Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

Two machine guns in battered condition on a Canadian war memorial are being examined and will be cosmetically restored to their original condition — and efforts are underway to determine their true provenance and history.

Both are German MG08 guns. The one in this picture, on the south side of a roadside cenotaph in Harold, Ontario, was captured in 1918 at Arras; the hole in its water jacket may have been caused by Canadian fire. The cenotaph itself is rare: most Canadian cenotaphs list only the war dead, but this lists the returned surviving veterans as well as the fallen.

MG08, captured at Arras, 1918.

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.

via Machine gun restoration project under way.

John Lowry and Phil Martin of the Historical Society will try to match the gun’s original color scheme — if they can determine what it is — and answer the question of what made the hole in the Arras gun. They’re also trying to find photographic evidence tying the gun’s partner to a particular location or battle.

John Lowry (l.) and Phil Martin (r.)

Lowry thinks the hole in the water jacket may have been the act of a Canadian sniper:

[T]he 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.

According to the article, trophies like this were once commonplace across Canada, but the herd — once numbering some 15,000 captured arms, originally intended to populate a grand war museum, but on the project’s cancellation scrapped or spread across the very large country — has been thinned, less by time than by WWII scrap drives.

[T]he 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. …. 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.

The Stirling Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion has raised the cost of the MG restoration. And no, they won’t be restored to firing condition — it is Canada up there, which is kind of like Massachusetts with more polite people and much better drivers.

1 thought on “Canadian Machine Gun Resto Project

  1. S

    Let’s hope it serves as a spur to the old saw: Never Again. Lest We Forget and are condemned to repeat the lesson. There are quite a few of these relics scattered across the Australian urban landscape. I’ve seen the 77mm field guns in Brisbane, Mephisto the A7V, the 8 inch howitzer outside Victoria Barracks in Melbourne (with splinter damage), a 15cm howitzer in the park just down the way in Clifton Hill, a few MG08’s adorning the walls of a few messes here and there, and the pristine Vickers MMG in the COOC mess (that looks ready to go another stint, doing what it does best; eat people). The AWM’s collection is of course impressive. My own relic was a BSA SMLE 3* born in September 1917. How it got to Australia, who carried it, and which clients it serviced along the way, only God knows. I wish I’d at least taken photos, the various stamps would have helped tell part of the tale. The last few inches of bore were pitted, the stock showed signs of extensive use and refurbishment, and was split inside aft of the recoil lug (lots of firing), but she still shot remarkably straight and only choked on dodgy milsurp ammo. The Lee action cycled like hot butter. Somewhere in my paraphernalia is a lump of Ypres shell splinter from near Hill 60, about thumb sized with lathe marks still visible. Hopefully it only made noise and dust. I did also have a shred of barbed wire I picked up from a field on the slope just outside Passchendaele, but didn’t preserve it in time and it crumbled (the shell splinter is preserved with ballistol….ironic, eh?). Such a shame the descendants of the CEF are proving themselves so unworthy of the legacy, but then, I think that is true of all the participants.

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