Flanders fields memorial

My Grandfather, who I never knew, was
a member of the Canadian Mounted Rifles,
during the 1st World War.
He was gassed at the battle of Yrpes.

My Grandfather
'Monty' Sanders


This is his story, and because it is his story
it is also the story of all the Canadian soldiers
who fought and died at the battle of Ypres...
 You might be able to argue
that the First World War
started on the 22nd of April, 1915.
Up to that point, what had occurred was a series 
 of well known 19th Century encounters
that had gone very wrong.
But on the 22nd of April, not far from
the city of Ypres, the Germans did something new.
 They opened cylinders of poison gas
to try to break through the defensive
strength of the allies on the other side. 
French and Canadian troops were hit by this gas,
this chlorine gas, and were terrified.
These were men without  any protection against this
type of attack because it had never happened before. 
These were not shells,
these were cylinders that had been lined up, 
 when the German troops thought that the wind was
blowing the right way, the cloud opened
   looking very much like a green cloud.
It was a cloud of Death.
The people who didn't escape
 would have their lungs burned
out and die a horrible death. 

 
From 1914 to 1918, thousands of Canadian men and women
were called upon to contribute to the effort
required for the First World War.
That Canada was automatically at war when Britain was at war in 1914
was un-questioned from coast to coast, in a spirit of almost unbelievable
unanimity, Canadians pledged support for the Motherland. Sir Wilfred
 Laurier spoke for the majority of Canadians when he proclaimed: "It is our
 duty to let Great Britain know and to let the friends and foes of Great
Britain know that there is in Canada but one mind and one heart and that
all Canadians are behind the Mother Country." Prime Minister Robert
 Borden, calling for a supreme national effort, offered Canadian assistance
 to Great Britain. The offer was accepted, and immediately orders were
 given for the mobilization of an expeditionary force. 

 With a regular army of only 3,110 men and a fledgling navy, Canada was
 ill prepared to enter a world conflict. Yet, from Halifax to Vancouver,
thousands of young Canadians hastened to the recruiting offices. Within a
 few weeks more than thirty-two thousand men gathered at Valcartier
Camp near Quebec City; and within two months the First Contingent,
Canadian Expeditionary Force, was on its way to England in the largest
convoy ever to cross the Atlantic. Also sailing in this convoy was a
 contingent from the still separate British Dominion of Newfoundland. 

 On reaching England the Canadians endured a long miserable winter
 training in the mud and drizzle of Salisbury Plain. In the spring of 1915 they
were deemed ready for the front line and were razor keen. Nothing, they
believed, could be worse than Salisbury. In the years that lay ahead, they
were to find out just how tragically wrong that assessment was. 

The first Canadian troops to arrive in France were the Princess Patricia's
Canadian Light Infantry. The "Princess Pats" landed in France in
 December 1914 with the British 27th Division and saw action near St. Eloi,
 and at Polygon Wood. 

 Early in February 1915 the 1st Canadian Division reached France, and was
 introduced to trench warfare by veteran British troops. Following this brief
 training they took over four miles of line in the Armentières sector. Faced
 with the realities of dirt, disease and death their illusions of military glory
quickly disappeared. 


 
Ypres 1915
In the first week of April 1915 the Canadian troops were moved from their
 quiet sector to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres. On
 the Canadian right were two British divisions, and on their left a French
division, the 45th Algerian. 

 Here on April 22 the Germans sought to break the stalemate by introducing
 a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment,
they released 160 tons of chlorine gas into a light northeast wind. As thick
 clouds of yellow green chlorine drifted over their trenches the French
    defenses crumbled, and the troops, unprotected, their lungs seared, died or
broke and fled, leaving a gaping four mile hole in the Allied line. German
troops pressed forward threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches
and put fifty thousand Canadian and British troops in deadly jeopardy.
Fortunately the Germans had planned only a limited offensive and, without
adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the gap the gas created. After
 advancing only two miles they stopped and dug in. 
All through the night the Canadian troops fought to close the gap. 

 In addition they mounted a counter-attack to drive the enemy
out of Kitcheners Wood, an oak plantation near St. Julien.
In the morning two more disastrous  attacks were made against enemy
 positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy,
 but these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank. 

 The grimmer battle of St. Julien lay ahead. On April 24 the Germans
 attacked in an attempt to obliterate the Salient once and for all. Another
  violent bombardment was followed by another gas attack in the same
 pattern as before. This time the target was the Canadian line. Here through
 terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by
rifles which jammed, violently ill and gasping for air through mud soaked
 handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived. 

 Thus, in their first appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians
 established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. Congratulatory
  messages were cabled to the Canadian Prime Minister. But the cost was
 high. In these forty-eight hours 6,035 Canadians, one man in every three,
was lost from Canada's little force of hastily trained civilians - a grim
forerunner of what was still to come. 



 

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Canada's Hundred Days