Newfoundland & Labrador - A Contribution Remembered: Barbed Wire & Shrapnel


Barbed Wire & Shrapnel


^^^ Barbed wire from the Western Front and heavy iron shrapnel found near Ovillers-la-Boisselles, (Somme, Northern France)


"If you want the Regiment,

I know where they are, I know where they are, I know where they are

If you want the Regiment, I know where they are,

They're hanging on the old barbed wire

I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.

Oh Yes, I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire."


- The Marching Song "On the Old Barbed Wire"


 


The myths of romance, fame and glory that existed around warfare during the nineteenth century did not survive the Western Front of 1914 -1918.


The image of Johnny, the clean-cut soldier boy, who would honourably go off to war with the encouragement and admiration of his loved ones, was dead forever.


The horse and the sword were now replaced by weapons of mass killing.


The crippled, maimed and psychologically wounded veterans who survived the war could never cover-up, nor forget, the horrors which they had witnessed. There was no glory anymore. Innocence was lost.


The thin veneer of human civilization began to show its’ ragged edges. Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man would become the norm.


As an example, no scene from the WW1 battlefields is more iconic than that of soldiers hanging on barbed wire while being ripped to pieces by bullets and pieces of shrapnel.


During the Great War, barbed wire went from being just a defensive barrier in no man’s land to a deadly instrument.


Drawn to gaps in the wire, attacking soldiers were literally herded into “killing zones” and trapped for slaughter.


This was certainly the case for the Newfoundlanders near the Danger Tree at Beaumont Hamel. Here, near a gap, they were inextricably tangled in the cruel barbs of the wire. Held tight, wounded, and unable to move, they would be hit over and over again.


Their bodies, or what would be left of them, now became grotesque obstacles to those coming behind. Then, they too became entangled and hit. And so, it continued until the

gaps in the wire became clogged with the bodies of dying and dead Newfoundlanders.


"Hanging on the Old Barbed Wire" was a well-known marching song of World War 1 which sarcastically described the location of senior army members who were “absent” from the combat zone.


It expressed disgust with those who had money or rank (who gave the orders) and honoured those who were of lower rank and who faced the guns.



One concluding verse goes:


"If you want the Regiment,

I know where they are, I know where they are, I know where they are

If you want the Regiment, I know where they are,

They're hanging on the old barbed wire

I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire.

Oh Yes, I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em, hanging on the old barbed wire."



The song was obviously not popular with officers, who thought it was bad for morale. In fact, the opposite was the case and attempts to suppress it were unsuccessful.


General Henry Shrapnel (1761-1842) was a British Army officer who invented the anti-personnel projectile.


This was a shell that, when exploded close to troops, ejected numerous individual “shrapnel” pieces that tore into the bodies of the soldiers.


Filled with pieces of lead and/or iron – sometimes with shards of glass, nails, or even rocks – they impacted the bodies of men with high velocity, and lethality, and produced horrible wounds. Fired, often indiscriminately from miles away, these shells usually exploded without warning.





While it is a popular misconception that machine guns and rifles produced the most injuries and deaths on the Western Front, the grim reality is that two-thirds of all casualties were produced by artillery shells.


The blast alone, if you were close to it, could produce everything from deafness, blindness, concussion, massive chest compression, or mangled death.


The shards of the exploding shell and/or the shrapnel contained therein, would break bones, pierce skulls, and enter the body at high velocity.


If the soldier survived the initial blast, the resulting tissue damage, with foreign material injected deep into the wounds, would cause horrible infections and injuries that would last for the rest of the soldier’s life.


Many soldiers “disappearedcompletely. They were vaporized. They ceased to exist. Thus, after the war, there was a requirement for large memorial walls containing the names of “those who have no known graves.”


I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em,


hanging on the old barbed wire.


Oh Yes, I've seen 'em, I've seen 'em,


hanging on the old barbed wire.



...



Note that this tour is a guaranteed departure

In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on a special pilgrimage to Gallipoli Turkey, to see for the first time, the last of the six Caribou along the Newfoundland Caribou Trail in Europe. Click June 2022 >


 

Our Guest Author Gerry Peddle


OMM. CD. BA. LTh. BD. DD.

Archdeacon Gerald Peddle was ordained a Priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1969. Now retired from active ministry, he has served parishes in Newfoundland and Labrador, Québec, Ontario and the Arctic. He has also served as a Chaplain to the Canadian Armed Forces. His final appointment, in the rank of Brigadier General, was as the Chaplain General at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa. For the next six years, he provided specialist ministry to both National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada. In total, he has served more than 51 years in active ministry.



Gerry currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Beechwood, Canada's National Military Cemetery in Ottawa. He has also served as an International Guide, specializing in Battlefield Tours for several years.


#caribouttour #gallipolitour #newfoundlanders #newfoundlandgallipoli #ww1 #beaumonthamel #thebattlefieldtours



The Caribou Tour to Gallipoli


In June 2022, we look forward to having Gerry back on the battlefields with us, escorting us on a special pilgrimage to Gallipoli Turkey, to see for the first time, the last of the six Caribou along the Newfoundland Caribou Trail in Europe. Check out the tour June 2022 >

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