THE OLD GAOL
FIELD GUN

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A CAPTURED WWI GERMAN HOWITZER DISPLAYED FROM 1920

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Image believed to date from 1930. Taken by an unidentified London schoolteacher showing pupils around Buckingham

A personal memoir by Old Gaol Honorary Historian Ed Grimsdale:

 

The late Geoff Kirk undertook much of the spadework for this piece. Geoff was a keen local historian who specialised in family and military history. Whilst rifling through the Minutes of Buckingham Borough Council for 1919, he found that it had asked that “application be made to the Army Command for a gun captured by the Royal Bucks Hussars to be assigned to the Town of Buckingham as a War Trophy.”

 

At the end of 1919, a letter was received from the Lord Lieutenant of Buckinghamshire stating that his committee had allocated a gun to Buckingham.

 

The Field Gun languished in the Council Yard for 6 months whilst our Town councillors discussed the best place to display it. Eventually in May 1920, they decided that to one side of Old Gaol’s entrance would cost the least to adapt to support the steel gun’s weight.

 

My problem has been to demonstrate that the town council displayed its victory in the market place. Several postcards printed between the two World Wars hint that behind the railings between the entrance to the Old Gaol & Market Hill was something large & lumbering – but it was difficult to see whether it was animal or mineral, hippo or howitzer!

 

Luck was at hand – I acquired an old set of glass negatives shot around 1930 by a London teacher taking a party of schoolgirls on a tour of Bucks. Their condition was poor but one showed Buckingham Old Gaol with the German Howitzer in place!

 

Look at my scan. I’ve copied the gun, increasing its size and contrast – the copy covers a faded part of the original in front of the Gaol’s entrance. Please note the early BOROUGH OF BUCKINGHAM sign, insensitively placed front of the gun! The sign declares: “PARKING PLACE FOR MOTOR VEHICLES. MOTOR CARS MUST BE PARKED PARALLEL WITH ROAD".

 

These days, Buckinghamshire Council instructs drivers to park at right angles to the road. Now have a peep to the left of the Old Gaol and down to North End Square. Can you make out the old thatched, tumbledown cottages at the end? In recent years, they’ve been replaced by the redbrick social housing: Northend Court. 

 

In the autumn of 1920, two machine guns and “other articles” arrived in Buckingham. (I think the machine guns were awarded to the Latin School). 

 

What type of gun was the field gun? Philip Sturtivant has told me that he was 99% sure that it was a German First World War 15cm Schwere Feldhaubitze (Field Howitzer), made by Krupp.

 

When the 2nd World War broke out the Council gave the gun back to the government “for any purpose for which it might be useful”. 

 

With luck it helped to turn steam into hydrogen for barrage balloons; but much of the scrap iron given to help the war effort wasn’t recycled but casually dumped in the North Sea.