The Garbage of War
THE GREAT WORK OF SALVING WAR MATERIAL
By Edward Wright
Necessity the Mother of British Economy - Why the Engineers Wanted Jam-Pots - Little War Charity that Grew into Great Government Repair Work - Strategic Importance of the Boot Sole - Saving a Hundred and Fifty Thousand Pairs of Boots a Week - Gun Hospitals and Convalescent Homes for Motor-Lorries - Teutonic Thoroughness in Scavenging - Fighting the British Blockade by Rag and Bone Merchantry - Ghastly Climax of Corpse Utilisation Factories - Increasing Pressure of the Submarine Blockade of Britain - Connection between Army Cooks Fat-Box and Supply of Cordite - Mr. Andrew Weir Hustles the Army into Intensive Salvage - Strange Advertisement Campaign in the War Zone - Soldiers become Enthusiastic Salvagers - Two Little Round Hats and a Company Dump - Grand National Problem of the Tin Can - Marvellous Work in Salvage Aerodromes - Ford System of' Turning Broken Motor-Lorry Vehicles - How the British Salvage System Was Affected by the Enemy Offensive - Permanent Results of Campaign for Economy - Winning Victory by Maximum of Output and Minimum of Waste.
Germans Recovering Belgian Military Material in Antwerp
Nothing in the world is so spendthrift as an army. After being trained in economy in peace time; by quartermaster-sergeants presiding over stores with a maximum of red- tape routine, an army on the field of battle is forced into the wildest wastefulness.
When two men are busy fighting each other one does not stop to pick up a button or a penny. Both often throw off their coats and waistcoats in order to free their limbs for the work of combat. So it is with armies. Some Treasuries and Parliaments starve their military forces in peace time, but for every penny then saved taxpayers have to pay pounds after the outbreak of hostilities. There was no thought of salvage during the first period of the war, when the armies were manoeuvring against each other and trying at all costs rapidly to achieve a decision. Everything was sacrificed to quickness in the delivery of the blows. The first phase of the battle in the west concluded with the contending forces impotently gazing at each other in December 1914; with munitions on both sides almost exhausted, and the ground over which they had struggled littered with the things they wanted.
The British Army was the first to start collecting waste material for the reason that it was less well equipped than the German Army British sappers opened up a branch of the rag-pickers' trade by displaying an intense interest in empty jam-jars, bully-beef tins, and sardine-boxes. The troops lacked hand-bombs, and the Royal Engineers had to improvise out of empty jars and tins short-range high-explosive missiles that could be pitched into the German trenches.
The penury of material transformed the last of the heroic British Regulars into the best exponents of the art of salvage the world had seen since the days of Hannibal. Hannibal, it will be remembered, was starved of military supplies by the senators of Carthage. Trying to save pence they did not merely lose pounds - they lost Carthage and the empire of the world.
In the British Army hundreds of thousands of recruits worked for months in civilian clothes and trained with imaginary rifles because of the shortage of both khaki and Lee-Enfields. Even among the ragged, wet, vermin-infested men in the ditches around Ypres there was not sufficient clothing as new uniforms did not arrive as quickly and as abundantly as might have been expected from the country with the largest wool- weaving industry in the world.
But two wounded British officers, .unfit for further active service had the happy idea of helping the forces in the field and finding work for refugee women by. opening a repairing shop in France. They began by gathering a few seamstresses together and collecting badly-torn uniforms, and they developed their establishment into a splendid salvage organisation that helped the khaki mills, and also served to inspire salvage work on a large scale in other directions.
Although it does not seem to have been clearly known at the time, the saving of soldiers' clothes often meant the saving of his health. He needed frequent and complete change of underclothes and uniform to free him from vermin-carried trench fever and other diseases. It took some years for men of science to trace trench fever to body vermin, and devise changes of impregnated clothing. for the troops; but the salvage work begun as a little war charity in the first months of the struggle was the base of all. that followed.
Boots were even more important than clothes. After less than a fortnight of fighting, Sir John French's men were in desperate need of boots. When trench. warfare settled in its long course, many regimental officers either started repairing shops of their own or engaged contractors to keep the battalion well shod. The boot, however, was too important a thing to be left to individual officers. On it depended the marching power of the Army and for this reason it engaged the concern of the Commander-in-Chief, who in June, 1915, appointed Major-General Sir John Steevens; the Army salvage expert, to organise large central repair shops.
One was opened in Calais in the autumn of 1915, another was founded at Mudros during the Gallipoli operations and afterwards removed to Salonika. Later a shop was erected at Alexandria for the army of Palestine; while the army of Mesopotamia had its boots repaired at Basra. Other works were organised in England and Scotland, and these, with the Calais shop, were at last saving 150,000. pairs of boots each week.
Instead of the Army having to purchase new boots at the rate of a quarter of a million pairs a week, only 100,000 were required. Large as was the economy in money, this was of secondary importance. The great thing was the saving in the stock of available leather, upon which all the Allies constantly needed largely to draw. Moreover the British manufacturing plant for Army boot-making, when partly released from service for the New Army, was able to work for millions of allied troops.
By the summer of 1918, when the United. States Army was attaining enormous size, most of the civilian. population of the British Isles would have been wearing wooden soles and canvas uppers if the military forces had not been exercising for three years remarkable care and organising capacity in turning old boots into new and also providing repaired Army boots for farm-hands and other workers.
Another general advantage was derived from the working of the Command Repair Boot-shops. As doctors in a hospital discover from the study of disease how illness can be prevented so the military boot salvagers through whose hands millions of outworn pairs passed, were able to study ways of making boots with. a longer life than any footwear possessed when the war broke out. They designed new technical details of construction and experimented with linings and other material until by 1918 the British Army boot was becoming as near perfection as thousands of practical critics could make it. The men worked in teams of five, receiving ordinary pay up to thirty pairs of boots a day, and a bonus shared among them on all boots repaired over that number. Under this scheme each man increased his power of work, turning out nine hundred pairs of boots a year more than before.
The repair of guns was taken up about the same time as the repair of boots. In the matter of artillery the British Expeditionary Force was so completely overwhelmed by the enemy that necessity again became the mother of economy. Too much time had been lost by sending slightly damaged guns back to England for repair, so the army in France and Flanders did all it could to save time and transport. Works were erected there at which small repairs could be effected. Then larger plant was obtained and special workmen were taken over the Channel, until the artillery repairing establishments became a great help, not only to the Army but to the hard-pressed and imperilled steamers for which more cargo was waiting than could be transported.
Repair shops for motor-vehicles formed another early branch of salvage work. Even when a chassis was completely smashed up the engine was useful, and those handy men of the Army, the Royal Engineers, whose jobs became immense in number as well. Repair shops could find good ways to use guns and motors for many things that seemed no longer serviceable. The Engineers "fagged" for the Army, mended for it, and invented for it, and did most of the early salvage work.
When however, the new British armies arrived in the field in the summer of 1916, with a startling abundance of war material provided by the new Ministry of Munitions, the general spirit of economy rather diminished. In clothing, boots and a few other articles that quartermaster-sergeants could control, the saving system was maintained and developed. Systems of repairing firearms, guns and motor-vehicles were also extended. In other directions the waste far surpassed that which had occurred during the early battles of manoeuvre in the open field. A remarkable proportion of bad material, due partly to the inexperience of the new munition-makers, was the principal cause of waste.
In the summer of 1916 the Germans were the grand exemplars of the new art of combining battle operations with the rag-pickers business. Under the pressure of the partial naval, blockade maintained by British ships the Germans began to develop the idea of salvage to its fullest extent. They applied it to the armies in the field and to civil populations at home and in occupied territories, directing their activities to the recovery of metals, clothing material and foods and fats.
Articles of lead, tin, copper, aluminium, and other valuable metals were gathered by house-to-house collections. Damaged machinery was broken up, and even good machinery was taken to pieces, so that parts made out of rare metal might be replaced by parts made out of common metal. Millions of empty tins were carefully collected and sent to Essen and other centres for the tin to be extracted by chemical processes. Old tins were also collected in neutral countries adjoining Germany, and brought over the frontier to the tin-extracting works.
All clothing supplies were controlled by the German Government. Outworn woollen material had to be given to the authorities, and mattresses containing woollen or cotton stuffings were commandeered, and returned to their owners stuffed with paper, seaweed; or shavings. The small German stocks of leather were rigorously conserved for Army purposes, and substitutes were devised for industrial and civilian use. The skins of dogs and rabbits were tanned, fibres were woven from nettles and wood pulp, and prolonged and intense experiments were conducted in the hope of finding practical substitutes for sole leather and rubber.
Ludendorif, Hindenburg, and Mackensen were, however, the best of German salvagers. On each occasion when they forced the Russian and Rumanian forces back they made a rapid yet careful collection of all cloth and leather articles, in either. good or bad condition, and despatched this valuable spoil to special salvage' depots. The rubber, copper, linen, and canvas which the eastern Allies left when they retreated were also gathered by the careful Teutons, who likewise managed to acquire some copper-mines in the course of their offensive in the east.
At home they arranged a systematic collection of fruit kernels, from which oil could be extracted, and began that strange and apparently ridiculous quest for fat at which the Allies ceased to laugh when they too, found that fat was one of the grand problems of the war. The Teuton started with extracting fat from his horses and mules that fell on the battlefield or died of overwork or disease behind the front. He also collected fat in his Army and municipal kitchens, for fat was the raw material of nitroglycerine, which in turn was the explosive element in modern gunpowder.
Enormous, quantities of fat were also necessary for making lubricating oil to save machinery and rolling-stock from wearing out. At the same time fat was essential as human fuel in the hard winter weather of northern Europe and as through lack of fodder, the Germans had been compelled greatly to reduce the number of their pigs, they were at last hard put to it to obtain the fat they required. In their extremity, before the conquest of Rumania and the practical subjection of Russia opened new sources of supply to them, they endeavoured to develop their Corpse Utilisation. Works into human fat extraction works.
At first they took a sinister pride in this dreadful exhibition of Teutonic thoroughness in salvage processes. One of the German authorities in China is said to have told the President of the Chinese Republic of the establishment of the Corpse Utilisation Factory, by means of which nothing on the battle-field was allowed to go to waste. One of the most distinguished of German war correspondents on the western front referred in gratified tone to the factories, and a German Army Order was found, as already related in Chapter CCI (Vol. 10 page 198) dealing with the supply of corpses and carcasses for fat extraction. Only when the universal expression of amazed indignation echoed over Germany was an attempt made to conceal the later developments in the fat-extracting works by .pretending that only animal carcasses had been sent there.
To some extent the enemy's famine in fat and other materials of war was relieved by his conquest of the Rumanian oil-fields and large tracts of Russian territory. He restored the Rumanian oil-wells to working order, and, with the help of the Turks, began to get control of the Baku petroleum works, and also obtained more copper and other valuable metals.
By the time that the blockade of German commerce in the west was transformed from a demonstration into a reality, by the entrance into the war of the United States and Brazil, the Germans had saved themselves from exhaustion in raw material by their vast and intensive salvage system and their progress in the east. Although the Central Empires did not obtain all the corn they hoped to grasp in Rumania and the Ukraine, they acquired a vast amount of material of direct military value, together with such opportunities of getting a succession of regular quantities of the things they most needed as enabled their High Command to contemplate the prolongation of the war with arrogant confidence.
In the meantime Great Britain, France and Italy began to suffer from the submarine blockade. The rate at which shipping was. destroyed by the enemy in the spring of 1917, and the rate at which the process of destruction continued through the summer; produced symptoms of somewhat serious shortage in all imported materials.
There was a shortage of steel in the countries of the Western Entente, and a poor harvest, in conjunction with a weakened mercantile marine, led to a shortage of food in Italy, France and Great Britain. This in turn produced as in the first hunger crisis in enemy countries, a shortage of fodder, with the result that pork fat, animal fat, and butter grew scarce in the period when the ocean-borne supply of vegetable fats was diminishing.
So long as her marine power was intact Great Britain had remained fat collector, soapmaker and glycerine manufacturer to the world. She had at that time merely to make larger quantities of soap for her export trade in order to obtain all the glycerine needed by herself and her western allies for the use of her guns. When, quite unexpectedly in the third year of the war fat became scarce in Great Britain; it was clear that the Briton would have to fight the Teuton on the potato-patch as well as on the battlefield and also endeavour to beat him in the vital, new national business of rag- and-bone merchantry.
Then arose the problem of inducing the British soldier to take an interest in salvage work. By nature he was a careless person, representative of a race used to working hard and spending quickly and except for part .of the Celtic fringe, never remarkable for its thrift. Its carelessness was the obverse side of its Venturesomeness, and only when it felt itself in a desperate situation did it fully exert its powers of both body and mind.
As a perfunctory salvage worker the Briton .was not a remarkable success. He began collecting the waste of the battlefield towards the close of the Somme campaign in 1916, but as a rule his officers had to go out and oversee him if they wanted their division to distinguish itself in the eyes of the Quartermaster-General.
Yet, as the Guards Division afterwards showed, when it was set salving on the field of its victory by the Pilkem Ridge, during the Third Battle of Ypres, the easily recoverable waste was enormous. The Guards picked up one million rounds of unused small-arms ammunition, in addition to many intact cases. The cartridges had loosened from the clips into the pouches and then jolted to the ground. The Guardsmen reckoned that they paid the cost of their division, including all wives' and children's allowances by their recovery of the waste of one action on one sector.
Salvaging in the lake of mud between Ypres and Passchendaele Ridge however was often an impossibility. When sunken guns could only be indicated by improvising buoys above them, the smaller material remained. buried, for the Flemish peasant to go on recovering in rusty fragments for generations. What with unexploded shells and unused cartridges and bombs, the battle swamp was likely to be a dangerous place to plough and harrow in the years of the coming peace.
While the wrestle in the mud went on at Ypres, salvage operations were begun on a grand scale in the large tract of temporarily recovered country between the Somme and the Hindenburg line. In the autumn of 1917 Mr. Andrew Weir, the new Surveyor- General of Supply, visited France in connection with the formation of an Army Salvage Branch. Splendid work had already been accomplished by the military authorities. From army kitchen refuse sufficient tallow was derived to provide Army, Navy, and Government Departments with soap, and sufficient glycerine to propel twenty-three million shells, and from worn-out clothing woollen material worth £1,000,000 was annually derived. Mr. Weir however was bent on fighting the enemy's submarine campaign by devising new ways of saving tonnage. He had reorganised the military supply services in an enterprising manner, but all that he had done did not seem to him sufficient to meet the needs of the situation.
When tonnage was lowest the need for tonnage was highest. A great increase in transporting power was required to bring the United States Army to France and to maintain it there. The special feature of Mr. Weir's plan for saving the economic strength of the Grand Alliance was a system of intensified salvage, conducted directly in places where material was most lavishly used. Unless the private soldier could be induced to take up the work in a hearty manner, the vast sea of recoverable material would only be skimmed.
Mr. Weir was a hustler of the scientific school whose doctrine was "the maximum recovery of material with the minimum expenditure of time, money, and labour." He formed the Army Salvage Branch to co-ordinate the military operations of collecting material with the commercial work of disposing of waste. Special efforts were made to prevent large quantities. of stuff being gathered together without order, as such accumulations were found to result in heavy losses through deterioration. Far-seeing arrangements were necessary to obtain rapid circulation of recovered material and make the best use of the small shipping space available for the return of salvage.
When; however, the new machinery of organisation was set in working order the motive power behind it remained somewhat slack. There was a Board in London, consisting of the Quartermaster-General, Sir John Cowans, the Surveyor-General of Supply, various representatives of the War Office and Ministry of Munitions, together with men with special knowledge of disposal and transport. Major-General Atcherley was appointed Controller of the Executive Department and one of the first new steps of importance taken was to induce the Army in the field to use old material to a larger extent than had hitherto been considered desirable from a military point of view.
But the British soldier, upon whom the burden of the business fell, was exhausted by the series of grand offensives conducted through-out the year, from, the closing battle on the Ancre to the disastrous end of the Cambrai campaign. Divisions had been reduced in strength by three battalions; veterans of scores of battles had had little leave and - on many occasions the short period of rest in billets had been interrupted, by urgent military requirements. There had not been time enough to train new drafts in the latest battle practice, and after shouldering the heaviest task in the European War from April, 1917, to December 1917, the tired and wasted British battalions could hardly be expected to take much interest in picking up things on the field of battle.
Their sense of duty held them to their job on being sent out in parties under an officer, and the salvage dumps became larger and of more varied composition. Yet the work went against the grain of many non-commissioned officers and privates when they were told off on scavenging jobs during periods in which they reckoned they were entitled to rest. Somebody with a talent for advertising endeavoured to make salvage work popular by adorning the sinister theatre of war with appealing placards resembling the War Loan posters at home. Columns tramping to and from the firing-line had flung at them at intervals along the roadside the question :
"WHAT HAVE YOU SALVED TO-DAY?"
Motor-lorries running up to the gas-alert zone had the demand lettered upon them
But the divisions that at last threw themselves with ardour into salvage work were little moved by placarded exhortations or lectures on the value of waste material. Some enterprising major-generals touched the mainspring of action in the minds of their men by arranging a competition to which the best of prizes was attached. It was apparently a sporadic movement, for the Guards Division and others do not appear to have been affected by it. Yet where it was instituted salvage work became an absorbing interest of non-commissioned -officers and privates from, the winter of 1917 to the spring of 1918.
The scheme was worked by brigades, - in each of which the battalion that did best obtained most points for leave. It became at last possible for every man to look forward to getting fourteen days' leave in every eight months if salvage team-work was excellently carried out. Where, for example the ordinary leave in a brigade was ten men a week, it was possible to increase it to twenty men a week. That meant that every man's turn came round twice as quickly. Each company competed by means of salvaging platoons that worked as hard as possible when at the front, and received as compensation lighter duties than the others when in rest billets. About December 1917, some of the companies started wagering with each other over the results of the race in salvage work. Two little 'round hats was the Army slang for the usual price of victory between the contending sergeants of rival companies. The little round hats were the tin coverings used on the new beer-bottles instead of corks.
Working-parties looking after 'trenches or wiring-parties had the best chance of big salvage. Barbed-wire and screw pickets for fixing wire were often scarce stores yet there was usually plenty to be recovered in the land between the opposing posts. There were sectors in. which extraordinary zest was displayed. for patrol work, until wary officers, alert to the danger of the German half-moon patrols, wondered why their men were so eager to go continually out on adventure between the lines. The reason usually was that one of them had found a store of valuable stuff, which he wanted his company to get into : the battalion dump.
Eighteen-pounder cases were excellent tickets of leave. They were made of solid drawn brass, and cost only about three-halfpence to straighten into material worth eight-and-six. Howitzer charge-cases for the 4-7 in. gun were also useful and there was much in the form of equipment, rifles, and ammunition to be picked up in certain places which the enemy afterwards overran.
One party near Epehy made the remarkable salvage haul of three field-guns, together with a store of shells. Often a platoon would have two or three men working all day and all night, and the sergeants saw that the men who worked best were especially well treated. After a man had done all his work as a soldier holding the line he needed some encouragement to induce him cheerfully to carry sand-bags full of tins to the salvage dump.
Where, however, the new competitive system obtained there was a great pile of material collected by each battalion when the brigade quartermaster came round to do the pricing. There were tin dumps, waste-paper dumps, food-container dumps and, where the brigade was happily situated for exploring purposes, there were dumps of brass cases, charge cases, small-arms ammunition and general equipment. German rifles were especially useful; they ,could be converted into material for some of the Allies, even as the Turkish rifles salved on the Gallipoli Peninsula had been converted into arms for the reorganised Serbian forces.
Each company saved its fat and sent it through divisional headquarters for manufacture into cordite. All soups were skimmed; the fat from bacon was carefully gathered, and the meat was usually stewed, so as to get more munition material into the biscuit-tins in which the cooks kept their special salvage. Soldiers who used to jump over shell-cases, leave rifles sticking out of mud, and chop up duck-boards to make fires in the trenches, became the most painstaking of savers when the fatigue work of salvage was glorified by competit,ion for leave.'
Platoon dumps. were priced week by week or at any time, but the grand ceremony of umpiring the main salvage collection took place usually at monthly intervals. Practically everything had some value. From cardboard containers, for example, there could be extracted wax of the value. of £100 per ton, with wood pulp suitable for paper-making or for direct munition purposes. The collection in return and repair of such minor articles as containers, oil-drums, and boxes, meant a saving of £5,000,000 a year and a rapid circulation of package material that saved shipping and facilitated the supply services.
The tin canister became a grand national problem. It was closely related to the steel shortage, the tin famine, and general lack of shipping. It was 'also a touchstone of the real efficacy of the new movement for economy. In every country in which English was spoken the tin can had been, for a generation at least, a nuisance and a sin. It was a nuisance because it could not be thrown on the fire like a .piece of paper and when buried instead of rusting away it was dug up again to the general annoyance. In Northern America it was one of the main elements of unsightliness. In Great Britain it perplexed municipal authorities and worried the public by its indestructibleness.
The careful, ingenious Teuton, on the other hand, loved the tin can. One of the reasons why it had not been so immense a nuisance in Great Britain as in the United States was that the German firm of Goldschmidt collected British tins, desoldered them, and shipped them to Germany, where the cleaned sheet-steel was returned to steel-works, after a valuable chemical, tetrachloride of tin, had been extracted for use in silk manufacture. When Herren Goldschmidt ceased to act as scavengers for Britain the empty, disreputable tin can enormously increased in number owing to the import of bully-beef and other tinned articles for military and general use. There were armies that could have erected pyramids from the tin cans for which they could find no use, yet solder was increasing in value and rarity, tin was becoming priceless and steel was growing short.
So long as the tin can was neglected it could not be maintained that the application of science to the utilisation of waste material had been thoroughly undertaken. ,.For it was clear that the Briton had not reached the degree of technical efficiency that the Teuton had attained in his detinning works long before the outbreak of war. The order restricting the supply of tin-plate to the British civilian population was but a measure of palliation. What was needed was an undertaking similar to that which Herren Goldschmidt had established in Germany for cleaning and baling the steel and extracting the tin and lead. Before the war 150,000 tons of used tin steelplate were exported yearly from Britain to Germany and the Germans also obtained large supplies from tin cans conveyed from other countries as ballast in trading vessels.
In France it was accounted a wonderful feat when an army could salve two thousand tons of steel from the field of its victories. But in the old tin cans, which were an accumulating nuisance to that Army, there was far more metal available for foundries and for the release of overburdened ships. There were three ways in which old tins could be dealt with. In the first place the tin can could be cut up for making smaller canisters. In the second place the cans could be returned in their original packing- cases to British manufacturers, who then required a much smaller number of new tins in which to circulate their goods. In the third place the cans could be placed in washing- tanks, immersed in a soda solution, and subjected to electrolytic treatment for the recovery of the tin. The solder could be extracted in a desoldering furnace, and the steel then pressed into hundred-weight blocks for despatch to the steel-works.
British steel-makers, however, were for long averse to taking the scrap. Their prejudice was largely due to the results obtained by British municipal authorities, who used an inferior method in which all the tin was lost and a very poor kind of steel left. Not until the national salvage movement was strongly organised were large measures taken to equal the enemy in this important matter of saving waste. It was an affair intimately connected with the complete industrial efficiency of the country after the war as well as with the immediate necessity of overcoming the shortage in metal. If when peace was made, Herren Goldschmidt found that the field was still open for them, to send every year 150,000 tons of steel and 15,000 tons of tin of extraordinary cheapness from Great Britain to Krupp and other German steel-makers, one of the supreme lessons of the war would have been lost upon the British people.
In the meantime the armies in the field made good progress in some of the most intricate forms of salvage. Far behind the lines, were salvage aerodromes, to which everything that tumbled from the air was brought in motorlorries. There were utilisation factories for the carcasses of crashed enemy bombing and fighting aeroplanes, as well as hospitals for damaged British machines. The aeronautic doctors were masters of the art of reconstruction. Out of two maimed structures they would make a .sound one, and often repair a second aeroplane from part of the remaining wreckage.
Daily miracles in utilisation were performed by means of commonplace but intense orderliness.
Every part of a usable thing was placed in finely arranged stores, which became a reservoir of spares for squadrons and a fountain of supplies for the salvage shops, where new or rebuilt machines were turned out in regular quantities. Some of the wood- working shops were informed with daring ingenuity. They would not let badly damaged spars go to the waste heap, along with the tattered linen and crumpled steel for final utilisation. The broken stuff was cut up and with only a small amount of new material, fashioned into machines that often did better than any of the aeroplanes to which the original parts had belonged.
Like Young America, the aeroplane salvage works
Grew strong through wants and shifts and pains, Nursed by strong men, with empires in their brains.
Devised on the battlefield to help immediately in winning the empire of the air when there was dire shortage of machines, energised by the overseeing presence of experienced pilots, usually convalescing, who knew better than anyone what was wanted in a machine, even if they did not know how to make it; the salvage aerodrome had an atmosphere of inventiveness and activity strangely different from some other departments of State.
The British workman behind the battle-line in France, with hostile reconnaissance aeroplanes sometimes sweeping above his shop by day and enemy bombing machines searching for it occasionally by night, was a worthy mate of the soldier. The glow in his eyes, when from some salvaged fragment he skillfully made a good new part, was a reflection of the fire in his mind. As machines of first-rate type grew happily common there was a. loose kind of standardisation which facilitated the admirable work of the salvage aerodromes.
In this respect however, they could never hope to attain the ease and rapidity of reconstruction of rifle, machine-gun, and artillery salvage works. The precise standardisation of parts in firearms and ordnance made the work of repairing and rebuilding this highly important material largely an affair of the organisation of plant. From mobile hoists for lifting damaged guns from the battlefield on to motor-trucks, under cover of night, to the powerful machinery in the gun hospitals organisation was everything.
Here the French had many advantages, as they were immediately backed by their great munition works, yet they had something to learn about salvage from their English- speaking Allies. And the Americans had some methods of their own from which the British could derive benefit. In the salvage of motor-vehicles the American Army began in a slow, large way to attain express speed.
Instead of turning each injured car over to a small party of mechanics for repair, in the individual European way, the American erected a great plant for wholesale salvage on the Ford system. Each ordinary, working group did one thing only, without moving from one spot to another. It was the damaged parts that moved, in travelling clutches or other devices, until they were ready to be assembled in a repaired or reconstructed vehicle. Great as were the labour and expense of erecting and equipping such establishments, they not only quickly saved their cost but they had a profound effect upon the French mind. They were indicative of the strength and staying power gathering behind the American preparations.
There was naturally a great set-back to general salvage operations when the successful enemy offensives began in the third week of March, 1918. It was the Germans who best answered the placarded question on the roads by the Somme: "What Have You Salved To-day?
For a time, General von Hutier, General von der Marwitz, and General von Quast completely eclipsed Mr. Andrew Weir in organising the collection of battle material.
Soldiers. in action and marching to action were too desperately occupied in saving the situation to think of saving anything else., The salving ,of Western Europe was the absorbing task. Brigade quartermasters had little leisure for pricing competitive dumps.
Yet amid the shattering, disordering tumult of the struggle, the main part of the scheme for saving shipping, material, and labour by saving waste increased in importance. The first intensive British salvage operations had followed upon the enemy's period of success in submarine piracy. They had contributed to help the country over the most dismaying stress in shortage of tonnage. When, in the third week of March, 1918, the Allies began to lose the extraordinary mines of metal, and all the treasure-trove of unused or slightly damaged material found on their victorious battlefields in 1917, the hostile submarine campaign was being held and the production of new shipping was being increased. The great campaign of economy had not lost interest for those soldiers who had taken part in salving competitions for points in regard to leave.
To. them the tin-can dump was still a romantic memory, during the fierce battles when only a "Blighty" wound could earn a fighting man a little rest at home. In camps and bases in the main theatre of war the new salvage movement went on and spread to the remoter fields of struggle in Palestine, Mesopotamia, and Salonika. It was something to have reduced to practice a system of conservation and scientific recovery of material before the enemy resumed the grand battle in the west. For it would have been impossible to have popularised the salvage idea among the soldiers after the resumption of open-field warfare, when British divisions were fighting with their backs to the sea and French reserves were sandwiched between them with long, intermingling routes of supply reaching from, Ypres to Rheims.
Yet when, in the summer of 1918, 'the tide of battle turned, between the: Marne and the Somme, the salvaging forces of 'the Army soon had enlarging fields of victory on which to carry out their work, with the enlarging methods of intensive recovery of material practised during 'the previous winter. The combination of a new rapidity. of advance with a new system of salvage enabled the Western Allies partly to. lessen their demands for cargo space during the turning months of the war when the United States forces were in need of every possible ship to swell the convergent currents of victory in France.
Once again battlefield after battlefield became a great, immediate metal mine for the Allies. Fiercely pressed in their retreat, the surprised Germans left large tracts of country littered with highly valuable waste of war. The booty of weapons, shells, trains, and timber was scarcely of such importance as the vast masses of salvage. Spoils which gradually were sorted out and sent to feed the famishing foundries and metal works of France and Great Britain. After all, Marshal Foch proved a greater salvager than General von Ludendorff. By throwing the enemy back he recovered in, broken railway-lines, shattered guns, bridges, hutments, motor-lorries, and other material of war, an amount of' metal and timber that saved the carrying capacity of a great mercantile fleet and the labours of ,a host of miners and woodmen.
The general need for intensive salvage was, however, increased rather than diminished by the magnificent series of victories of the Grand Alliance. The great and sudden augmentation of the armed forces of Great Britain, followed by enormous preparations for enlarging the expeditionary force of the United States, Need for national aggravated the strain upon the shipping power of the Allies. This, in turn, made it absolutely necessary that salvage operations should be intensified generally, both among civilian persons in their houses and at their works and among sailors at sea and troops in camp and in billets at home and abroad. There was fine scope for municipal enterprise in many directions. Four hundred and fifty thousand tons of bones a year were being wasted, together. with other refuse that would have served as food for half a million pigs. Cinders, worth 18s. a ton were still being thrown away and sent at considerable expense to farmers for ploughing into heavy clay-land.
By August, 1918, the nation was far from having followed the example set by the Army. Indeed, in comparison with the general; scientific salvaging efforts of the German people, the British people remained ignorant, careless, and ruinously spendthrift.
The fact. was that we were still wasting an almost incalculable amount of useful material at a time when our shipping was so. reduced by enemy submarine operations that British shipbuilding yards could not for years replace all losses. Yet the more clearly it was seen that every ounce of strength, and material would be required to win the war, the greater became the general interest in the direct problems of salvage. Only by combining the maximum of output with the minimum of waste could victory be won and the great reconstruction of peace be carried out with results of permanent efficacy.
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