Thursday, 22 April, was a beautiful spring day: warm, sunny, with a faint breeze. German guns shelled French and Canadian trenches throughout the morning but fell silent in the afternoon. The brief period of peace suddenly ended at 4:00 p.m. when the Germans unleashed a violent bombardment, first on the salient and then gradually extending to nearby roads and Ypres, turning the town into a flaming inferno and causing its citizens to flee. An hour later an ominous greenish-yellow wall of fumes was seen drifting slowly across no-man’s-land toward the French line.Cassar, G.H. (2014), Trial By Gas – The British Army at the Second Battle of Ypres; Potomac Press, University of Nebraska Press.
So began the Second Battle of Ypres, which saw the first use of poison gas and a month of bitter fighting to hold the line. Whilst not directly related to Salonika, I mention it because key in holding the British line – and I mean no disrespect to the Canadians who are much celebrated for their role in the battle – were the British 27th and 28th Divisions. A year later, after a bloody time in the autumn Battle of Loos, the two divisions would be defending the ‘Birdcage’ before moving up country to face the very different challenges of the Struma valley: mosquitoes and Johnny Bulgar!
I suppose 1915 is rather overlooked because of the momentous events in the previous and following years and being seen as a year in which not much happened. And Second Ypres tends to be overshadowed by events just three days later – yes, Gallipoli, I’m looking at you! But the battle and the sacrifices of the Allies, in particular the British Second Army deserve to be remembered. 28th Division suffered over 15,000 casualties – the most of any British or Canadian division – and 27th Division, over 7,000.
The book quoted from earlier contains this dedication by George H. Cassar:
To the memory of the men in the Second British Army who fought and laid down their lives in one of the most notorious and dreaded places in the Great War.