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Historic Trentham, 1914-1917: The Story of a New Zealand Military Training Camp, and Some Account of the Daily Round of the Troops within Its Bounds

A Study in Targets

page 88

A Study in Targets

The targets rise high before us
And dip again from view,
Like dumb men in a chorus,
Gesticulating through
The rifles' song, uproarious,
That echoes to the blue.

"And on wet days, I suppose, the soldiers in camp just do nothing," is a remark frequently made by civilians when discussing the camps.

If any of these people had happened to look in at a certain hut at Trentham on a wet day, they would have been surprised at the activity that was being displayed. The orderly arrangement of tables, beds, and forms had been upset and Long Mac was doing his best to hide his length and breadth from the enemy, while he aimed with his rifle, from behind the shelter of a table, at a long landscape target which was displayed on the end wall of the hut.

To get back to the beginning of the morning's work, a parcel wrapped in a dripping waterproof sheet had been brought into the hut. It contained a bundle of pictures, called landscape targets, which showed typical scenes of English and Continental countrysides. One of these was hung up, and the instructor did his best to teach the squad how to pick up any point described on the target. There was a house in the distance and a tree on the crest of a hill, with some poplars and willows lower down. Taking the house as a landmark, the instructor told the squad to fire at a certain poplar tree, "two fingers right of the house." It seemed simple enough, but to make the lesson more effective the six soldiers whose acquaintance page 89
2nd Field Company N.Z. Engineers, N.Z.E.F., En Route From Trentham Camp For EmbarkationThe Engineers' Canvas Camp Revetments Made From Manuka

2nd Field Company N.Z. Engineers, N.Z.E.F., En Route From Trentham Camp For Embarkation
The Engineers' Canvas Camp Revetments Made From Manuka

page 90
Pontooning on the Hutt River1. The Pontoons are Afloat and the Squads Waiting for the Command to "Form Bridge."

Pontooning on the Hutt River
1. The Pontoons are Afloat and the Squads Waiting for the Command to "Form Bridge."

2. Laying the Chesses to form the Roadway.

2. Laying the Chesses to form the Roadway.

3. Returning the Stores

3. Returning the Stores

page 91
A Typical Engineers' Draft Staff—Ordnance Store and Musketry Workshops

A Typical Engineers' Draft Staff—Ordnance Store and Musketry Workshops

page 92
Officers and Men of the Camp Quartermaster's StoresA Typical Officers' and N.C.O.'s Class—Officers and N.C.O. 's of the 22nd Reinforcements

Officers and Men of the Camp Quartermaster's Stores
A Typical Officers' and N.C.O.'s Class—Officers and N.C.O. 's of the 22nd Reinforcements

page 93
Squad of Non-Commissioned Officers Receiving a Lecture by Means of a Landscape TargetSnapshooting at an Aiming DiscThe Triangular Method of Testing Aim for Accuracy and Consistency

Squad of Non-Commissioned Officers Receiving a Lecture by Means of a Landscape Target
Snapshooting at an Aiming Disc
The Triangular Method of Testing Aim for Accuracy and Consistency

page 94
A Squad Being Instructed In firing PositionsAn Aim Corrector in UseField Operations—Officers at Lunch

A Squad Being Instructed In firing Positions
An Aim Corrector in Use
Field Operations—Officers at Lunch

page 95
In the Dental Surgery at Trentham Camp

In the Dental Surgery at Trentham Camp

page 96
Officers, N.C.O.'s and Men, N.Z. Medical Corps, Trentham CampOfficers, N.C.O.'s and Men, N.Z. Dental Corps, Trentham Camp

Officers, N.C.O.'s and Men, N.Z. Medical Corps, Trentham Camp
Officers, N.C.O.'s and Men, N.Z. Dental Corps, Trentham Camp

page 97we have made were lined up at a short distance from the target. Having heard the instructor's order, they all stared at the target to try and locate the tree. After a pause, the squad was turned right about, and each man in turn came up and pointed out the place he would have fired at. Curly and Long Mac and Bill found the right place. The Rooster pointed to a willow, Blasty chose a poplar, but not the correct one, and Jallow pointed vaguely at several trees and admitted that he was not at all sure about the matter.

After this came the practice in firing from cover, during which the furniture of the hut was made into a barricade. The men all enjoyed this, and when smoke - oh! came, instead of listening to the rain drumming dismally on the roof, they argued about the scene in Flanders and what they would do if a Boche suddenly showed his head out of a chimney or a tree. Jallow and Blasty became quite heated over it.

The landscape target was replaced by one similar to those used on the ranges—the lower half coloured dull green and the upper half light-grey, with a dark-brown patch in the centre. This patch was enclosed in two blue-pencil rings. A long pole with a metal disc at its end was brought in, the disc being painted white on one side and black on the other; and a red and white flag was also produced. Then the squad was given instruction in the method of signalling shots at the targets in the butts. This feature of musketry knowledge having been absorbed, the usual lively quarter of an hour was spent in muscle exercises, and then there was some practice in rapid loading with dummy cartridges as a final exercise of the morning's work.

During the days of glorious fine weather preceding the wet days the six men had learned a good deal about musketry. They had found targets—and a number of objects that were not targets—on a real landscape, and thereby proved that their eyesight was unimpaired, though there were some town-bred men in the squads who found their eyes not in focus for seeing over long distances—they were so accustomed to have their horizon bounded by bricks and mortar or wood and paint.

On the green slope behind the 25-yards range the tests were made. A number of variously-painted silhouettes had been planted among the grass and scrub, and even the instructors had to be very wide-awake to keep them in view. But some of the men were quite confident that they could see them.

"Hands up, those men who can see twenty targets or more," the instructor said. All told, there were fifteen silhouettes on the hill. Three men put up their hands.

page 98

"I can see fifty-seven," said Jallow, whose lips had been moving rapidly for some seconds; "I counted them and there are fifty-seven."

He rather took the instructor's breath away, until it was found that Jallow had been counting some pegs above the targets. There were sixty of them, and Jallow had not seen any of the silhouettes. One of the other men had counted the dark tufts of native plants, and the third said he had made a mistake and would look again. Curly found ten targets and described their positions accurately. Long Mac very cautiously admitted that he had seen five for sure, and more maybe. Blasty was quieter than be had been for days, and rubbed his eyes several times. He was as enthusiastic as ever, though he failed to find any of the targets at first. But the lesson taught them all to use their eyes.

Judging distances was another lesson which was taught by actual practice. The squad was lined up and told that a flag on a short stick that was visible in front of them was exactly one hundred yards distant.

"Look at it well and measure the ground between you and it with your eye," the instructor said. They made the ground feel quite ashamed of itself, so diligently did they stare at it.

"About turn!" came the order. "Now march forward, and halt when you judge you are one hundred yards from those gum-trees."

They marched forward, and there was nothing remarkable about that: they knew how to march. It was when they began to halt that the oddness of the thing appeared. Bill Race stopped first. When the others kept moving he changed his mind and was about to follow, but the instructor stopped him.

"Stand still! Don't move!"

Blasty stopped like a collision and stood like a statue about twenty yards ahead of Bill. Long Mac put on the brake near him, and the Rooster dropped anchor a little further on. Curly was the next to stop. Jallow was evidently thinking of something else, and didn't stop till every man in the squad had come to a standstill. Then he looked over his shoulder, took two more steps, and stopped. A tape measure was run over the ground and a flag put up at the correct distance, which was midway between the Rooster and Long Mac, who were about five yards out; Race was forty yards short, and Blasty twenty, while Curly was ten and Jallow thirty yards over.

"I'll do better next time," Jallow said; "I was thinking about those targets at the time and forgot."

page 99

Up till now the squad had had only inanimate targets to watch. Now a number of fatigue-men were sent out to various distances, and the soldiers were taught to "aim off for movement." The fatigue-men—soldiers in their denims—walked and doubled across the line of fire, and the squads were taught to aim in front of the moving men, according to their speed, the instructor checking their aim by means of the aim-corrector. Snapshooting (aiming quickly and accurately) and rapid fire (maintaining a high rate of speed in firing, combined with accuracy) were subjects which now came in for much attention. In their study of the "triangle of error"—which is the name given to a handy means of checking a man's aim—Blasty made his first "bull" in connection with musketry, though it was not the kind that the white disc goes up for. Curly was moving a disc that he held over a white board, and Blasty was looking along the sights of the rifle in the tripod.

"Just a bit to the left," said Blasty—"a bit more."

The disc moved to the right. Blasty had forgotten that his left was Curly's right.

"Oh," he said, "I mean the other left!"

He waved his hand in the direction he meant and struck the butt of the carefully-placed rifle.

"Dear me!" said the instructor, or words to that effect, and patiently set to work to aim that rifle anew. Curly and Blasty had an argument that evening as to whose fault it was and the exact words the instructor used.

When they aimed at service targets a few days later they felt that they were approaching the real thing. A long row of rifles were set up in tripods, with men standing in two ranks behind them. The instructor waved a flag and the sound of a rifle-shot was heard, coming from the front. For a moment nothing was visible. Then came another shot, and a man was seen in the act of firing. The flag waved again and he disappeared.

"Mark down!" said the instructor.

The front rank stepped forward to the tripods and aimed the rifles at the place where they judged the man had appeared.

"Stand clear!" was the next order. The flag waved and the distant man reappeared. Then the instructor checked the aiming of the rifles and pointed out the errors. Some of the men of the squads had never seen the man at all, owing to his uniform's colour resembling the colour of the ground. Blasty was one of these. His rifle was aimed fair for a military policeman who was returning from guard duty at the reservoir in the hills.

page 100

The elementary training which was imparted was greater, perhaps, than the amount actually absorbed by the pupils, but any Jack was quickly discovered by the standard tests which are designed to show whether the soldier is sufficiently advanced in both theoretical and practical work to warrant his being sent on the range. But the whole of the training led to the range at last, and thither the cheerful six wended their way one bright morning, with mingled feelings of pleasure and trepidation.

It was a memorable day, a notable occasion. After an early breakfast the company was marched down to the range to begin firing the recruits' course of musketry. Anxiety was shown on the faces of some of those who had never fired a rifle in their lives.

"Does she kick?" a lad asked a non-commissioned officer.

"Like the devil, if you don't hold her tight!"

"I'll hold her tight all right!"

"A chap told me last night," said Blasty, "that he got his shoulder dislocated at his first shot. What do you think?"

"I don't care if she kicks me over the canteen," said Curly, "I'm going to hit the bull!"

It would not be fair to tell of many things which took place at that first trial; but every man emerged from the test feeling much happier and keen to do some more shooting.

When the platoons forming the company went each to its allotted section of the range, to be split up again into small squads, they found the markers already in the butts. A red flag waved at each end, and the targets were being carried out from the sheds and put in position. A small party arrived presently at the firing-point with a portable telephone and some flags; they were for communication between the firing-point and the butts. Ammunition had been drawn, each platoon placing its supply in a convenient position. Each squad was told off to a target, the men who were to fire first and the register-keepers going right up to the mound, while two other lines remained some distance in the rear.

Everything was ready; the red flags at the butts were withdrawn, the officer in charge ordered the flag on the firing-point to be lowered. Not till then was ammunition issued to those who were about to fire. Up came the targets! The range was 100 yards, and each man fired five shots, the practice being known as "grouping." Then they were taken up to the target, the groups measured, points scored in the books, and their faults explained to them. The next shoot was at 200 yards, and later from the same distance with bayonets fixed. During a week they worked long hours page 101on the ranges, firing from cover, snapshooting, and firing rapid, and by degrees the ranges lengthened, till they were firing with greatly increased confidence and better marksmanship at the 600 yards range. When the whole of the six learned that they had qualified and would not be drafted into a special squad for further practice they were happy men.

After a morning spent on the range, the squads were taken out for firing at the landscape targets; and the men found that the shooting was of an entirely different character. The pictures were set up 25 yards away—scenes in Flanders and France—tall poplars, bare slopes, straight roads, trim houses and church-towers.

"It's a pity to spoil it with a bullet!" said Bill Race.

"Supposin' you can hit it, that is," added Long Mac.

"I'll bet you that none of you hits the target," said Curly, who knew something.

"Done!" they said.

"Ah! It's a shame to take your money!" laughed Curly. "See what they're putting up."

The range men were placing screens of brown paper above the targets, and the men were ordered to sight their rifles at a long range. Although they aimed at the trees, the churches, the roads, the bridges, or the church spires, according to the way in which each man interpreted the fire-orders, the bullets struck the brown paper screens above the targets. From their positions it was simple work for the accuracy of the shooting to be judged. Sometimes the fire was directed on one point, at other times on a number of points simultaneously, and occasionally it was distributed between two points. But Curly won his bet; the picture targets were undamaged, as the squad found when, after each shoot, they were taken up to see their handiwork and receive instructions for future guidance. They found that they made many errors at the outset and improved rapidly with practice.

The difficulty of getting each man to recognise and fire at the spot indicated in the fire order was only brought home to them after making several attempts. Perhaps the target was a tiny tuft of grass or a small fold in the ground. It had not a large number above it, as the targets on the ranges have, to guide the firer. Moreover, the fire orders are condensed like telegrams; all superfluous words are dispensed with. So that many who had done well at the ranges found there was much remaining of musketry yet to be mastered.