Collection Detection answer #9
Thank you to everyone who submitted their guess for this week. As promised, here is the answer:
It is a German flechette dart – a sharpened projectile weapon which Australian soldier William Howie found lodged in a case of ration biscuits while in the trenches at Gallipoli. A lethal shower of these darts had just been dropped over Victoria Gully by an enemy aircraft.
Early in the First World War, huge numbers of flechettes were dropped from aeroplanes or airships. The idea was that by dropping them from great heights they would acquire enough speed to puncture even hardened targets. Stored in canisters under the aircraft, the pilot would pull a wire to open the bottom of the canister, which released the flechettes. William Howie noted that when falling through the air, they made a terrifying buzzing sound caused by their spiral shaft.
Their early use had been embraced by the French, with one French airman in March 1915 dropping 18,000 in one day over the German lines. When the Germans took up the idea and used them against the French, they brought home the irony to their enemy by stamping them with ‘Invention Francaise, fabrication Allemande’ (‘French invention, German made’).
Before the war, William Howie had been a clerk working for the Department of Defence. He enlisted in the AIF at the age of 22, just days after the declaration of war. Two months later he was embarking from Melbourne aboard the HMAS Benalla.
Howie served at Gallipoli with the 1st Divisional Train (part of the Australian Army Service Corps), responsible for bringing up all kinds of supplies to the men at the front. It was while at the division's supply depot that he found the flechette in the biscuit tin. His service evidently impressed his superiors, who commended him ‘for exceptionally conscientious and good work under very trying conditions for the whole period.’ Consequently, Howie was commissioned an officer when he left Gallipoli for the Western Front, and now had soldiers under his command.
After the war, which had kept him away from home almost five years, Howie finally set foot back on Australian soil on Anzac Day 1919.