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Machine gun restoration project under way


Machine gun restoration project under way

By Richard Turtle

Harold – A pair of 100-year-old German guns, taken as souvenirs at the end of World War I, will be temporarily removed from the cenotaph on Highway 14 to be refurbished thanks to the efforts of the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Stirling-Rawdon Historical Society.

Silenced in 1918, the guns will never fire again says society member John Lowry, but they will be cleaned up and returned to their original colours, perhaps even solving a few mysteries along the way. Lowry explains that significant research has been done on the weapons, a pair of Maschinengewehr 08 machine guns captured by 2nd Division CEF troops at the end of the war, but there are many unanswered questions as well. It is known that the weapon on the north side of the cenotaph was captured in 1918 during the Battle of Arras, Lowry says, but the story behind the gun on the south side is less certain. As well, the Arras weapon appears to have been disabled by a sniper’s shot and the restoration may lead to a conclusive answer, he adds, “if we find a .303 bullet in there.” Lowry says that the guns, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute, were water-cooled using a chamber that surrounded the barrel and marksmen would deliberately aim for it hoping to quickly overheat the weapon rendering it useless.

The guns in Harold are among three examples of war trophies that are still on display in Hastings County, Lowry says, and they represent an important part of both local and Canadian history. But the remaining local pieces, which also include a trench mortar in Madoc and a field artillery piece in Trenton, are only a small fraction of the enemy weapons that ultimately arrived in Canada after World War I. Research suggests nearly 15,000 weapons including rifles, machine guns, mortars and field pieces were brought to Canada by the Canadian government during and after the war and many of those were distributed and displayed in communities across the country. A significant number, Lowry says, were scrapped during World War II, including a pair of machine guns received by the village of Stirling. The fate of a similar pair that arrived in Marmora is unknown, but they too may have been scrapped.

Stirling Legion Branch President George Jones says the project came as welcome news to the organization with the membership agreeing to cover the $1,500 cost of restoring the guns. The captured weapons, which were originally collected in order to establish a war museum, were instead offered to communities, institutions and organizations for display purposes, Lowry says. The cenotaph in Harold, which was formally dedicated in 1922, was constructed for $2,000, he adds, noting that was a considerable amount of money at the time. And the monument is unique in other ways as well. A total of 167 names are listed on the granite monument, including those who served and returned as well as those lost in battle. In most cases, Lowry says, it is only the fallen who are commemorated.

And while the cenotaph itself remains in excellent condition, Lowry says, the flanking guns are showing their age.

With all the appropriate permissions now in place, he says, the guns are expected to be removed in mid-April for restoration.

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