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Guns to sound over Passchendaele in 100th anniversary memorial tribute

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A world-renowned historical gunsmith has taken more than a dozen guns to the battle site to salute those who fell.

John Slough with a restored 18-pounder field gun

A century after the First World War guns fell silent over the bloodied fields of Passchendaele, the muzzles are to flash again – this time in remembrance of the thousands killed.

A world-renowned historical gunsmith, who specialises in re-conditioning old British Empire artillery pieces, is taking more than a dozen guns to the battle site to salute those who fell.

At the allotted time on November 10, 16 guns in total will fire 100 blank rounds – one for every year that has passed since the battle ended, across the old site.

Passchendaele, or the Third Battle of Ypres, lasted 105 days, with more than 4.5 million shells fired by the time the three-month battle of attrition ended in the winter of 1917.

The fighting left 275,000 casualties among the British-led Imperial and allied forces, while the Germans lost 220,000 killed, wounded and missing.

The grave human cost of the battle and infamous scenes of soldiers and war horses struggling through the sucking mud, became synonymous with the history of the First World War.

For former Bermondsey boy John Slough – now 70 – it will be a moment touched with personal pride and heartache.

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The master gunmaker, whose work has taken him from his Herefordshire workshop to just about every far-flung outpost of the old Empire, lost his grandfather, Albert Slough, in the battle.

John Slough with a restored 18-pounder field gun
John Slough with a restored 18-pounder field gun (Aaron Chown/PA)

He described the tribute, two years in the planning, as his “responsibility”, adding that his unique connections, established over a lifetime of work, meant he was “the only person who can do it”.

Mr Slough will lead a convoy of trucks out of his factory yard three days beforehand.

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Among the guns assembled from his own and other private collections will be a 13-pounder, belonging to the British Army’s E battery, 1st Regiment, Royal Horse Artillery. The unit is the same battery whose guns fired the first shell of the war.

Two other artillery pieces are coming on loan from the Muckleburgh Military Collection in north Norfolk, near Cromer.

Mr Slough, who runs John Slough of London, has also assembled a multinational crew to serve the guns, including French, Belgian and British veterans of other conflicts.

Derek Jenkins, a gunsmith for John Slough, works on a field gun
Derek Jenkins, a gunsmith for John Slough, works on a field gun (Aaron Chown/PA)

There will also be representatives from 1st Regiment Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, Canada, whose forces played a key part in Passchendaele in 1917, as well as Australians and New Zealanders.

A group from London’s Worshipful Company of Gun-Makers is attending, as well the City of London’s Honourable Artillery Company and the Scottish Veterans’ Association, based in Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, French and Belgian volunteers will serve the two French 75s, which are sited at the fort overlooking the battlefield.

Mr Slough said: “I felt a responsibility to do it, for the centenary. There was only ever going to be one turn at this, for the 100th anniversary. There are no veterans left, so I thought ‘we shall have to do it’.

“I also think I am the only person that could have put this many First World War guns together, to do it. So, we will fire 100 rounds in remembrance of every artillery gunner, every soldier, that fought at Passchendaele.”

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