MacAdam Shield Shovel
The MacAdam Shield-Shovel, also known as the Hughes Shovel, was an item of Canadian infantry during the First World War. It was designed and patented by Sam Hughes, the Canadian minister for the Department of Militia and Defence in 1913, for use as an instrument which held the combined function to operate as a spade shovel and a shield from which soldiers could securely fire from and advantageously not be targeted in return. Ena MacAdam, Hughes' personal secretary, had first suggested the idea of a shield shovel to Hughes after she witnessed Swiss soldiers constructing frontline fortifications in France.
The MacAdam shield-shovel resembled the standard portable infantry spade of its day in both size and shape. Its design however required it to prevent the penetration of, or at the very least deflect, enemy gunfire. As a result of this condition, heavier than usual steel was used in the construction of the blade; it measured at three-sixteenths of an inch thick. Heavy steel was also used to make the shovel's detachable handle which measured four feet in length. Unique to the shield-shovel was the inclusion of a 3.5 by 2 inch sight-hole in the blade. In total, the MacAdam shield- shovel weighed 5 pounds 4 ounces. Patented as CA157592 in name of Ena MacAdam dated 25 August 1914 who listed occupation as 'Stenographer'
In 1914, 25,000 shield-shovels were ordered and shipped to Europe for use by the 1st Canadian Division. Preliminary tests, however, revealed the unfortunate conclusion that the shovel’s blade was incapable of stopping the penetration of gunfire even from the smallest of enemy calibre arms. Its value as a digging tool was also questioned as soldiers commented against the shovel’s weight, its inability to be easily carried, and the fact that the blade was poor for shovelling loose soil as it contained a large sight-hole. With such a reputation, several high-ranking Canadian and British military officials refused to press the instrument into service. With these developments, an executive order was eventually issued for the shovels to be reduced to scrap. A total sum of $1,400 was recovered in the salvage; a figure far less than the original contract price, which tagged each MacAdam shield-shovel at $1.35. Despite being condemned by the military, a small following of Canadian snipers continued to use the shovel. Aware of the tool’s limitations, they preferred to use them in a collective series for added protection.
The MacAdam Shield-Shovel currently stands in Canadian First World War historiography as an invention which was poorly conceived given that its intended purpose was never fully realized. Understanding that the shield-shovel was likely one of many in a series of squandered government war expenditures is often additionally difficult to accept. Given all this, however, one historian is of the opinion that the MacAdam Shield Shovel must be recognized for what he feels it represents: a serious attempt to improve the well-being of Canadian troops. Others feel the device is simply indicative of Sir Sam Hughes' greed and arrogance who often put his own well-being ahead that of his troops. It is also an illustration of the "Canadian" ideology whereby military technologies (such as the famous Ross Rifle) were ardently believed by their proponents (such as Sir Sam Hughes) to be inherently superior because they were made in Canada.
- Desmond Morton, Marching to Armageddon: Canadians and the Great War 1914-1919 (Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Limited, 1989), 8.
- Ronald G. Haycock, Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916 (Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986), 234.
- Bill Rawling, Surviving Trench War-fare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992), 18.
- Rawling, Surviving Trench War-fare, 18.
- Rawling, Surviving Trench War-fare, 18.
- Kenneth Radley, We Lead Others Follow: first Canadian Division 1914-1918 (Toronto: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2006), 43.
- Desmond Morton, When Your Numbers Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War (Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited, 1993), 33.
- Morton, When Your Numbers Up, 135.
- Rawling, Surviving Trench Warfare, 18.
- Berton, Pierre. Vimy, 17.
- Haycock, Ronald G., Sam Hughes: The Public Career of a Controversial Canadian, 1885-1916. Toronto: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1986.
- Morton, Desmond. Marching to Armageddon: Canadians and the Great War 1914-1919. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys Publications, 1989.
- Morton, Desmond. When Your Numbers Up: The Canadian Soldier in the First World War. Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1993.
- Radley, Kenneth. We Lead Others Follow: First Canadian Division 1914-1918. Toronto: Vanwell Publishing Limited, 2006.
- Rawling, Bill. Surviving Trench War-fare: Technology and the Canadian Corps, 1914-1918. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992.