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A gunner's daily duties in the horsedrawn artillery of the 1930s

by Les Kitney

To Tales from the Trails

In my early life in barracks horses were our main interest in the first hours of every new day. There was a bugle call to drag us from our beds, and another for the fatigues that had to be done each morning, plus a few more for other purposes but we learned in time what each call signified. By the time the second call was sounded we were expected to be up and dressed in our working denims. In summer time it was quite pleasant turning out at 0500 hours washing, brushing and feeding the horses, but as a winter chore it was not anyone's first recommendation.

While the horses were being tended there were other fatigues being done by other soldiers. Someone was detailed to assist the cooks, someone to clear and clean the latrines, others to sweep or dust or scrub wherever such attention was needed. The man in the kitchen had the best job in the wintertime because, once the stoves were going, his workplace was always warm. They were oil fed stoves and needed little attention once they were lit. He, however, was dubbed "Greasy Bitch", and no matter what one did in that appointment in the way of good work, clean benches, well scrubbed pots and pans, the soubriquet stuck to him for the period of his fatigue, usually a week. None of the other fatigues enjoyed such a salubrious name. Thank goodness.

Other fatigues were simply "Horse Lines", "Latrines", "Accommodation", or perhaps "Outdoors". In the winter this was the fatigue most detested. There were paths to sweep, rubbish to clear away from the parade ground, pig swill to be readied for the farmer to collect, and always out in the cold and wet.

The latrine fatigue involved collecting all the drums of 'night soil' from various points in the camp area, loading them on to a wagon, hitching up two of the horses and driving down to the Council Yard where the reverse process was employed. The containers were unloaded, fresh ones taken on board in exchange and the wagon returned to the barracks. Routine was so effective it became monotonous. Once the drums were loaded on at the barracks they were covered with lids, then wet sacks placed on top to prevent splashing as much as possible. It sounds a messy business, and to those detailed for the fatigue, so it was. Two gunners per week were detailed, not because there was a great deal of work in the fatigue, but it was easier with two men handling the drums. The one thing that made these duties bearable was the fact that everyone shared the daily tasks.

From a story by Les Kitney. Now see Part 2: The Runaway Wagon.

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