Necessity …. The Mother of All Invention – William BEECH & The ‘Beech Periscope Rifle’ – Gallipoli 1915

“The sap was between 70 and 80 yards in length, and along it lay several dead Turks.  On reaching the head of it we found five of our men dead, including Sergeant Higgins and Fred Thompson, both of whom were alive when Beech left to get reinforcements.  We saw that they had been shot through the head.  Thus a periscope was essential to our very existence, and one was found under the bodies.  Beech immediately put it up, and was alarmed by what he saw.  Taking the periscope from him, I too received a shock at the sight of what I estimated to be four battalions of Turks forming up for another attack.  Bombs were as distant as the moon, our only weapons being rifles and bayonets.  Had we attempted to aim over the top we would have exposed our head and shoulders, and have immediately followed our dead pals, who had been shot through the head from the high ridges flanking the ravine.  Beech, with tears running down his cheeks, momentarily criticised our awful predicament and remarked, “It’s hell to see this mass of Turks and not being able to bomb or aim at them”.  With a periscope fixed to a rifle, it would be possible he said, to fire accurately without personal danger.    Lieutenant John ADAMS,  M.C.  54th Battalion.

Those of you who have visited the Gallipoli Battlefields, have no doubt travelled through the area where “the sap” occupied by ADAMS and BEECH is located.  But how many have actually stopped to view the gully, where so many Turks were massing for this attack upon the Anzac line – on the 19th of May, 1915?  Like so many other historical “pockets of resistance” that have become the subject of legends; the fighting on this day deserves to be etched into the annals of military history.  Whilst some may suggest that this particular fight does not compare to Rorke’s Drift for the Welsh, Camerone to the French Foreign Legion or the stand made by the Texans at ‘The Alamo’ …. for the small party of men of the 2nd Infantry Battalion, AIF – the threat to personal safety and feeling of isolation was just as intense.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Ottomon troops in their trenches at Gallipoli.  It is only when you look into the faces of men such as this; that we as people of the British Commonwealth, see the ‘human’ side of our enemy.  No doubt, the descendants of these very men – are the same people who welcome us with open arms to their country in modern times.

At the time of this incident, Lieutenant John ADAMS was serving as Private John ADAMS, Service Number 256.  He would survive the war; be promoted through the ranks to commissioned officer and be awarded the Military Cross.  The “gully” referred to in ADAMS’ quotation would be given the name Owen’s Gully; and is situated on the landward side of the 400 Plateau between the northern lobe of Johnston’s Jolly and the southern lobe of Lone Pine.  This gully leads down towards Legge Valley and it was from this ‘dead ground’ that the Turkish troops would be mustered to gather before their attack.   However the acclaim of ‘bravery’ is not solely owned by the Australians, New Zealanders and British troops who resisted this overwhelming assault.  But also to the Ottoman troops who were sent forward to attack – up and down the Anzac line, in a bid to push the invaders back into the sea.  Turkish casualties numbered in their thousands ….. however the Ottomons would have their own turn when the Allies tried a similar assault just three months later.  

IMAGE LEFT:  Perhaps the most famous of all photographs, depicting the Beech Periscope Rifle.  Here, a sniper takes aim at the Turkish positions whilst an ‘observer’ takes note of possible targets and relates the fall of shot.   It would become the practice of most sniper teams to work in pairs or teams, such as this.  Note how this particular example is constructed, with the main ‘angled’ timber body, supporting the rifle on the pistol grip of the weapon (aft of the trigger guard).

Whilst ADAMS would later record “Occasionally we glanced through the periscope.  Officers were shouting excitedly and striking their men across the backs and legs with swords in an attempt to get them into position”, in other parts of the line – acts of self sacrifice on behalf of the Turkish Officers were noted.  In a bid to rally their troops, many Ottomon leaders attempted to inspire their men by example.  One such incident occurred involving the 1st Battalion of the 57th Turkish Regiment, facing the right of the Anzac trenches dug in on Pope’s Hill.  It is testimony to the courage of a group of young Ottomon cadet officers, who had only joined the regiment from Constantinople on the previous evening.  By dusk on the 19th of May, five out of the six cadets lay dead upon their own parapet.

And facing such unwavering bravery were men such a Lance Corporal BEECH of ‘A’ Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion AIF.  Born in Wellington (England) in the shire of Shropshire; BEECH was one of countless Englishmen to enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force at the outbreak of war.   In fact, it is interesting to note that around 16% of men who enlisted into the 1st Australian Division during 1914 had previously served in British Forces.  A perusal of William’s service record (National Archives of Australia) indicates that he was an older recruit at 36 years of age, enlisting on the 24th of September, 1914 at Kensington.   His civilian occupation of “Builders Foreman” placed him in good stead for what was to eventuate in May of the following year.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Another photograph of the Beech Periscope Rifle being used in the trenches at Gallipoli.  This image also shows the main body of the periscope being attached to the pistol grip of the rifle in a fixture point behind the trigger guard.  Close inspection of the photograph reveals that wire or other similar strand has been wrapped around the pistol grip in order to anchor the rifle to the periscope. (PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

William BEECH was no stranger to military service.  A veteran of the Boer War – he had served for two years in South Africa  as a member of the Volunteer Field Artillery.  Before that, he had 5 years service in the Shropshire Yeomanry Cavalry.   No doubt, his maturity and previous military experience showed his leadership qualities and he was promoted to Lance Corporal just 12 days after the Gallipoli landing.  He had hardly been on the peninsula for three weeks when the Turks launched their massive “May Offensive” at the Anzac positions.  Holding on to their precarious positions on the Second Ridge, the Anzacs had their backs to the sea.  Should the line held by the diggers fail – at any one of a number of keys points between Russells’s Top and the 400 Plateau under the Turkish onslaught ….. disaster would result for the Allies . 

As indicated by the testimony of Private John ADAMS, there is no doubt that the events of the 19th of May had a profound effect upon William BEECH.   To be brought to tears as a result of seeing his comrades slain through a bullet to the head – a comment by General Birdwood himself (much later down the track) gives credence to the fact that the thought processes of Lance Corporal William BEECH deserve a place in Australian engineering history.  And to reinforce the comment made by BEECH near Owen’s Gully  “With a periscope fixed to a rifle, it would be possible to fire accurately without personal danger”, the Builder’s Foreman set his inventive mind into motion and devised such an article.

IMAGE LEFT:  Photograph of the “factory on the beach” as recorded in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 (Volume II, page 251) by C.E.W. BEAN.  The man with the periscope rifle is believed to be Lance Corporal (later Sergeant) William Charles Bullock BEECH himself.  As William BEECH was 36 years old upon enlistment, it is likely that the subject behind the rifle is in fact the inventor of this device.  This photo clearly shows at least 9 recently constructed periscope rifles, ready to be issued to troops in the front line. It is clear from this photograph that conventional screws and nails were being used in the construction process.  These newly produced devices are completely devoid of any wire or similar being used to brace the joints of the framework.  The claim of the periscopes being made from “broken boxwood and wire” more than likely refers only to BEECH’s prototype which was made in the front line where proper carpentry tools and building materials were not available.  (PLEASE CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

At Gallipoli in 1915, Lance Corporal William BEECH mounted a standard .303 calibre Lee-Enfield rifle onto a timber frame – fitted out with two angled mirrors (of the size of a pocket mirror) in the form of a “periscope” which gave view along the sights of the rifle.  By fitting a string or to the trigger, the “periscope rifle” could then be hoisted onto the parapet of one’s trench and operated in comparative safety.  The actuation of the trigger from well below the firing line, allowed the operator to be beneath the line of fire (and subsequently – clear of the enemy’s line of sight).  Bean’s official history records on page 250 ….. “On May 19th Major Blamey, going round the front trench of the Pimple during the last hours of the Turkish attack, had observed two men of the 2nd Battalion engrossed with a framework of broken box-wood and wire, attached to a rifle, which they were endeavouring to lay on the parapet.  “An arrangement so that you can hit without being hit” one of them explained.   It was a device for aiming a rifle by means of a periscope so fixed that the upper glass looked along the sights, while the sniper gazed into the lower one.  Blamey believed believed that the device might be valuable, and the inventor, Lance-Corporal BEECH was afterwards brought to headquarters to applied it to a number of rifles.  By May 26th, a factory was started on the Beach”. 

 It is clear from this comment that BEECH wasted no time in building his device.  With the incident in the sap at Owen’s Gully occurring in the early morning of 19th May, BLAMEY saw two men …. one of which clearly was BEECH …. in the afternoon of that same day with a prototype periscope rifle.  That these men could construct such an article in the front line, during a battle – was a display of both ingenuity and resourcefulness.

IMAGE RIGHT:  A photograph from a contemporary postcard of the era, showing a Beech Periscope Rifle at Quinn’s Post.  It is possible that this photograph was taken around August of 1915, owing to the white armband which can be seen on the left arm of the subject in the foreground.  These armbands were worn on the sleeve; and white patches of material sewn onto the backs of the Australian uniforms,  for identification purposes during the August offensive.

By clicking on the image of  ‘the factory on the beach’,  the enlargement clearly shows that the joins of the periscope frame are secured by way of two screws on each join.  From the “broken box-wood and wire” of the first prototype on the 400 Plateau; to the production method of joining the timber by way of screws and nails as evident in this photo – there is little doubt that the Staff at Division Headquarters took this new invention quite seriously.

IMAGE LEFT:  A sniper team (Beech Periscope Rifle operator and observer) man a trench somewhere on the Gallipoli peninsula.  Note that other rifles with bayonets fixed, are standing nearby in the trench ‘at the ready’.

The official history went on to record:- The first periscope rifle had been taken into Quinn’s on the previous day, the man who carried it up the path remarking to the puzzled onlookers, “I’m tired of fightin’ Turks; I’m goin’ to play them cricket”.  It was tested at many posts, and at ranges up to 200 or 300 yards was found to be an accurate and deadly weapon.  From that time it was constantly used by the Anzac troops wherever the trenches were close. 

  Up until the periscope rifle came into use, it had been virtually impossible to raise one’s head at Quinn’s to fire back at the enemy because of the proximity of the Turkish trenches and snipers higher up the slope. With this invention the garrison at Quinn’s was able, at last, to hit back effectively.

IMAGE RIGHT:Australian War Memorial image number P02282.039 is the only photograph which illustrates a man in the process of ‘cycling the action’ of his .303 rifle whilst attached to a periscope.  The photographer was said to be Walter Ormond Stevenson and donated by D. Stevenson.  The narrative pertaining to this image records:- Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915.  In a deep trench, an Australian soldier (right) prepares a periscope rifle for firing while several of his colleagues look on.  At left, an empty biscuit tin has been fitted into a cavity hollowed out in the trench wall in order to provide storage space. The soldier (left) is a Staff Sergeant.

 Whilst the Service Records of William BEECH do not specifically state the date in which he landed at Anzac, it is believed that he came ashore with the rest of the 2nd Battalion between 5.30am and 7.30am on that first day -the 25th of April, 1915.  The Official History indicates that the 2nd Battalion landed with a strength of 31 Officers and 937 other ranks.   As an indicator as to the loss of officers and N.C.O’s in those first few days on the peninsula, page 10 of William’s Service Record indicates that he was appointed to the rank of Lance Corporal on the  7th of May, 1915.   As already stated, a large Turkish offensive took place on the 19th of May and it was on this date that the concept of a “periscope rifle” came to fruition.  We know that the “factory on the beach” was set up on or around the 26th of May.  And having demonstrated his device to senior officers; his service records show that William was temporarily attached to Divisional H.Q. on the 30th of May, 1915.     Things were happening fairly quickly for William as on the 1st of June, 1915 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant.  On the 26th of June, 1915 William was transferred from ‘A’ Coy to ‘C’ Coy of the 2nd Infantry Battalion.  And a slight discrepancy in the recording of dates within his service record, state that he was transferred from the 2nd Battalion to Anzac Corps HQ on the 1st of August, 1915.  An entry on his dossier records that he embarked on the “Kingstonian” for duty for General Jackson on the 6th of August, 1915.  This transfer actually assisted him in averting participation in the August Offensive where his Battalion made an attack upon Lone Pine.  On the 10th of September, 1915 he was attached to the Ordnance Department at Alexandria.  William was due to return to the Kingstonian on that same date but reported sick on the morning of embarkation, suffering from acute rheumatism.  His record goes on to state that William contracted a bout of Malaria on or around the 5th of October, 1915 and his health would not recover sufficiently to see him return to active duty.   Around the 4th of November, 1915 William was invalided back to Australia for a designated 3 months period of “change” per H.S. Karoola – suffering sciatica and Neurasthenia.  His health precluded him from any further service within the AIF and he was subsequently discharged on the 27th of February, 1916.  He settled onto a property titled “Reefdale” in Condobolin, New South Wales.

IMAGE LEFT:  Another photograph of the design which placed the angled support timber in front of the magazine on the fore guard of the rifle.  This image from the Australian War Memorial, number A05767  may have been taken around August of 1915 and shows a sniper team in a front line trench.  The AWM photo description states:- Gallipoli 1915-08.  A sniping pair in a front line trench.  An observer is looking for targets through a periscope while the sniper waits ready with a rifle with a periscope sight.  This is a typical sniping team developed by Australians at Gallipoli.  Note the soft cloth cap on the soldier on the right, which helps camouflage his position. (DONOR: T. YEOMANS).

Page 12 of William’s Service Record kept by the National Archives Of Australia (Casualty Form – Active Service) a notation at the top in pencil indicates the words:- Periscope Rifle Inventor.  Evident on page 14 of his service record  is a letter, typed by BEECH to the Commonwealth of Australia Department of Repatriation and is dated 30th January, 1920.  In this correspondence, William BEECH seeks official recognition and possible monetary reward for his invention.   As a result of William’s application, a letter from the Patent Rewards and Royalties Section dated 12th June, 1920 was forwarded to General W.R. Birdwood for his opinion regarding the claim.   This was duplicated by a letter written by the War Office in London to General Birdwood dated 19th August, 1920.   A reply from General Birdwood to The Secretary of the War Office in Whitehall, London was forwarded on the 14th of September, 1920.  In this response, BIRDWOOD wrote “I now write to inform you that I concur in the statements made by Mr W.C.BEECH in his letter of the 30th of January 1920.   From my personal observations, I am able to speak of the considerable value of his device to our troops in Gallipoli and I may state that every Battalion that we had with us, very greatly appreciated Mr Beech’s device then.  I am, therefore, very glad to be able to fully support Mr Beech’s claims for a reward”.  (Page 18 – Service Record of William Beech – National Archives of Australia)

A letter from the Secretary, Department of Defence, Melbourne Victoria dated 6th July, 1921 stated “I desire to inform you that the War Office have now offered a reward of 100 pounds to Mr. Beech in his connection”.  Having gone through the due process, William BEECH was finally recognised and officially rewarded for his invention.

IMAGE RIGHT:  The letter signed off by General BIRDWOOD himself, giving full credit for the periscope rifle to William Charles BEECH and supporting his claim for a monetary reward for the invention.

Of note in William’s service record is a letter, written by his son, (William Bulloch BEECH) making a formal request to claim his father’s entitlement of the Gallipoli Medallion.  William junior, served with the Second AIF during World War Two with the 2/7th Armoured Regiment (Service Number NX 44959).  The letter is dated the 24th of March, 1967 and posted from an address at 206 Bathurst St, Condobolin.

 

IMAGE LEFT:  A sniper with a sense of humour.  A Gallipoli sniper takes aim with his Beech Periscope Rifle alongside an effigy of the ‘Kaiser’.  Like many of the other examples, the main supporting timber has been secured to the pistol grip of the rifle (just behind the trigger).  As can be seen when viewing the other photographs taken of Beech Periscope Rifles at Anzac; this seems to be the trend in manufacture.  The exception to the rule, being the image of the “factory on the beach”, which shows the supporting timber being fixed well forward along the furniture of the rifle, between the magazine and the front sling swivel.  Strangely enough, there are no detailed plans on hand at the Australian War Memorial – indicating a preference in design or method of manufacture.  Nor any comparisons made as to which method was superior in terms of trigger control and accuracy i.e. in front of ….. or behind, the trigger guard.

An entry from the diary of one Gallipoli veteran, is an indicator of the skill displayed by the Turkish marksmen.  This little extract details trenchlife from the Australian perspective.  “In the trenches you can see nothing either to the front or rear but the little length of trench that you happen to be in, and it is sure death to put your head up to look around. Even the periscope mirrors measuring only three inches square at most are picked off one after the other”.  [The Gallipoli Diary of Sergeant Lawrence, Sir Ronald East (ed), Melbourne, 1983, pp.21-22]

IMAGE RIGHT:  Australian War Memorial image number A04045; supplied to the memorial by Major C. Clarence JACKSON, 1st Infantry Battalion, AIF.  This photograph shows one of the most famous diggers to come about from the Gallipoli story, Lieutenant A.J. SHOUT, 1st Battalion AIF (later Captain, VC and MC), sniping with a periscope rifle.

Credit for the original invention of the periscope rifle at Gallipoli is usually given to Sergeant William Beech; and this is well supported by the above mentioned ‘BIRDWOOD’ letter.   However, according to the Australian War Memorial – a South Australian by the name of  Private George TOSTEE (Service Number 347) of the 10th Battalion, is also known to have demonstrated the new device to his Commanding Officers.   Australian War Memorial image number P02321.022 below shows Private TOSTEE demonstrating this different design to his commanding officer on Gallipoli.  Though based on similar principles to the periscope created  by William Beech, there is no further photographic evidence to suggest that it was manufactured and utilised in any great numbers.  In contrast to William Beech’s personnel file, there is certainly no evidence at all in TOSTEE’s service record to indicate that his design was officially recognised by the authorities.

IMAGE LEFT:  Photo P02321.022 AWM (Australian War Memorial Collection) 347 Private (Pte) George Tostee (left), ‘E’ Company, 10th Infantry Battalion, demonstrates a periscope rifle he had invented to the battalion CO, Lieutenant Colonel Stanley Price Weir (right, with pipe in mouth), and other battalion officers.  Pte Tostee is using two boxes to show how a soldier could fire the device over the parapet of a trench without exposing himself to enemy fire. The mechanism is a homemade invention of boxwood and wire (this is possibly a mis-quote relating to Beech’s original prototype).  Born in Mauritius at San Julian, TOSTEE was a cook before the war.  His record shows ‘Reported for duty, transported from base’on the 21/05/1915  Gallipoli (two days after 19th May – when Beech created his prototype).   His name is incorrectly recorded as TOSTER on the First World War Embarkation Roll.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Australian War Memorial photograph number C01780 shows another image of a periscope rifle with the main timber support affixed to the pistol grip of the rifle, behind the trigger guard.  The photo was lent to the AWM by Lieutenant Jarvis.  It is described as an “Informal portrait of Lieutenant (Lt) Hubert Richard William Meager, 3rd Battalion, standing in a front line trench and holding a periscopic rifle. Lt Meager was killed in action at Lone Pine on 8 August 1915″. 

IMAGE LEFT:  AWM photograph, number P01580.013 Described as a photograph possibly taken at Steele’s Post (on McLaurin’s Hill, between Courtney’s Post to the north and German Officer’s Trench to the south).  Note how this particular periscope has the main timber support attached to the foreguard of the rifle, forward of the magazine.  Donor of the photo was P. BRAND.

IMAGE RIGHT:Australian War Memorial photo number C01541 which shows a sniper team in action on Gallipoli during 1915.  The fact that one man has his shirt sleeves cut off would suggest that this photograph may have been taken in the summer period, circa August.  Credit-line for the photo belongs to Private Raynor.  The description states:- Standing in a trench, a sniper uses a periscopic rifle while his comrade observes for him through a periscope.

AN UNUSUAL VARIATION

There exists, significant photographic evidence to suggest that a well manufactured variation of the Beech Periscope Rifle was utilised during the Gallipoli campaign.  Very little information or documentation exists regarding who manufactured this style of device; or when it first came into service.  However, it is quite clear by the photographs below – this article was not simply made from “broken boxwood and wire”.  The upper framework is clearly made from a heavy gauge, metallic wire of  some description and somehow welded or fitted together to form the frame.  This is joined onto an angled timber body.  But of note is the wire portion which extends forward from below the rifle butt and joins to the foreguard of the rifle furniture (in front of the magazine).  This portion is clearly evident in the AWM photographs P03668.007 and P01336.003 which are featured below.

IMAGE LEFT:  AWM photo number H03493 showing the periscope of which components of the frame are manufactured using a ‘heavy gauge’ metal wire.  You will also note that the angled timber body has a type of rifle ‘butt’ arrangement so that the firer can hold the device in the same manner as he would a conventional rifle.  The AWM photo description states: Gallipoli, 1915.  An Australian soldier operating a periscopic rifle. He was firing at a Turkish sniper when this photograph was taken. (Donor Mr Lush)

There exists a document, written by Major-General James Gordon LEGGE Commanding  2nd Australian Division and dated the 8th of October, 1915.  Addressed to the Headquarters of the A & N.Z. Army Corps, it states …… “Herewith a type of periscope rifle invented by Corporal G. SEWARD.  It has been tried in the trenches and reported on as follows:- Superior to anything tried so far.  Requires small staples or eyeletson each side of small of butt for cable to work though.  Mirror might be so adjusted as to enable sights to be raised if required.  There should be less play in trigger release.  Claimed that there is better control over rifle in this patter than in former patterns.  Less exposure of rifle.  Method of adjusting top glass is an advantage.  Good method of trigger release”.  The fact that this report is very late in the campaign; coupled with the fact that every man in each photograph is dressed in a full tunic, may indicate cooler weather ….. giving proof to the idea that the images were taken during the autumn/winter months of September through to December of 1915 .

IMAGE RIGHT: AWM photo number P03668.007 clearly showing the metal wire frame and of note is the wire which extends from below the rifle butt to the foreguard of the rifle furniture.  Donor D Selleck.  The AWM Description states:- An unidentified soldier using a periscope rifle in a Lone Pine trench.  A homemade invention of mirrors, boxwood and wire, the periscope rifle allowed the user to sight and fire a rifle over the parapet without exposing himself to enemy fire.  (I believe that the description of “broken boxwood and wire” is a mis-quote …. referring by mistake back to the original prototype which was made by BEECH whilst still in the front line on the 19th of May at ‘the Pimple’).


IMAGE LEFT: AWM photo number P01336.003 clearly shows how the wire frame was fixed to the rifle butt in a ‘clamp’ type arrangement.  I would be curious to study any plans in the manufacturing process of this particular style of periscope and who actually constructed the frames.  Undoubtedly there is a degree of engineering in this manufacturing process.  One would imagine that this type of work may have been performed by Naval tradesman on a board ship or by engineering personnel well away from the front lines.  It could also be imagined that the longevity of this particular design was much better when compared to that of an ‘all timber’ frame.  The timber joints would be prone to splitting under prolonged use, especially at the point where the hole is drilled to accommodate the fix-out screws; or if nails were used in lieu of screws.  (Donor F. GILSHENAN) 
 

IMAGE RIGHT:  Another AWM photograph (number C01148) clearly showing how a “butt” type configuration has been devised so that the periscope can be placed against the shoulder of the sniper, like a conventional rifle.  This is the only photograph that I have seen which also clearly shows the lower mirror, fixed to the angled timber frame/body of the periscope … and through which the sniper takes his sight.   The reflection is then cast along the rifle sights, through the gap in the wire frame. Credit line Lent by Mrs Buckley.

IMAGE LEFT:  AWM photograph number C02420 allegedly taken during September, 1915.  This photo is said to have been taken from a position in the trenches, somewhere on The Apex (on the seaward slopes of Chunuk Bair).  Credit line Lent by Lance Corporal P J Collins.

Another document in the form of a memorandum was located, which may in fact be a response to the letter by Major-General LEGGE of the 2nd Australian Division (mentioned above).  The letter is signed off by Brigadier-General Cyril Brudenell Bingham WHITE, General Staff, Australian & New Zealand Army Corps.  It states:- “Your N. 8/20 of 20th instant.  The following is an extract from the proceedings of the 5th meeting of the Inventions Committee:- An improvement particularly as regards trigger pull – has the defects of:- (i) Damaging the rifle by screw attachment.  (ii)  Rigid mirrors.  Recommended for commendation in orders but no further action in view of adoption of W.O. pattern.  The recommendations have not yet been confirmed by the Army Corps Commander.  Signed C.B.B. WHITE  Brig-General”.   This is the only document which the Medals Gone Missing Administrator has been able to find at present, which may pertain to the device pictured here.  Any information or input which may shed further light on this subject is most welcome.

IMAGE RIGHT: Australian War Memorial photograph number G01002.  Of particular interest is the fact that this actual picture is credited to the official historian himself,  Charles Edwin Woodrow BEAN (C.E.W. Bean).  The AWM photograph description indicates that the photograph was taken during November 1915.  Unfortunately BEAN did not comment or elaborate on this variation in the design of the original periscope invented by William BEECH.  Nor did the Australian War Records Section appear to obtain a sample periscope for their inventory.  Subsequently, the Australian War Memorial does not appear to have an example of this metal periscope on hand in their collection of relics from the Great War.  It can only be assumed that all periscopes of this nature went with the AIF during the evacuation and accompanied the respective units to France, where they were used up in the process of the war.

PERISCOPE RIFLE USED IN FRANCE ON THE WESTERN FRONT

The image below shows the extent to which the periscope rifle evolved during the Great War.  This device, which incorporates a “box periscope” is obviously well manufactured and of a robust design.  Compared to the impromptu construction method first used by BEECH in the front line on the 19th of May, 1915 – this periscope was undoubtedly the pinnacle of design and materials.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Australian War Memorial number H04465 taken in the Aisne area, France circa 1917. A French soldier in a well sandbagged position at Pontaury using a rifle fitted with a periscopic sight. (Donor French Government)

A “MYTHBUSTERS” STYLE ROAD TEST OF THE BEECH PERISCOPE RIFLE

IMAGE LEFT:  The Medals Gone Missing Administrator constructed a Beech Periscope Rifle as a demonstration for the Batemans Bay .303 Commemoration Shoot (fundraiser) which ran for a number of years .  The target was set at 25 metres; to simulate the distance between trenches on the Gallipoli Peninsula during 1915.  The rifle proved very accurate with the fall of shot landing very close to the bull by most marksmen who tried the device.

A forum thread took place on the ALHA website (Australian Light Horse Association) a number of years ago, raising issue to the perceived “recoil” aspect of the Beech Periscope Rifle.  Having fired this device quite extensively during the S.S.A.A. .303 shoot, we could report back with some authority that any recoil experienced during discharge of the weapon was absorbed by the weight of the rifle/device.  The shooter experienced some rearward movement of the periscope when the round was discharged (with the shoulder of the shooter acting as the ‘pivot point’ for the rearward rotation) however the affects were certainly not severe.  Overall, I would estimate the recoil forces pushing against the shoulder of the marksman, to be approximately one third of the actual recoil force – when firing a .303 rifle from the shoulder in the conventional manner.

IMAGE RIGHT:  Photograph showing the method of trigger control for the reproduction ‘Beech Periscope Rifle’ at the Batemans Bay .303 Commemoration Shoot in 2004.  As can be seen, the operator is holding the frame in his right hand and the trigger pull is performed with the left hand.  On this model, the rifle “pull through” which is being used to operate the trigger has been fashioned onto a makeshift pulley system, so as to give a horizontal pull in terms of trigger movement.  Photos from Gallipoli however show the sniper pulling on a string directly coming from the trigger.

IMAGE LEFT:  Another angle showing the Beech Periscope rifle being used at the S.S.A.A.  Batemans Bay .303 Commemoration Shoot.  This “Beech Periscope Shoot” became a competition in itself at the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia endorsed event.  Competitors paid $1 AUD per shot on a winner takes all basis (however – being a fund raising event – winners often donated their proceeds back to the respective charity)

IMAGE RIGHT:  All About Glass proprietor Gary RIXON generously donated the mirrors required for the replica periscope rifle.  Regarding mirrors for this device, please see an extract authored by General BIRDWOOD. (see below).

In a letter from General Sir William BIRDWOOD to the Governor General of Australia during 1915,  the following extract testifies:-  “Our complete moral superiority over the Turk is partly due to the very clever invention of a man named Beech, who produced a periscope rifle.  When we got here we denuded the whole of our transports of their looking-glasses and made up some 2,000 periscopes on our little beach.  This man then made a very simple device.  The result is the Turk only sees the muzzle of a rifle coming over the parapet without anything behind it to shoot at and we understand from prisoners that he dislikes it intensely”.

IMAGE LEFT:  The business end of a Beech Periscope Rifle.  With only this portion of the periscope rifle protruding above the parapet of the Australian lines, it is easy to see why this invention was disliked by the Turks as indicated in the extract above.  It provided the Australians with fire superiority – without giving the Turkish snipers the opportunity to shoot back and inflict casualties against the invader.

IMAGE RIGHT: It is samples of “engineering” such as this, which allow our younger generation to gain a valuable insight, as to how warfare was conducted by Australian and New Zealand troops (the ANZACS) during World War One.  A school student from Batemans Bay High School takes great interest in the ‘reproduction’ Beech Periscope Rifle.  

A small display was presented for the cinema goers at the premiere of the Australian film, “Beneath Hill 60″ in his local area.  This event was used to increase the public’s awareness for Legacy Australia and funds were raised for this very worthwhile cause.

IMAGE LEFT:   Students were amazed by this device at the premiere of the film, Beneath Hill 60.  It is because of practical demonstrations like this that travelling exhibitions; such as those conducted by the Australian War Memorial – are so successful.

That say that necessity is the mother of all invention.  And Sergeant William Charles BEECH proved his practical intellect on the 19th of May, 1915 when so many of his new country men needed an answer to a problem.  But it is unfortunate that much of mankind’s creative genius has gone into devising ways to kill his fellow man. 

However, in 1915 ….. that was the situation the Allies and the Turks found themselves in and it is testimony to the fine spirit of our Turkish friends; that they do not bear a grudge against the nations who once came to their shores as ‘the invader’.   In 2015 …. 100 years on; during the Commemoration for Centenary of the Gallipoli landings – we will remember Sergeant William BEECH.   Lest we forget.

DO YOU WISH TO VISIT THE GALLIPOLI BATTLEFIELDS NOW OR IN 2015?  IF YOU WISH TO WALK THE HILLS AND VALLEYS & LEARN THE HISTORY FROM THE PEOPLE WHO KNOW …… THEN CONTACT GALLIPOLI HISTORICAL TOURS.  If the in-depth history supplied in this story is the sort of detail you expect from a Gallipoli Battlefield tour, then contact us.  We have escorted tours, led by experienced battlefield historians who live and breath the history.  Packages range from 3 days to 12 days.  And we are taking bookings now for the 100 year Anzac Day Commemorations.  Wish to know more?  Please Click Here.

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About gary

Gary Traynor is Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria which may have been awarded or issued to their ancestors. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the preservation of Militaria and the researching of Military History for well over 29 years. During his travels, he has conducted numerous study trips to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He was also priveleged to have served as a Volunteer Guide at the Australian War Memorial for a number of years. Gary now conducts tours of the Gallipoli Battlefields and the Kokoda Track in New Guinea. He leads the field in his knowledge of the beach head battlefields encompassing Buna, Gona & Sanananda. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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One Response to Necessity …. The Mother of All Invention – William BEECH & The ‘Beech Periscope Rifle’ – Gallipoli 1915

  1. Pingback: ANZAC and Aussie inventions | Cryptic Garland click here

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