Machine Gunner on the Somme

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.

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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.

Boldnotold

Machine Gunner on the Sommeby Capt Eric L Bird MC published by Tommies Guides
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14 comments on “Machine Gunner on the Somme
  1. Bad CO says:

    If you haven’t read it then can I also recommend ‘With a Machine Gun to Cambrai’ by George Coppard MM. Its written by a bloke who joined up under age and then fought almost continuously on the Western Front until he suffered a near fatal injury in 1917. The style is extremely accessible and provides a fascinating insight into what it must have been like for the majority of combatants in WW1. He also returned to the battlefields in his 70s and hooked up with an ex squeeze!

  2. overopensights says:

    Machine Gunner on the Somme: I will certainly have a read of this one. I read ‘With a Machine Gun to Cambrai’ some years ago. Its style, detail and interest has stayed with me.

  3. Chef says:

    As an aside, I believe that the Machine Gun Corps was effectively airbrushed from military history after the war, the mess silver and other artefacts and war diaries being melted down or otherwise gotten rid of. The George Coppard book is well worth a look.

  4. Bad CO says:

    Agreed, I think the rest of the infantry disliked the idea of another upstart organisation. About the only thing substantial left is the Machine Gun Corp memorial in Hyde Park.

  5. Travelgall says:

    Bad CO. Not a lot of people have read that. Cracking book.

    As for the airbrushing. I suspect that unlike the Cycling Corps, Royal Garrison Artillery, Camel Corps etc; it was the Machine Gun Corps success that encouraged the weapon to be adopted by every Regiment Organically. That is most likely what killed the name rather than a deliberate attempt to wipe them from history.

  6. Boldnotold says:

    BCO I shall look out for ‘With a Machine Gun to Cambrai’. Thanks for the tip!

  7. biffins-bridge says:

    With a machine gun to Cambrai is an excellent book. Another really good WW1 personal account, although not MGC, is “Old Soldiers Never Die” by Frank Richards DCM, MM of the 2nd Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers. I read it and then read “The War the Infantry Knew”which is pretty much a day by day account of 2nd Battallion Royal Welch Fusiliers service throughout the war compiled by their Medical Officer Captain J C Dunn DSO, MC*, DCM. Robert Graves served in the battalion and iirc his semi authobiographical book Goodbye to All That is based on his experiences with the battalion.

  8. jumpinjarhead says:

    Apologies for the thread diversion but this is an account of one of the USMC’s iconic figures who was fairly adept with the water-cooled Browning .30 cal MG:

    http://http://www.victoryinstitute.net/blogs/utb/1942/10/26/mitchell-paige-medal-of-honor-citation/

  9. Mark The Convict says:

    ‘Internet Explorer cannot display the webpage’Linky no worky JJH.

  10. Mark The Convict says:

    Nope! Who’s the bloke concerned?

  11. putteesinmyhands says:

    This one: Mitchell Paige – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia though I fail to see any connection other than use of a machine gun.

  12. HectortheInspector says:

    As an aside, the Machine Gun Corps Regimental Association is still operating.
    Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association

    The Corps was split, the ‘Heavy’ part going into the new Tank Corps in 1916. The rest survived until 1922, and a lot of it’s records and history were lost in the Blitz.

    JJH- What about that other legendary USMC machine gunner, Gunnery Sgt Basilone?

  13. jumpinjarhead says:

    [QUOTE=HectortheInspector;4825832]As an aside, the Machine Gun Corps Regimental Association is still operating.
    Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association

    The Corps was split, the ‘Heavy’ part going into the new Tank Corps in 1916. The rest survived until 1922, and a lot of it’s records and history were lost in the Blitz.

    JJH- What about that other legendary USMC machine gunner, Gunnery Sgt Basilone?[/QUOTE]He used a “stinger”: http://www.dieselpunks.org/m/blogpost?id=3366493%3ABlogPost%3A113555

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