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February 19, 2015: The Hintonburg Howitzer; A mystery in our history.

February 19, 2015: The Hintonburg Howitzer
A mystery in our history.

By Paulette Dozois.

A couple of months back retired Hintonburg resident Wayne Rodney, who some call Hintonburg’s mayor, was looking at an Ottawa website dealing with local history. He found a fascinating photo of Somerset Square between the wars which he then showed to Hintonburg’s unofficial historian Linda Hoad, and to myself, and the search for the back story of this photograph began.

All three of course thought it to be a tank – but no, being unschooled in First World War armaments, we were wrong. After consulting military archivist Alex Comber at Library and Archives Canada, we learned it was a howitzer, a tank-like ‘big gun’.

This is not just any howitzer though – it is a German siege howitzer. Archivist Comber tells us it is a 21 cm. Model 1916 Mörser, with wheel shoes fitted to keep it from getting bogged down in mud.

Unfortunately our howitzer is missing its gun shield, though Comber tells us many were like this. Today there is an exact duplicate of the Hintonburg Howitzer in the Quebec Citadel.

Lucky for us in Ottawa, there is also a Mörser 1910 version at the Canadian War Museum, just a stone’s throw away from where ours was located. A close-up photo of the War Museum’s gun can be seen on line at www.flickr.com/photos/edk7/13066157285/

Also, for those who saw the Spielberg movie “War Horse”, there is a scene in which the poor horses pull a similar howitzer up a hill.

Now why would a howitzer be on what today is called Somerset Square? The answer can be found Canada’s history of War Trophies.

During the First World War the Canadian Corps captured literally thousands of War Trophies. These were machine guns, artillery pieces and other material gathered up throughout the war.

By the end of the War Canada’s official collection of war trophies included 516 guns, 304 trench mortars, 3,500 light and heavy machine guns and 44 aircraft.

These war trophies – gathered by a team headed by then Dominion Archivist Arthur G. Doughty – were distributed around the country and placed in community squares.

Their importance, was described by Doughty who wrote, “When our tears are dried and Time has assuaged our sorrow, then shall we seek for memorials of this momentous event and regard them as our ancestral Heritage.”

Canada lost over 60,000 soldiers in the First World War and the community of Hintonburg – just amalgamated by the city of Ottawa in 1907 – would have lost some of their young men at that time as well. A memorial in our community – as with so many other communities across the country – would have been important to our forebears who lost these young men.

There is indeed more to this story which we will continue to research. When did the howitzer arrive? Was its placement at Somerset Square the start of our Square? Did we hold memorial services there? When did the howitzer leave?

We do know that many of these war trophies were sent to be melted down for metal as Canadians rearmed to fight the Second World War. Please look to these pages for the answers to more of these questions. If you have any information to contribute, please contact Newswest and we would be pleased to add it to what we have found so far.

Wide street shot with Gun on park corner, early service station, old car on street with electric trolley tracks.

1924 Street view.

Photo Caption: The ‘Hintonburg Howitzer’ photograph shows Somerset Square prior to WWII with a German siege howitzer pointing west along Wellington Street.  Photo credit Clifford M. Johnston (1896-1951 ) Detail of photo identified as MIKAN #3326071 from Library and Archives Canada website .

2 images from War in Europe

1915 and 1918 photos in Europe.

Photo Caption: WW1 images of 21 centimeter German Morser artillery in the field.
(Top right): The very similiar 21 cm Mörser M10 Ready for firing July 1915 ( Bundesarchiv Bild 104-0145 / Wikipedia ). (Bottom left): A 21 cm Mörser M16 with gun shield, moved by 20+ men March 1918 (Wikipedia / Australian War Memorial collection ID #H13198).

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