Five-Nines and Whiz Bangs

Five-Nines and Whiz Bangs

By the Orderly Sergeant

June, 1952


Battle of Jutland, Fought 36 Years Ago This Month, Brings Back Memories of Reaction On Western Front


Seems to me, troops, that in these days of fading memories we might hie us unto one of these estaminets in Reninghelst, Poperinghe or Westoutre and see what they come up with. I say this, having in mind that when these words of wisdom take shape before your eyes there may be occasional thoughts harking back to one of the grimmer episodes of the Grand Violence of 36 years ago. To be less cryptic about it, I’m thinking of Jutland.


And where Reninghelst, Poperinghe and points east come in is in the fact that just about the time the news came through we were in that neighbourhood. Personally, I was busy around the dear old International Trench.




That’s where Sergeant Jock Fairgrieve of the 3rd Royal Scots told us that “the trenches are sae close tegither that Jerry an’ us use the same snipin’ plates.” With an awe-stricken audience hanging on his every word, Jock continued:


“We tak’ day’s aboot. On Sundays, Tuesdays an Thursdays Jerry uses them; an’ on Mondays, Wednesdays an’ Fridays, it’s oor turn.”


Gullible Me: “But what happens, Jock, on the Saturdays?”

Jock: “ Och, we just wurrk a six-day week. On Setterdays we baith tak’ the day aff.”


*          *          *


Jock had a Fritzie trench-periscope that he was tremendously proud of; and it was worth something too – a magnifying gadget. He loaned it to me the morning the mines went up at St. Eloi, but I wasn’t too interested. Some other chores called for more immediate attention. Dave Corrigall – may his name be praised! – called us away to do a spot of work in the front line which kept us busy, since Fritz’s obvious purpose at that time was to blow it to bits – a job he carried out quickly and very effectively.




Where was I? Jutland. Well, I do remember somewhere up around the Bean and the Pollock some cheerful guy whispering to me:

“Didja hear the news?”

“What news?” half-expecting the next part of the old gag: “The Old Squire has been foully murdered-”

“The British Navy’s lost 16 battleships.”

“Sixteen – which? Gee, that’s a lotta ships, ain’t it? When did this happen?”

“Last night,” my informant continued. “Jerry sunk ‘em all in a big battle.”


That tore it. Couldn’t be true. Jerry’s army could push us around and walk all over us, because he’d the guns, the ammunition and the men, while we were only a bunch of scratch amateurs. But to tell me that the Heiney navy could do things like that to the R.N. was – well, the laugh was loud and hearty. Good joke!



But it’s a weird business that the Admiralty did practically nothing at all to counter the German claims. Fritz blared it forth on the air – not by radio but by wireless telegraph – that the German Navy had inflicted a shattering defeat on the Royal Navy at the “Battle of the Skager Rack” – and the Admiralty let ‘em get away with it. Remember?


That wasn’t so hot on the morale, especially as, the very next day, he started acting up in the Salient. He bombarded very heavily on the 1st of June, and then let us have everything in the line of hardware on the 2nd of June. With Jutland on our minds – uncontradicted, and we not daring to believe it – we weren’t the most cheerful crowd in the world when the June Show hit us.




The Lahore Divisional Artillery, the Belgian Artillery and our own did magnificent work; and it was a sad sight to look back and see guns and ammunition limbers flying up in the air all over the place. Jerry had everything taped – just as Andy McNaughton and his counter-battery blokes returned the compliment in later days.


Mention of the Belgian Artillery – and the passion of these dear old ladies for “Tire rapide – tire rapide!” – reminds me of the Red Chevrons dinner in April, in Ottawa, at which Colonel the Vicomte du Parc, Belgium’s ambassador to Canada, who’d a lot to do with the old Canadian Corps in the spacious days whereof I’m talking, said a few words. Colonel du Parc noticed that behind the head table the Red Chevrons had a Belgian flag which, to say the least, could have stood a spot of replenishing. He thereupon said that he was going home on leave this year, and on his return he would bring back for the Red Chevrons a brand new Belgian flag. His Ex. Is tremendously popular in Ottawa, and nowhere is he more at home than in a crowd of the old 1914-18 gang.




I was glad to see at that function Major Garner Currie, the son of our old Chief, Sir Arthur. It’s 19 years, come November, since the old general died. Doesn’t time pass? He was a great Canadian and a great soldier.


*          *          *


I’ve had lotsa letters about regimental reunions and would like to comment on them all. But I can’t. All I can think of at the moment is that the reunion – not an annual affair – of the 2nd Battalion – the Old Iron Second – is due first week-end of August in Ottawa. And that’s where you’ll find me, if any of you need me in a hurry!




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