Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Part 8: More Mapping Information

By Michael O'Leary; The Regimental Rogue

Introduction

The preceding article in this series showed how to take battlefield location information from a soldier's letters, unit war diaries or other sources, and to find those locations on the applicable First World War maps. Maps of the era, not unlike today's maps, either highway or topographical, are dense collections of information presented in a graphical manner. Each and every map is published with a key to the symbols used in its own construction, and while many aspects will be familiar to someone with a good understanding of modern maps, others will be specific to the wartime map's period or usage.

The images presented below (click the smaller images for larger versions) present map data that will help you familiarize yourself with the symbology found on First World War maps. When working with a fullsized wartime map, always check the marginal information for its particular legend to add to your familiarity with the range of symbols and colours in use. Building that knowledge will help you better "read" the many cropped map images you may find on line or in reference works that are not always presented with their original legends.

Military Sketching Made easy and Military Maps Explained; 1911

From publisher Gale & Polden's Military Series, this volume by Colonel D.H. Hutchinson, Indian Army, was a guide to the map using and field sketching skills expected of officers in the British Army. This chart of conventional signs was reproduced from the "Manual of Map Reading and Field Sketching" by permission of the Controller of His Majesty's Stationery Office.

Conventional Signs & Terms Used in Military Topography. Source: Military Sketching Made easy and Military Maps Explained; 1911.

Conventional Signs & Terms Used in Military Topography.
Source: Military Sketching Made easy and Military Maps Explained; 1911.

The 1914 Field Service Pocket Book

This volume, orginally printed on the eve of the Great War, and republished in 1916, provides a standard legend for the use in field sketching. Field sketching was an expected skill for officers, and formed the basis of mapping and battlefield reporting in much of the British Empire.

Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Field Sketching. Source: 1914 Field Service Pocket Book.

Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Field Sketching.
Source: 1914 Field Service Pocket Book.

The 1926 Field Service Pocket Book

The 1926 Field Service Pocket Book, expanded from the wartime issues and was built upon the lessons learned during the First World War. Among the other data included in this volume was a page introducing some of the scales used for military maps. It is important to consider the scale of the map you are examining as it will affect your understanding of time and distance as the soldier or unit you are researching traverses the terrain depicted by the map. One helpful aid is to create your own set of rulers from the scales found at the bottom of the maps you examine, and use these to measure distance on the map in the correct scale for each map.

Scales and Rates of Movement (1926).

Scales and Conventional Signs. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

Scales and Conventional Signs. Note the comparative scales for standard rates of trotting and marching on the bottom side of scales 2 and 5, respectively.
Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Field Sketching (1926).

Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Field Sketching. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

Conventional Signs & Lettering Used in Field Sketching. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

The Principal Conventional Signs to be used on Trench & Artillery Maps (1926).

The Principal Conventional Signs to be used on Trench & Artillery Maps. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

The Principal Conventional Signs to be used on Trench & Artillery Maps. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

Time and Space: Men, Animals and Vehicles (1926).

Although not strictly map information, the data in the next attached image will assist a researcher in understanding the very important aspects of mobility and speed, and their effect on the perceived size of a battlefield area. Much movement in the First World War occurred at the rate of marching troops or animals, whether the latter were carrying mounted soldiers, drawing wagons or carrying loads of stores themselves. An understanding of rates of movement for various bodies of troops is important is assessing how far units may have travelled on the days they were on the march, and how much time on each of those days was dedicated solely to the function of battlefield mobility through marching.

Time and space data for the movement of men, animals and vehicles. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

Time and space data for the movement of men, animals and vehicles. Source: 1926 Field Service Pocket Book.

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