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Heroes Remember

That was one of our bad ones, Valenciennes. On October 31st, we went forward and stopped just outside of Valenciennes and the town was ahead of us. The 72nd Battalion, we were supporting them and we had a sniping gun. And there was a canal between us and the Germans, and we were on one side, they were on the other. Our sniping gun went up to this canal and this was done during the night on the quiet, very quiet. They put bags around the hooves of the horses so they wouldn’t make a noise. And we had this gun on one side of the canal and the first German post, it was an outpost, was on the other side. They had six places that had it already spotted, and they kept it on the canal bank, up on the bank. But there was a house, not a house, it was a set, a place where they stored stuff. It had a roof there and the roof was just above where the guns were behind it. And the engineers they put, they fired this roof at zero hour in the morning so as to open it for the gun, because you were looking right down on the Germans. And they fired and never got a shot back. We don’t know what happened, never got one shot back. But there was this machine gun of the Germans in the station at Valenciennes. But it was missing them, it was going angle wise and not one of them were hit. And that gun was up ahead of the infantry. When we took Valenciennes was one of the bad days that we had in our battery. We were in a field, a wide open field, and there was a row of houses down the road on the other side of us. And the Germans had, apparently, knew where we were. They must have seen us the day before coming into this position. We opened up a barrage at sometime around three or four in the morning and the Germans put 5.9s on us. And they knew and they kept it on us the whole time. But they were going into this field and the field was very soft. And they were all the explosive type, not the air blast. They were all ground blast and, of course, the type of ground was so, so it was to our advantage there. But they shelled us the whole time. And we had five guns there, and the other gun was the one that was up. And out of the five, we had four of them put out of action by the shells. And I don’t know how many casualties we had, but we had some casualties that day. That was one of our worst days, and that was on the first of November, near the end.

Mr. Pitcairn describes the role of a ‘sniping’ gun at the unfinished canal at Valenciennes, as well as the damage done to five of his Battery’s six guns by German 5.9 inch artillery pieces.

James Pitcairn

James Pitcairn was born in Kirkintilloch, Scotland on May 3, 1897. The second of four children, he moved to Vancouver with his widowed mother in 1911. At the age of thirteen, he was working as an elevator boy when a truancy officer sent him back to school, which he attended for five years. In Vancouver, Mr. Pitcairn was twice denied enlistment because of his small size; however, he joined friends in Kingston, Ontario and was accepted there as a member of the 50th Battery, Queens Artillery on March 7, 1916. He trained as a horse artilleryman at Petawawa. Mr. Pitcairn sailed for England aboard the SS Olympia in August, 1916. He had further training at Camp Whitley and was finally sent to France as a member of the 52nd Field Artillery, 5th Division. Mr. Pitcairn’s service saw him in action at Lens, Vimy, Hill 70, Amiens, Drocourt-Queant and Valenciennes as the layer on an 18-Pound artillery gun. One hundred and two at the time of his interview, Mr. Pitcairn’s clear voice and photographic memory offer some very informative descriptions of the Artillery’s role in the First World War.

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Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Pitcairn
War, Conflict or Mission:
First World War
50th Battery

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