The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
With the Machine Guns
Little puffs of powder,
Little squirts of lead
Make a man remember
He must keep down his head
And that is a machine gun.
I remember, when I was first detailed to go to the School of Instruction at Zeitoun, about October,' 15, I thought, "What a complicated piece of machinery the machine gun is; and how impossible it will be to learn all about it in three weeks." However, at the end of the period I had a working knowledge of the gun, and have been learning more ever since—but there is always more to learn. In this respect, a machine gun is like a woman: though you live with it for twenty years, you can always go on finding our things about it you never suspected before.
Long years ago it was man's aim to construct a gun that would shoot many rounds per minute; and after many evolutions, Sir Hiram Maxim invented one that has given general satisfaction. The Japs, during their war with Russia, were the first specially to train machine gun crews and to take the trouble properly to understand the working of the guns. Nowadays, guns are always brigaded, i.e., all the guns of a Brigade are made into a separate unit, and put under, the command of one officer, generally a Major, Who places them at the disposal of the various Regiments as required, when in action. This unit with a Mounted Brigade is called a "Machine Gun Squadron."
The gun numbers are:—No 1, who does the firing; No 2, who looks after the feeding of the gun- he carries the gun into action whilst No I carries the tripod; Nos. 3 and 4, ammunition carriers. Then there is the range finder, whose duty it is to make out all ranges, and who always has his range finder with him. In some cases there is a scout, who generally acts as an extra gun number. These gun numbers might be termed the aristocrats of a Section, the other men being pack leaders, who drag the gun and ammunition pack-horses along. This is a very responsible job, especially when galloping into action; but it is a job that nobody likes much, and pack leaders are generally very pleased to get a rise to a gun number. A Machine Gun Squadron is what is termed a technical unit —every man is supposed to be a specialist at his job. We are skilled workmen but we are not proud; we don't give ourselves airs. In fact, you will always see us fraternizing with the Regiment chaps.
In the Squadron we have another branch, the Transport. Now, the Transport is used for a great number of things—indeed, it is very useful and its members think themselves exceedingly important —I am not a Transport driver. On trek they carry the officers, and their own gear; this is of the first importance. Secondly, they carry all the reserve ammunition, spare gear, and cookhouse chattels (if you are a great friend of one of the drivers, you may get a small parcel carried, as a great favour). The Transport is a unit within a unit, and the fellows in it get a bob a day more than gun numbers and pack-horse leaders. Also, the drivers do no fatigues—their arduous duties do not permit of it. Fatigues in the M.G.S. are about the same as in a Regiment, except that we never do any guards.
It is fine, once in action, to hear the old lady spitting out death; it gives you a great feeling of security, also the feeling that you are doing your duty in the Great War. I remember, after Rafa we had had a very heavy day, and all the gun crews were feeling pretty tired. But when the Turks had given in our officer said, "We'll go and have a look at jacko's' trenches." So we went up to see what destruction had been done. Perhaps our hearts were calloused, but we felt triumphant when we saw the trenches all battered in and dead and wounded Turks lying thickly in them.
After a stunt there is always plenty to be done. The guns have to be thoroughly cleaned and oiled, and all the belts of ammunition must be gone through and refilled. For this purpose there is a belt-filling machine, which, when it is in proper order, fills the belts very quickly and evenly. Hand filling is much slower, and great care has to be taken to keep the cartridge, even in the pockets. A fast man is supposed to be able to fill a belt of 250 rounds in twelve minutes; but it is some going.
Horses are of great importance in a Squadron. Then there are mules. Gun and ammunition pack-horses should be of light draught type, low set and active. A tall pack-horse in an abomination, as the extra few inches require a great deal more brute strength to hoist the gun or ammunition on to the pack. I write feelingly. I was pack-horse leader for a time, and had an overgrown, under-conditioned old rake of a black mare, called "Estelle". She was about 17 hands high, and every time we had to lift the' ammunition panniers up we thought our backs—or hearts—would break. "Estelle", luckily, one day went lame, and now, I hope, is enjoying life between the shafts of a garry—she caused me plenty of pains and trouble.
Horses are the cause of three parts of the work. We rise early and groom, according to circumstances, for from ten minutes to an hour. Ere half the time has elapsed the horses become visibly bored, their faces bear an expression of great resignation; they are wondering if they will ever get breakfast. We groom before dinner, and again in the afternoon.
Pack saddles are hard to keep on, especially if the horse is not of Aldermanic proportions. You pull the girths so that you think the horse will be pulled in half; five minutes afterward the saddle, with its load, rolls in under the horse's tummy; and if the animal is not of an amiable disposition, you, see some marvellous movements on its part, generally ending in all the gear being thrown to the four winds of heaven, and many straps being broken. An amiable horse, when it gets in this plight, generally stops whilst you adjust the whole turn-out. and looks at you as if to convey the one word, "Idiot." Despite all our little worries, we are a happy family, quite content to let the world roll on, while we do our duty.