A Better Rifle at Halloween

Definitely get that! so do I and several others I know.
I am perhaps unique, not only was a serving member in the 1970s-80s but I was also a movie extra during the heyday of Australian cinema productions and worked on several Australian war movies, including Breaker Morant. As part of that show I studied up what was known about Morant and his acts and I early on came to the conclusion he was as guilty as hell but did not deserve the death penalty. The Australians left him out to dry, not having any means of their own to try him as he served under British Military Discipline in a British unit. They should have take charge of the case and tried him themselves but they didn't. They did do what they could, in the post mortem and created their own Military Law Manual and had any future troops serve under it, rather than the British one. He will always serve as an example though of what happens when the British take control of events.
Hey, vetinari, me too! Also, an extra on Gallipoli; can pick myself out 2/3 times in the movie.
Re, hanging him out to dry, I suspect it was more that with Federation occurring during the Boer War, we did'nt have the organisational infrastructure to try him ourselves, which, as you pointed out, was fixed by 1914.
Thing is he was serving in a British raised regiment and would have been under the 1881 army act. Not under Australian jurisdiction in any circumstances. It’s a case of play stupid games get stupid prizes. He might have originally been under a colony army act when he joined up but that would have transferred to the British act in South Africa I haven’t looked into which colony he came from, I think nsw but it doesn’t matter. But murder got you the noose in every Australian colony in 1901
Hey, vetinari, me too! Also, an extra on Gallipoli; can pick myself out 2/3 times in the movie.
Re, hanging him out to dry, I suspect it was more that with Federation occurring during the Boer War, we did'nt have the organisational infrastructure to try him ourselves, which, as you pointed out, was fixed by 1914.
I always remember Bryan Brown getting punched out at the close of filming party when a local extra found out he'd slept with his wife during filming. He wasn't happy and he made it clear to Brown in no uncertain terms. Woodward was a gentleman and it showed in how he treated the extras. The firing squad wore 10/27 RSAR tartan kilts - they were the only kilts they could procure in time for the final scene - not many people know that. 10/27 RSAR were an ARes unit, you'd think they'd have gotten more support from the Regs but they weren't in it, only Regs were given extra leave to do the filming. I also did Gallipoli but they cut my scene. I supported Light Horseman, providing showers and Rats. They wanted real horseman and so they got a load of civvies from the various stations.
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Over 3000 British and commonwealth soldiers were sentenced to death during the 1st World war for all causes

But of those 'only' 306 were executed (another 37 were executed for Murder)

So we can see that there was a general reluctance to follow through with a given death sentence

I am tenuously related to Thomas Highgate (my aunt married into the family) who was the first soldier executed in WW1

My cousins and other members of the family spent decades trying to clear his name

As they say the past is a different country they do things differently there
Siege of Konigsberg continues
1st October 1914, Konigsberg.

The siege had entered its 6th week, the Russian Army besieging the city was only slightly larger than the force penned within its defences. The Russians had shown little interest in assaulting the German positions, they had however been lavish in their use of artillery. They would fire on any exposed troops or indeed any human movement. The German garrison was relatively well equipped with their own guns, but they lacked the ammunition to undertake effective counter battery missions. The Russian commanders seemed more than content to keep the Germans trapped whilst they waited for starvation and a shortage of ammunition to force a surrender. The Russian army had managed to emplace a total of 8 large rifles which were steadily pounding the city into dust, their effectiveness significantly improved by the deployment of a pair of spotting balloons which were able to observe the entire area within the siege works, they were then connected via telegraph and telephone to both the commanding generals bunker and to the positions of the various artillery batteries.
As part of their support for their British Allies, the Japanese had agreed to supply additional weapons including a pair of heavy mortars to the Russian army. Those guns had been transhipped from Korea to Vladivostok and were anticipated to arrive within the week. Whilst they lacked the range of the guns which the Russians were already using, they would be able to put an even heavier shell down on the enemy positions. The Russian railways would be able to bring the mortars almost to the siege lines themselves. Those lines having been largely repaired, despite the damage done by both armies in the opening stages of the war. The war had revealed the parlous state of the Empires railways, shortages of engines, rolling stock, track and even ballast were causing delays from one end of the empire to the other. The additional demands were starting to cause real problems for the civilian economy as war priority loads displaced the cargos normally carried. The priority for maintenance and repairs were the lines which kept the armies supplied but unless at least a minimum was done to ensure that St Petersburg and Moscow remained supplied with food chaos would ensue irrespective of any success on the frontlines.
The Japanese were supplying more than just mortars to the Russians, they had also agreed to supply several hundred thousand rifles from their both their own stocks and new manufacturing and had also accepted a Russian order for 50000 maxim guns as well as additional artillery pieces. The British had agreed to guarantee the Russian bonds that were being used for the payments to the Japanese Empire for the weapons.
It was hoped in Japan that supporting the Russian efforts directly would gain Japan improved access to Russian raw materials to support their own rapid industrialisation. The Japanese Government were surprised at the success of the Russian Army thus far. Spurred by this they took the view that more direct support to their British Allies may be needed, to ensure that a victorious Russia did not challenge their own ambitions in China or the Pacific more generally. Likewise they were providing more support on naval matters, the squadron in pursuit of the Germans was being seen as concrete support for the British Empire and was well regarded by the normally sceptical populations of both New Zealand and Australia.
The Japanese Military attaché to the Russian Empire had visited the siege lines several times and his reports back to Tokyo were testimony to the success of Russian arms and had led directly to the supply of the Mortars along with the deployment of several advisors who would supervise the installation of the guns and their operation.
The Russian air force was also taking part in the siege, they were overflying the city daily, both for reconnaissance purposes and also to drop propaganda leaflets which whilst widely discounted by most were all being put to some use at least. Boredom and worry were the main allies of the Tsar in the siege of Konigsberg but as it ground on hunger would soon take first place.


Monthly Donor
As part of their support for their British Allies, the Japanese had agreed to supply additional weapons including a pair of heavy mortars to the Russian army. Those guns had been transhipped from Korea to Vladivostok and were anticipated to arrive within the week. Whilst they lacked the range of the guns which the Russians were already using, they would be able to put an even heavier shell down on the enemy positions.
Wouldn't be ironic if those are the same mortars that were used to shell Russian Port Arthur less than ten yers ago? Or those are former Russian mortars, taken as trophies in Port Arthur then?
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Wouldn't be ironic if those are the same mortars that were used to shell Russian Port Arthur less than ten yers ago? Or those are former Russian mortars, taken as trophies in Port Arthur then?
They likely are the same weapons, but none will comment on it for fear of embarrassment or worse.
A Cavalry Patrol
1st October 1914, Somewhere in Belgium.

2nd Lt The Honourable Percival Sykes-Fairburn was leading a patrol from the 3rd King’s Own Hussars, the patrol consisted of a half troop from A Squadron. Before leading the patrol the Squadron commander had briefed Lt Sykes-Fairburn well, “Cornet, you are to take the half troop forward scouting from our front line here at Herne towards Ter Linden, there is a Royal Castle there.” The Squadron commander paused and pointed the village and the castle out on the map which had been recently issued by the Ordnance Survey. “Assuming the Hun are not present in any strength you are to move up to Heikrus. If you encounter any German troops send back word immediately, don’t get bogged down skirmishing, push through any weakly held positions but don’t try anything too heroic.”
The patrol had gone very well in the beginning, the patrol had mounted up and had moved rapidly forward from British positions near Herne. They had not seen any sign of the Germans at the village, there had been some evidence that the Castle had been in use, it was littered with German ration tins and bottles but there were no soldiers present, there were no documents left behind but a large pile of ashes in the courtyard indicated they had been burnt as the Germans withdrew. The German troops had vandalised the building, ruining much of the artwork and destroying the stained-glass windows in chapel.
The Lt had detached a party of 4 men under a lance corporal to take word back to squadron HQ before resuming the patrol. He had expected to reach the hold point for the patrol about 15 minutes ago but they were still proceeding through open country with little but scattered farm houses. In the back of his mind the worry was that he had taken a wrong turn, the patrol came to a T intersection, they had still not sighted any Germans at all.
Trudging past was a weary looking farmer, he was stopped by the patrol, not having any Dutch the Lt addressed him in French, asking if he had seen any Germans. The farmers only response was a laconic grunt followed by his spitting on the ground and then pointing back down the road from which he had come. Convinced now that he had taken a wrong turn, he could see Heikrus, half a mile the other way up the road from the direction in which the farmer had pointed. Between the officers poor French, better suited to holidays in nice that tactical intelligence gathering and the farmers desire to get away from the foreign soldiers the distance to the enemy was not communicated, released on his way the farmer waddled of sparing not a backwards glance.
The Lt was in a quandary, he was not where he was meant to be but, he was also in a position, to probe closer to Brussels, he would take his patrol now down to 12 men onwards in the direction the farmer had indicated. Before he moved off, he ordered another pair of men to return to the Squadron with his position and his intentions. As the patrol continued down the road the Lt sat atop his horse pondering his decision. He did hope that his action would not be seen as “heroic” in hindsight, he feared his squadron commanders’ displeasure to say nothing of the colonel, but his task was reconnaissance and that was what he would do, in the finest traditions of the King's Own.
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Reservists Vs Professionals
1St October 1914, Trop Belgium.

The gefreiter was a 27-year-old, from Schleswig, he had been called up from his normal job as a reporter with the local Danish language newspaper on the declaration of war. He didn’t really want to be in Belgium, he didn’t want to be German, he certainly didn’t want to be in the army. He was in his heart a Dane, more than once he heard his grandmother bemoaning the annexation and his family still exclusively spoke Danish at home. Many family members had moved to Denmark, but his family had a cannery and could not afford to sell up to go into exile.
He was a reluctant conscript and the progress of the war had worsened his morale, the rest of his squad were little better, like him they were all reservists, and all known to one another, there were 3 Danes and 3 Germans in the squad as well as himself. They were currently occupying a farmhouse about 800m in front of the village of Trop, the village was being held by the rest of the platoon as part of the outer screen for Brussels. Their orders were to act as a trip wire and send back word if Entente patrols were seen.
The gefreiter was sharing the noon watch with another Dane, they were speaking in Danish together, something which was forbidden by standing order, but which was common enough in regiment to pass without comment, certainly as the war news grew worse the use of Danish had risen. The rest of the squad was downstairs in the farmhouse kitchen, cooking lunch and making a nuisance of themselves with the elderly farmer’s daughter and his housemaid. Neither woman seemed in the least bit interested in the German soldiers and the fates of those Belgian girls who had been seen as being overly keen to collaborate was grisly, when their fellow Belgians had a chance to remonstrate with them.
The discussion had already covered the futility of the war, the defeat and capture of First Army, the worsening situation in Brussels itself and the shortage of food. The other Dane had just declared that a stint in a British Prisoner of war camp might well be a good thing. The gefreiter silenced him saying “that sort of talk will get you shot so keep your stupid mouth shut,” a frosty silence descended, made worse but the ribald German filtering up the stairs.
The silence and bad feeling endured for another 30 minutes till the watch ended, then the two men were relieved by another pair of soldiers from the squad. The danes heading downstairs to see what remained of the lunchtime rations.
As the Gefreiter had just sat down to a bowl of soup and the heel of a loaf of black bread, all hell broke loose upstairs, both sentry’s began shouting “Cavalry, Tommies” and then the shooting began. Dropping his soup the Gefreiter rushed up the stairs, the rest of the squad on his heels. Looking out the window, he could see a British Cavalry patrol disappearing behind a farm building some 400m from the farmhouse his men occupied. None of the shots his men had fired seemed to have hit anything, unsurprising considering the state of their rifle practice, with limited ammunition and the endless occupation and pacification patrols his men had been conducting. The calm lasted only a few minutes, then British rifle fire lashed back at his position, the glass in the window shattered and bullets crunched into the walls of the farmhouse.
Downstairs the maid was screaming, with both the farmer and his daughter shouting at her as they tried to push her down the stairs into the cellar. The gefreiter remembered his orders, detailing two men to return to the village with word of the British patrol, for it could only be a patrol. The firing from the British died down and an uneasy stalemate developed, none of his men had been wounded yet beyond some slight cuts from broken glass. The British troops were slightly higher up the slope than his position, the house with its two stories could see some distance but it was uphill to the British positions.
The firing resumed again but this time it was closer than before, the British had used dead ground to approach to within 200m of the farmhouse, the fire was coming from two directions now, pinning them in position. The squad was shooting back but with little effect, their position was secure the walls thick but the British bullets were cracking round the men’s heads now. Already there was a reluctance to draw fire or expose themselves, the squad was starting to be supressed. Again fire lashed into the building from another direction, the British Cavalry were using effective fire and movement tactics to keep his men pinned down and distracted whilst they moved closer to his position. He didn’t think it was more than a dozen men, but they had his own squad heavily outnumbered. Nobody had suffered any casualties yet on either side, but that was more by luck than anything else. The two runners sent back to the platoon had both been ethnic Germans, which left the Gefreiter with 3 Danes including the loudmouth and one German. The firing intensified again and this time a bullet found a target, one of his men was struck in the upper arm, the man began whimpering, obviously severely hurt. At this point the loudmouth snapped saying “I won’t die for the Kaiser, I am no damned German” he stood throwing his rifle out the window.
Unfortunately for him as he stood a British cavalry trooper had him neatly in his sights. The trooper who had once been a sergeant until reduced to the ranks for peculation, namely the misappropriation of three cases of brandy from the officers mess, was also an excellent shot. The trooper in question had suffered under Boer musketry in South Africa, and when the cavalry had been reequipped with the SMLE, he had been as keen as any man to hone his own skills. The squadron commander who had merely reduced him to the ranks for his crime rather than taking any more severe steps had recognised the value of a crack shot and the trooper was entirely unmoved as he took up the trigger pull on his rifle.
The rifle cracked and 37 grains of cordite deflagrated, the pressure inside the breach of the rifle rapidly increased and 174 grain bullet was accelerated down the barrel spinning within the rifling. The bullet had a mere 170 yards to travel and it did that in a fifth of a second, retaining the vast majority of it 2440 feet per second velocity. The bullet struck the loudmouth unironically in the mouth, blowing a hole through the back of his head. He dropped like a marionette with its strings cut, his blood and brains spraying like a bloody douche over the gefreiter.
General firing resumed with British rifles cracking with a metronomic cadence as a four man team rushed the farm house, the Germans were pinned unable to fire back, reduced to huddling behind the walls. The farmhouse door crashed open and more rifle fire crashed about the building, bullets were coming up through the floor now, the firing ceased and the shouts of “aufgeben and hande hoch” could be heard. Throwing down his own rifle, the gefreiter led his men down the stairs and into captivity.
Percy Girouard
1st October 1914, Calais

Lt General Percy Girouard was meeting with his principal subordinates, he had moved quickly once established in his position as transport commander for the BEF to bring in men from industry to fill many of the key roles, armed with Churchills imprimatur and his reputation from South Africa he had met little resistance. He had been enthusiastically supported by both the local commanders of the Army Service Corps and the Army Ordnance Corps. They recognised the need to massively expand their own capacities and having a man with Girouard’s reputation and clout at the top was going to make their own tasks easier. Their acceptance was further aided by the inherent pragmatism and less hidebound nature of the both the Army Service Corps and the Army Ordnance Corps.
Also attending was the officer commanding the Royal Engineers Line of Communications units, he was responsible for Military Railways, Canals and Road Construction. The Royal Engineers had already deployed the 5 Railway construction companies available to France and Belgium with a further 5 companies being formed from experienced civilians, further expansion was anticipated but was being held off until required to minimise the impact on the Railways in Britain. Lt General Percy Girouard had also proposed the employment of several thousand experienced workers from the Raj. They would be used in part to support the French and Belgian railways; the war having called so many railway men to the colours in both countries. Railway works in Britain were considered essential to the war effort and were being restricted from recruitment by the armed forces save into specific matched roles.
The meeting had commenced with a discussion of the three major challenges they faced, which had been caused by the destruction of the core of the Belgian Railway network. The damage had been done first by the Belgians as they retreated and then compounded by the Germans as they withdrew. The first challenge the repair of the damaged railway and canal network to enable future offensives. The second the logistical requirements of the BEF and the third was the feeding of the Belgians civilians in the areas formerly occupied by the Germans.
The Entente was aided in part by having held the Channel coast, the ports were all intact. The railway which paralleled the coast had been damaged during the attack on Oostende but that damage had already been fully repaired. This railway was already being heavily used to move food and supplies landed at the port to dumps from which it could be moved inland. Three of the railway construction companies had each been assigned a sector and were working to restore the railway lines moving inland from the Belgian coastline. As well as the British engineers, each railway company was provided with a battalion strength unit of Belgian Labourers recruited under the Levee en Masse regulations, these impressed civilians were being used for pick and shovel work as they laboured to relay track and repair damaged bridges and culverts. The work was advancing but slowly, with scant miles repaired thus far. The other two companies were working on the equally important line that ran from Mons to Ghent and which had been on the front line of the British destruction of the German First Army. This line was extensively damaged, but its restoration was vital to enable the movement and supply of British forces facing the Brussels garrison.
The logistical challenge of supplying the means of war to the BEF was being met through several mechanisms, firstly ruthless control had been implemented on the railway networks within Britain itself, all unnecessary travel was being discouraged, all freight movements were being co-ordinated with rival railway networks being compelled to facilitate the most efficient routings. The railway system was being somewhat rationalised to ensure efficient use of resources. This rationalisation was being driven by the company’s themselves to some extent, as they recognised that if they didn’t do it themselves, they would have Whitehall do it to them and that would end nowhere good.
At this stage off the war the army was still drawing on peacetime stocks thought these were dwindling rapidly. Industry was ramping up explosively aided by the purchasing commissions work, however everyone could see that baring the end of hostilities in early 1915 there would come a time when the supply cupboard would be bare. The Army had called up all of the civilian vans, buses and trucks it had funded prior to the war, but this was a mere tithe of what was required and purchasing officers were seeking vehicles up and down the British Isles. As with munitions, industry was growing to meet the demand, but it was likely that there would be a shortage within 6-9 months as existing units wasted.
Horses were likewise being called up and they were continuing to flood across the Irish Sea and the channel into the Army, with the horses the requirement for fodder was also growing at a pace. Some of these wants would be met from the United State of America, particularly in fodder and vehicles. But as much as possible the government’s policy was to supply the BEF from within the Empires resources, orders had been placed in Australia for Beef and Horses, in Canada for timber and wheat and in New Zealand for mutton and wool.
For Lt General Percy Girouard, his responsibility was to move this flood tide of material forward through a wasteland of ruined roads, burnt and mangled railways and blown bridges. He was using a mixture of Army Service Corps and Army Ordnance Corps vehicles and horse drawn transport aided by every Belgian civilian truck and cart he could access. The steady advance of the railways was helping as the railheads moved forward, the distance’s supplies had to move to get to the frontline reduced. The problem was that the front line wasn’t static, it kept moving forward and every mile the BEF moved closer to Germany was another mile of damaged country that had to be traversed. For the Germans every mile they fell back was a mile closer to their own farms and factories reducing their own logistical problems.
The challenge of feeding the Belgian Civilians was being met although not without some hardship, food was crossing the channel from British stocks as well as the normal supplies sourced from the United States and the Netherlands. The Netherlands was supplying food mainly around Antwerp and along its borders. The Americans were supplying food to the remainder of Belgium, with some limited shipments via the Netherlands to areas under German occupation. Although the Entente was keen to minimise this supply as it weakened the blockade of German which was being enforced with as much rigour as the Royal Navy could muster.
The meeting continued for hours as the problems were examined and solutions proposed, debated and accepted. Percy Girouard was satisfied in the end that his command was doing all that could be done to ensure that the war could continue to be fully prosecuted, but despite the victories seen already German was a powerful foe and her destruction and defeat would not come swiftly.
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Coulsdon Eagle

Monthly Donor
I do enjoy the level of detail that you have gone into. What sounds like a dry discursion is brought to life.

Minor nit-pick - it's the Army Ordnance Corps, unless you refer to a secret unit ensuring religious pronouncements are followed 😋
I do enjoy the level of detail that you have gone into. What sounds like a dry discursion is brought to life.

Minor nit-pick - it's the Army Ordnance Corps, unless you refer to a secret unit ensuring religious pronouncements are followed 😋
Thanks, will correct.
I do enjoy the level of detail that you have gone into. What sounds like a dry discursion is brought to life.

Minor nit-pick - it's the Army Ordnance Corps, unless you refer to a secret unit ensuring religious pronouncements are followed 😋
Whilst I suspect such a unit may have served with the Papal Zouaves, not so much with the BEF. I really do appreciate any corrections.
By jingo boys if you don't want to miss the adventure you must join the Army today.
For King and Empire join today and remember like Lord Kitchener says "Your Country Needs You!!!"
Women of Britain say Go!
Do you want a Husband your children will be ashamed of? No. Tell him to enlist now.
Fathers what will you say when they ask "Daddy what did you do in the war"?
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