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Gas attack at Gravenstafel
  • Gas attack at Gravenstafel

    This article was found by viewing the profile of Private FREDERICK LESLIE TREWELLA - Back to Profile

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  • The Second Battle of Ypres opened when 168 tons of chlorine gas were released by the Germans at 5:00p.m. on April 22nd over a four mile front, following a heavy bombardment that had started at 4:00p.m. The gas affected the lungs and the eyes causing respiration problems and blindness. Being denser than air it flowed downwards, forcing French troops of the 45th and 78th Divisions to abandon their positions en masse, leaving a 4,000 yard wide gap in the front line.

    The Canadians in the line to the right could discern a large yellow-green cloud over the French positions; three German divisions swarmed forward past dead and panicked troops. The Canadians were in disarray as many of their telephone lines had been cut in the shelling, and units now began giving conflicting reports back to their headquarters, far behind the front. What was clear was that their left flank was wide open; what was not known was that the Germans had inexplicably stopped for the night after driving 3,000 yards into the French positions.


    Early on, the 13th Battalion had strengthened positions around St. Julien under the initiative of their commanding officer. This small group was one of the few holding the entire left flank. To the southwest, the only unit between the Germans and the 3rd Brigade headquarters at Mouse Trap Farm was a battery of British 4.7-inch guns at Kitcheners' Wood. Another battery 1,000 yards north of St. Julien engaged a large number of Germans over open sights at about 7:00p.m. that night, and with the help of men from the 13th, 14th and 15th Battalions, were able to move their guns back to safety. Lance Corporal Frederick Fisher of the 13th Battalion was instrumental in this action, and killed the next day – he became the first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Great War.


    An hour later, the commander of the 3rd Brigade by now fully realized the delicate situation his left flank was in, and requested reinforcement from the 2nd Brigade and from the Division. The 10th Battalion, reserve unit for the 2nd Brigade, and the 16th Battalion, in reserve for the 3rd Brigade, were tasked for an immediate counter-attack on Kitcheners' Wood.


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