Dummy-Men

Wyndham Lewis, in Inferior Religions, writes:

The opposing armies in the early days in Flanders stuck up dummy men on poles for their enemies to pot at, in a spirit of ferocious banter.

I wonder if there is any other evidence for this practice. Lewis, after all, was not there in the very early days of the war. He had been unwell for most of 1915, and did not volunteer until March 1916. He finally reached France in mid-1917. So is he repeating a legend here, or the truth? Did soldiers really go to the trouble of making a dummy, just for the sake of “ferocious banter”? Maybe they occasionally put up a hat on the end of a pole to see if anyone on the other side was paying attention.

One Comment

  1. Posted July 15, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    I think I’ve got the answer. In Nicholas Rankin’s entertaining book, ‘Churchill’s Wizards: The British Genius for Deception 1914-1945’, he describes how Hesketh Prichard took ingenious steps to combat hidden German snipers. He bought some wig-stand heads from Clarkson’s, the theatrical costumiers, put them on sticks and used them as decoys.
    “The head, stuck on a stick that slid up and down a grooved board, would be pushed cautiously above the parapet like someone taking a look; if hit by a sniper’s bullet, it was swiftly lowered. By inserting a rifle-cleaning rod through the bullet’s entry and exit holes in the dummy head you could get the exact angle and alignment of the shooter.”
    Lewis (perhaps typically) ignored or did not understand the practical reason for the dummies, and saw them just in terms of his own taste for ‘ferocious banter’.


Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: