combat. I can find no mention of a downed balloon, which would have been a victory on his tally. However, he was not the only German pilot to fly a red plane (not that he always did), and I have little doubt your Grandfather saw a red plane attacking. If you know where your Grandfather was at the time, you have a chance of working out which German it might have been – most of the Jasta plane colours and markings have been identified, so who was flying a red, or mainly red, plane in that area at that time? – if you know where and when………
Had a bit of a breakthrough with his time in France too. His RFA Brigade was assigned to the 52nd (Lowland Division) just before they left the Middle East for France in April 1918. They had a busy time of it once they arrived taking part in the Second Battle of the Somme, Second Battle of Arras and the Canal du Nord until finishing up just short of Mons at the Armistice.
So perhaps his Red Baron story could have just about been true given the dates and location !
And you have dates and location! That’ll help.
If you need me to check any Red Baron facts, just shout.
I do have the official history of the 52nd on the bookshelf – think I will have to take another read of it as its pretty detailed in terms of actions and locations…
The faces of these men….
you have to wonder sometimes if they wished they hadn’t made it home.
It must have been absolutely heartbreaking for the families to see what had become of their loved ones. They waved a young hero off to war, and a shattered, tormented soul is all that returned.
I think this may be the most moving series of posts you have yet published.
That is very kind of you. As I have said before, it has been many years in the making, or at least many years before I had the guts to do it, so it’s nice to hear that it hits the mark. Cheers mate.
I have just been informed by a cousin that our Grandfather a Joseph Ward was a Shoeing Smith in the Royal Field Artillery. I looked him up to find that there were two of them 18154 and 228492. My Grandfather was born in 1880 and lived in the east end of London. Any chance of more information please?
Do I assume your Grandfather survived his experiences? Whatever, it’s the National Archives for you, Mr. Ward, to see if his papers survive. That is where you start.
He did survive and thanks for the pointer.
Likewise! Good luck.
You’re in luck, his medal card survives. The reason he has two numbers is because he served in both the R.F.A. and the R.G.A.
You’re a star, Nick. I have emailed him re: your comment.