Too Many Oil Changes
My Jeep needs an oil change… or so it keeps telling me, even though its last oil change was barely 1,000 km ago. See, someone forgot to reset the sensor, so every time I switch on, I hear a bing and get a reminder on my dash. This can be mildly annoying, but at the same time, reading ‘Change Oil’ beneath my odometer does make me smile… because we have it so easy.
I change my Jeep’s oil four times a year, and some people probably think that’s overkill. Maybe so. I realize some folks change oil on a yearly basis (if that), and for better or worse, their vehicles still run. Such are the benefits of modern engineering –– benefits we take for granted.
During the era of the First World War, things weren’t so simple… though we don’t always appreciate that in hindsight. I’ve heard many people criticize leaders from the period for not making better use of motorized transport on the battlefield. Shouldn’t the stupid aristocrats on the western front have realized how devastating Blitzkrieg would prove twenty years later? Why didn’t they send their men across no man’s land in Jeeps?
Perhaps because Jeeps didn’t even exist when Hitler invaded Poland, let alone during the First World War (I’ll explain them showing up early in Champions in a future note). What trucks did exist during the war years 1914-1918 simply weren’t fit for combat operations. Most of them, in fact, needed their oil changed twice a week. Drivers would often have to service their own engines, and because there was no mechanical infrastructure to speak of, repairs would be bodged jobs –– parts being made custom to fit each unique vehicle. Every operation probably looked as haphazard as a Top Gear road trip… but with worse cars, and unfortunately, real casualties.
This fact became the centerpiece of The Expedition. Motoring technology in our alternate version of 1920 was no better, but unfortunately, the politically-minded Major General Evelyn Hughes had heard about the power of blue man lorries, and decided a fleet of Leylands could do the same… or, more precisely, could carry a regiment of infantry 700 miles over open country.
To be fair, this wasn’t exclusively Hughes’ bad idea; it was mine. I’d started His Majesty’s New World by drawing a map of the eponymous planet, and had planted a prison camp far from civilization… entirely forgetting that, in 1919, there was no way to reach it. When the time came to plot the fourth book, I discovered my own stupidity, and as I’m prone to do, I went looking for an expert’s opinion.
This time, the expert was Dr. Andrew Iarocci, who taught me First World War history at Wilfrid Laurier University. By the time I reached him with the question, he’d moved to the Canadian War Museum to manage their vehicles collection… obviously, you couldn’t ask for a better person to consult. I caught up with him at a military history conference, sat down beside him, described the scenario and asked whether a fleet of Great War trucks could make the trip.
To his credit, he didn’t laugh at me –– just replied, “No chance.”
And so, the plot for The Expedition was settled (and Evelyn Hughes was quickly employed as a scapegoat, so I could hide my shame). Fortunately, I think all the mechanical strife associated with the Newfoundland Regiment’s trip actually made for a better story… yet another occasion when doing some research saves work for a lazy writer.
But anyway, if you’re disgruntled about having to look after your modern vehicle, take heart: it used to be much worse. Also, if you’re a military history enthusiast and have an hour, I advise you watch this lecture by Andrew. It’s a precursor to his book Shoestring Soldiers (which I highly recommend), and was given at the Laurier Centre for Strategic Military and Disarmament Studies –– the place where I defended my MA thesis.
I was lucky to get my First World War education while Andrew was still teaching at Laurier –– both His Majesty’s New World and Champions exist in no small part because of that propitious timing. But, of course, any errors are my own… as if you hadn’t figured that out already!