This is a picture of the Canadians in England before they arrive in France. They look like "New Boys" and they are.
Here they are in 1916 at the Somme - quite different.
When they arrived in France in February 1915, they were the first non regular unit to arrive. So the British gave them a month's secondment to more experienced British units.
On March 1st, as a symbol, the 1st Battery in the 1st Brigade CFA fired the first ever round in anger for the Canadian Artillery in the war.
On March 3rd, at 10am, the 6th battery opened fire and fired 12 rounds. At 11am, the 7th fired 6 rounds at a house. At 11.30 the Germans replied with 9 rounds and at 3pm with 3 more. In response, the 7th fired another 11 rounds. It was on March 4th, that Alec's battery, the 5th, fired its own first rounds of the war. They fired 10 rounds.
This was in effect practice using the Germans as targets. In the map below of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle you can see the town of Sailly just above the text box. This was the Canadian HQ as of March 1.
On March 10th, they had their true baptism of fire.
The main British force under General Haig attacked the Germans in their trenches for the first time in the war at Neuve Chapelle. The inexperienced Canadians were on the north right hand flank and only had to offer a "Demonstration". This meant no going over the top. But did mean the use of artillery in particular.
This short video gives us a feel for how the 18 pounder was fired and moved around by an experienced battery. Note how many horses are involved.
On March 10th, the entire Brigade opened fire but was limited to 180 rounds per battery. By the end of the month the brigade had fired 1,825 rounds out of an allotment of 2,412.
The picture of the dump above shows what a battery of 6 guns might fire in a day by 1917.
One of the themes we will explore over the next 4 years is how artillery became the most important part of the battlefield. In 1915 this was not true.
This image from War Illustrated shows how Artillery was seen in 1915. Guns were operated in the open right up at the front and fired over open sights at moving troops. Each battery operated largely on its own with very little coordination from brigade and none from the division. They fired at targets of opportunity as we saw the Canadians do earlier in March.
The doctrine was all based in the idea that war would be open and mobile. No one had imagined a siege war.
But in war, people learn very quickly. Already in March the rules of engagement were starting to change. For the first time, there was an artillery timetable. For the first time, guns shot using a map and not their open sights. For the first time, the division controlled the effort. For the first time, the term "Barrage" was used.
People can learn and change quickly. But not the supporting industries. For the next two years all British attacks would fail and underlying that failure would be one issue.
British Industry could not cope with the demands for ammunition.
On of the reasons that Haig halted the attack at Neuve Chapelle was that the British had used up too much ammunition.
Without enormous cover from artillery to cut the wire and to keep the Germans heads down, the machine guns would defeat any attack.
In December 1914 only 13 rounds per gun were being manufactured daily in England. In January use was rationed to 4 rounds per gun a day. The big constraint was not the round but the type 80 fuse. By May 1915 only 870,000 fuses had been made under an order for 1.8 million. In August 1916, 25 million 18 pounder shells waited for fuses.
Shells were simple tubes of steel. Fuses were complex and demanded high precision parts. It was not until 1917 that they could be made at the scale required for war.
The situation became a scandal and lead to the collapse of the government in December 1916.
It is popular to tell the story of foolish disconnected Generals sending their men to certain death as if someone smarter had a better plan. World War 1 was the first truly industrial war. It was easier to get the men into the field than it was to solve the issue of how to use men to breakthrough trenches and dugouts defended by machine guns.
It would not be until April 9th 1917 that the Canadians put the whole package together that would make this possible.
March 1915 then for the Canadians was a light month. They had lost 100 men in Neuve Chapelle. On March 27th they went into reserve near Poperinge. They had learned a lot. But not enough. In April, they were to enter Hell.