Subtitled ‘Reflections on the development and employment of the Machine Gun during the Great War’, this slim paperback is a reissue, having been written by Captain Bird in the 1920s. As well as telling the story of his career 1915-1918 and the actions and inactions of his daily life, his purpose is to show how use of the Machine Gun developed during the Great War. Proceeds from the sale of the book support the Western Front Association.
From his vantage point in the 1920s he also explores his view that the men who had fought so hard for military victory then lost the peace due to the hatreds, fears and greed of politicians. A view that will resonate in today’s world, I’m sure.
Captain Bird was an early member of the Machine Gun Corps, using the Vickers Machine Gun. He talks about training, tactical use of the weapons, the way Senior Officers viewed Machine Guns and how that changed as battle-hardened men were promoted to the General Staff, and how eventually the Machine Gun became a vital element of infantry support.
Captain Bird proposes the view that all modern weapons, tanks, artillery, mortars, and aeroplanes exist only to support infantry. He admires the brave and well-trained infantryman, and resents their use as navvies, latrine cleaners and dogsbodies (and maybe in the modern world firefighters, flood clearers and Olympic Guards?).
He tells some amusing stories, one of which, a dig at GHQ’s reluctance to supply battalions with tanks even after two years of tank warfare, describes an Australian Unit creating dummy tanks of wood and canvas, with a mule inside, from which enemy soldiers fled in terror.
Captain Bird describes in detail what it was like to fight on the Somme over the years, and the physical and emotional effect on himself, his men, and men he met during that time. I was particularly moved by his despondency in March 1918 when he found himself sitting in the same field from which his battles started on 1[SUP]st[/SUP] July 1916. His words ‘a grim vision of a never-ending war’ sum up the way he and many others felt at having been driven back to square one. Most moving was his reaction on 11[SUP]th[/SUP] November, when hearing that hostilities had ended. With a dawning sense of relief, he said to his colleague ‘Do you realise that we shall probably live to be old men?’
This is an interesting and emotionally stirring book as well as being informative on the development of the Machine Gun.
Four mushroom heads – a great book which no self-respecting ARRSer should ignore.
Machine Gunner on the Sommeby Capt Eric L Bird MC published by Tommies Guides
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