Michael Bergin enlisted for the army in August 1903. When the Great War broke out he was on of the first to go, departing for France on the 25th August 1914.
Michael was a Gunner with the 60th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery(RGA). It was armed with heavy, large calibre guns and howitzers that were positioned some way behind the front line and had immense destructive power.
A Siege Battery of the RGA were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire.The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines.
Each gun was operated by a team of men, who had a specific role. Michael’s crew could be described as such; There was a sergeant in charge, he was regarded as No 1 – he was generally called No 1, you see. There was the limber gunner who opened and closed the breech when you were in action, and in normal times he serviced the gun, you know, he was in charge of cleaning it and all that sort of thing. Then there was the gun layer who of course he aimed the gun every time, and then the rest were ammunition numbers. There’s supposed to be a total of eight in the crew, but of course that was in theory because very often we didn’t have sufficient people on hand.
Guns were located in gun pits, where they had a good field of fire but could be hidden out of the direct sight of the enemy. They were difficult to manoeuvre into position, particularly in waterlogged ground as Michael Would have found in Paschendaele in 1917.
They used to have to lay a platform – this was the great trouble – because the guns were very heavy and the ground was absolutely a bloody bog, we used to call it. Consequently they used to have to get tree trunks and things and make a platform. So we built for each of the four howitzers, we built a platform. You wanted – and of course you always had in normal battle – the gun in a pit, but at Ypres you very often couldn’t do that because the water level was too high. So we used to make a sandbag, or double sandbag, wall around them, round the edges of the gun pit and hope that we didn’t get too near or close a round.
It was at Passchendaele on the 2nd September that Michael Bergin was awarded the Military Medal for Gallantry at Philosophe.
The War Diary of the 60th Siege Battery states that “Between 7.30 & 8.30am the enemy ranged on our position and settled down to knock us out with an 8 inch. A direct hit on the emplacement brought in the splinter proof roof and started a fire. Sgt McDowell, Gnr Bridgewater and Gnr Bergin assisted in extinguishing it in face of danger from shell and from cartridges in the recess or the emplacement”
All three received the MM.
Michael survived the war returning to Kilkenny in 1919.
Pictured are the British War Medal, Victory Medal and Long Service Good Conduct Medal to John Finn a Driver with the Royal Field Artillery.
The main roles & responsibilities for a Driver would be, care of the horses, the harness and the wagons, including keeping them stocked with ammunition, was pretty much a full-time job. They would also have assisted with the normal “housekeeping” tasks of the battery. In some cases they were also tasked with moving the artillery around the battlefield.
An original photograph of John & his wife Nora with their young son. It was taken in Lucknow, India in 1923. John is still serving and clearly visible is his ribbon bar featuring the above trio already displayed.
A beautiful picture for 93 years old, unfortunately a bit of an ink stain present!