GWL 24th April1915

Your letters up to the 19th have come, thank you so much for them.  These are strenuous days.  Fritz fairly on the bounce and lots of really big stuff flying about.  Fritz is using sulphuric acid in his shells, which has the most discomforting effect.  It makes your eyes awfully sore and if you get enough of it, it chokes you.  So you see we are fighting perfect gentlemen in every way.  We are quite comfortable in our cellar, very cramped, but moderately safe.  The General is charming, by name Croker.  Vicary’s brother is on the signal job and we are all very merry considering everything.  The noise during the last three days has been perfectly ghastly and the fumes from the German shells very unpleasant.  But the worst things have an end sometime.

I have not had time to read much and now have a fine pile of books when the time comes.  Very well, except for a dungeon cough, which we have all got from living in a cellar, I think.

And how is Devonshire – I am afraid the weekly parcel system must break up again and be transferred to Mrs Burges.  Captain Burges is in England now, as his mother is frightfully ill.

Will you just send me a cake about once a week, and the other things you send continue, because they are just what I like.

Fritz has begun again and is shaking the place to pieces, drat him.”

On the 22nd what has become known as the 2nd Battle of Ypres began and was marked by the first serious use of gas by the Germans.  This was Chlorine gas (not sulphuric acid as alluded to by George) ypres_gas_22germangascanisters

Sir John French’s 8th Despatch gives a clear account of the attack

Following a heavy bombardment, the enemy attacked the French Division at about 5 p.m., using asphyxiating gases for the first time. Aircraft reported that at about 5 p.m. thick yellow smoke had been seen issuing from the German trenches between Langemarck and Bixschoote. The French reported that two simultaneous attacks had been made east of the Ypres-Staden Railway, in which these asphyxiating gases had been employed. What follows almost defies description. The effect of these poisonous gases was so virulent as to render the whole of the line held by the French Division mentioned above practically incapable of any action at all. It was at first impossible for anyone to realise what had actually happened. The smoke and fumes hid everything from sight, and hundreds of men were thrown into a comatose or dying condition, and within an hour the whole position had to be abandoned, together with about 50 guns. I wish particularly to repudiate any idea of attaching the least blame to the French Division for this unfortunate incident. After all the examples our gallant Allies have shown of dogged and tenacious courage in the many trying situations in which they have been placed throughout the course of this campaign it is quite superfluous for me to dwell on this aspect of the incident, and I would only express my firm conviction that, if any troops in the world had been able to hold their trenches in the face of such a treacherous and altogether unexpected onslaught, the French Division would have stood firm. The left flank of the Canadian Division was thus left dangerously exposed to serious attack in flank, and there, appeared to be a prospect of their being overwhelmed and of a successful attempt by the Germans to cut off the British troops occupying the salient to the East. In spite of the danger to which they were exposed the Canadians held their ground with a magnificent display of tenacity and courage; and it is not too much to say that the bearing and conduct of these splendid troops averted a disaster which might have been attended with the most serious consequences. They were supported with great promptitude by the reserves of the Divisions holding the salient and by a Brigade which had been resting in billets

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George’s great great niece Imogen inspecting the trenches in Sanctuary Wood.

{next post 26th April}

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