The First World War brought an unprecedented level of innovation to the battlefield. While the armies became bogged ever deeper into the attrition warfare of the trenches, minds on either side devised ever more ingenious ways to break the deadlock.
Tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette on the 15th of September 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when 32 Mark I tanks charged the German lines and succeeded in breaking through.
With the Royal Flying Corps only established two years prior to the outbreak of the war, aerial combat was in its infancy. Pilots used to throw hand grenades and fire pistols at each other. There were even some instances of crews attempting to down the enemy by dropping bricks on them, but machine guns soon came to be mounted, bomb racks and sights were developed and aircraft became a dangerous presence in the skies.
The first lethal gas attack was made by the Germans in early 1915. At Ypres, a Canadian medical officer with a background in Chemistry realised that the gas being used was chlorine and instructed troops to urinate on a cloth and hold it over their mouth and nose (chlorine was known to react with urea in urine, to produce less lethal substances). From that point gas attacks and counter-measures against them became increasingly sophisticated.
Innovation didn’t stop here, however. In the trenches, soldiers took every opportunity they could to improve the kit they’d been issued with, adapting and cannibalising it in an effort to deal with the conditions they found themselves forced to fight in. The two links below will take you to pages from the diary of the 1/14th Battalion The London Regiment (London Scottish). The first shows a new design for a bomb-carrying harness, the second a set of plans for a proposed ‘Dixie-Carrier’, invented by Private T.E. Duffus.
We’re not certain what the dixie carrier was for – it looks something like a stretcher, obviously designed to make the carrying of heavy loads easier. The containers used to carry rations and water up to the front lines were sometimes called dixies, so it’s possible it was an invention aimed at getting hot food up to the troops more effectively. Leave a comment if you know!