Fireworks were not really the done thing in the frontline trenches in the Great War. But men of the Rangers – a battalion of the London Regiment – celebrated Guy Fawkes night in their own way in 1917, with a ‘guy’ made to look like German army commander Paul von Hindenburg.
Captain Rupert Bramble Loveless, a teacher from Surrey, recounted the events in the battalion’s war history:
I don’t know who first thought of the scheme, but I think it was the Adjutant, poor old boy! Anyhow, there can be no doubt that ” Hindenburg ” first saw the light somewhere in the purlieus of Headquarters Dug-out. He was a jolly little chap, was “Hindenburg.” Dressed more or less in the ordinary field grey uniform of our attractive neighbours, he, nevertheless, had a certain distingue air, that marked him out as something superior to the ordinary brand of ” cannon-fodder.” His moustache — of burnt cork — had that upward tendency
at the tips always associated with the more aristocratic members of his Fatherland, while on his breast he wore an enormous iron cross — of tin-foil — which proved him to have been no feather-bed warrior !
He filled out well, too, during his short stay with us (I wonder where they obtained the straw), and altogether he was quite a smart little soldier by the time that the night arrived when he was destined to do his bit.
Nobody can complain that the party that escorted him to the scene of his life work was unworthy of the dignity befitting one who bore such an honourable name. The party that crept over the parapet and out into No Man’s Land on the night of November 5th, 1917, consisted of one Adjutant, one Intelligence Officer, three Company Commanders, three Platoon Commanders, one Officer ” attached for instruction ” (I will not describe him more fully, lest international complications might ensue) , one Regimental Sergeant-Major, one Company Sergeant-Major, and one Scout, who acted as Chief Bearer to the principal member of the expedition. It was not exactly a silent patrol, that made its way towards the opposite lines. Too many cooks are said to spoil the broth — a proposition which I should be prepared to dispute — but, undoubtedly, it is a fact that too many Officers spoil a Patrol, and if “Hindenburg’s” brothers in arms did not hear the arguments that were proceeding the whole time — by no means sotto voce — as to the ideal location for the hero to be erected, then the discipline and alertness of their sentries must have been of a very low order indeed.
However, no mishap occurred at that stage of the proceedings. An ideal site was at length agreed upon and with loving care Hindenburg was placed in position. A screw-picket served to support him on his lonely vigil — and there we left him, with arms upraised in the true ” Kamerad ” fashion, his iron cross shimmering in the moonlight, his face pale, but his moustache as fiercely triumphant as ever — as nice a little ” Guy,” as any Bosche who was well trained in his History of England could possibly desire.
Over the adventures that befel certain members of the party on the return journey I will draw a veil. It will be sufficient to say that certain members of both the opposing armies got severe shocks, and a good deal of perfectly good ammunition was exchanged. However, no casualties ensued on our side, and even if a certain Hun sentry did get a rather surprising reply to his challenge, I doubt if he were very much the wiser as a result!
And when the cold grey dawn arrived, and Brother Bosche, beholding there upon his very own wire this gross insult to the hero of the Fatherland, opened up, thereon, a fierce fusilade from every machine gun, trench-mortar, and even every ” whizz-bang ” battery in the vicinity, then our cup of joy was indeed full, and we felt that
” Something attempted, some one done
Had earned a morning’s Repose! “
Colonel AD Bayliffe picked up the story in the main chapters of the book:
On November 5th some frivolous Rangers constructed a “Guy” out of an old German uniform, with a sandbag face painted in a colourable imitation of the “All Highest,” and wearing an enormous Iron Cross cut out of a biscuit tin. They carried it out into No Man’s Land and erected it there.
Next morning, as it began to grow light, the enemy spotted the object, and opened machine-gun fire on it at once, but soon spotted their mistake. They turned the laugh against us that night by capturing the effigy.Source:
Chapters XVIII (II) and XIX of The Rangers’ Historical Record.