Battles of Ypres

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Ypres is a relatively small town in Belgium with a famous history. British Soldiers in World War 1 nicknamed it "Wipers". In Flanders it is known as Ieper. It is known as the City of Cats with many store windows containg a large ceramic cat. In the middle ages cats were thrown from top of the City Tower.

On October 7 1914 10,000 German troops entered the town, kidnapped the burgomaster, stole 62,000 francs from the city coffers and demanded the local bakers prepare 8000 loaves of bread . The next day they left releasing the burgomaster and marched west. The Germans never entered the city again but as Ypres became strategic defence point of the salient it was battered by artillery fire leaving few buildings standing by the end of the war. (A salient is a military defence line that buldges into enermy territory and is surrounded on three sides.) The salient that developed around Ypres durring World War 1 was a result of the failure of the Germans to execute the Schlieffen plan according to the specifications of the General who developed the plan on 1905. The aim of the plan was to avoid figthing a two fron war by invading France , then capturing its sea ports and Paris, via Belgium before ussia Troops could mobilise on the East German Border. Schlieffen anticipated that the French could block the German advance by forming a continuous front between Paris and Verdun. His argument in the 1905 memorandum was that the Germans could achieve a decisive result only if they were strong enough to outflank that position by marching around the western side of Paris while simultaneously pinning the enemy down all along the front. He gave precise figures for the strength required in that operation: 33 1⁄2 corps (940,000 troops), including 25 active corps (active corps were part of the standing army capable of attacking and reserve corps were reserve units mobilised when war was declared and had lower scales of equipment and less training and fitness). His successor Moltke’s army along the front from Paris to Verdun, consisted of 22 corps (620,000 combat troops), only 15 of which were active formations. Belgian resistance delayed German troops for over a month until French and Britis soldiers arrived defending the coastline and the Germans pushing towards it. Both sides dug in. The allies, British, French, Canadian, and Belgians on one side and Germans on the other forming a line known as the Western front. The contors of this line were established durring the First Battle of Ypres when Allied forces fought the Germans fo control ofYpres and won securing the last major town that stood between the Germans and the Coast.

With the German failure at the Battle of the Marne in September 1914 and the subsequent Allied counter attacks, the "Race to the Sea" began. This so called race ended at the North Sea coast after each army attempted to outflank the other by moving north and west. By October 1914, the Allies had reached Nieuport on the North Sea coast. The Germans, as a prelude to General Erich von Falkenhayn's Flanders Offensive, captured Antwerp and forced its Belgian defenders back to Nieuport, near Ypres. Under the command of Field Marshall Sir John French, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) retreated to Ypres after Antwerp fell. They arrived there between 8 and 19 October to bolster the Belgian and French defence. The Allied position around Ypres took the shape of a small salient in the trench lines because it could best be defended from the low ridge of higher ground to the east, but it was vulnerable to superior German artillery. The BEF held a thirty-five mile long line in the centre of the bulge while the French Army in the area, commanded by General Ferdinand Foch, manned the flanks to the south of the city.

First Battle of Ypres

The First Battle of Ypres, the most significant of the three battles of Ypres was fought 19 October 1914 – 22 November 1914, around Ypres. German, French, Belgian and British armies fought from Arras in France to Nieuport on the Belgian coast, from 10 October to mid-November. North of Ypres the fighting continued in the Battle of the Yser (16–31 October), fought between the German 4th Army and a largely Belgian force.

The fighting of the First Battle of Ypres has been divided into five stages, an encounter battle from 19–21 October, the Battle of Langemarck from 21–24 October, the battles at La Bassée and Armentières to 2 November, coincident with more Allied attacks at Ypres and the Battle of Gheluvelt (29–31 October), a fourth phase with the last big German offensive which culminated at the Battle of Nonne Bosschen on 11 November then local operations, which faded out in late November.

Attacks by the BEF, Belgians and a new French Eighth Army in Belgium made little progress beyond Ypres and then the German 4th and 6th armies took small amounts of ground at great cost to both sides, during the Battle of the Yser(16–31 October) and further south at Ypres. Falkenhayn then tried a limited offensive to capture Ypres and Mount Kemmel, from (19 October – 22 November). Neither side had moved forces to Flanders fast enough to obtain a decisive victory and by November, both were exhausted, short of ammunition and suffering from collapses in morale; some infantry units refused orders. The autumn battles in Flanders had quickly become static, attritional operations, unlike the battles of manoeuvre in the summer. French, British and Belgian troops in improvised field defences, repulsed German attacks for four weeks. From 21–23 October, German reservists had made mass attacks at Langemarck, with losses of up to 70 percent to little effect.

The defensive use of artillery and machine-guns had dominated the battlefield and the ability of the armies to supply themselves and replace casualties, prolonged battles for weeks. The German armies engaged 34 divisions in the Flanders battles, the French twelve, the British nine and the Belgians six, along with marines and dismounted cavalry.

The already weakened Belgian Army fought valiantly, but the German actions forced Belgium's King Albert to open the sluices that held back the sea. On 27 October, the Belgians flooded the land between their positions and the Germans' along the twenty-mile strip of land between Dixmude and Nieuport, creating a two-mile wide water barrier that forced Falkenhayn to halt and reconsider his plans.

The second phase of the Flanders Offensive was a series of assaults against the
city of Ypres. To seize it, Falkenhayn had at his disposal the newly assembled Fourth Army (made up of units from the siege of Antwerp and eight new divisions manned by underage recruits) commanded by the Duke of
Wurttemberg, a cavalry corps, and Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria's Sixth Army.
These forces gave the Germans a considerable numerical advantage over the BEF's seven infantry divisions (one was held in reserve) and three cavalry divisions. For replacements, General French could only count on a few divisions of Indian troops already en route as reinforcements. The Indian units would soon prove to be outstanding fighters in both offence and defence.
The attacks began along a much narrower front on 31 October when German cavalry drove a smaller British cavalry unit from its position on the Messines Ridge at the southern end of the salient. Shortly thereafter, German forces engaged General Douglas Haig's First Corps further to the north, but a ferocious British counterattack repelled the Germans.

On 11 November, two premier German divisions attempted to break the British lines just north of the Menin Road in the Nuns' Woods only four miles from Ypres itself. The Prussian Guards and the 4th Division sought the town of
Hooge; the attack lasted all day. Initially successful in creating a
breakthrough, the Germans were slow in exploiting their gains. German
indecisiveness enabled the British to assemble a motley collection of
soldiers (cooks, officer's servants, medical orderlies, clerks, and engineers) who stemmed the enemy advance and eventually drove them back to
their own lines. Fighting around Ypres would linger on until 22 November when the onset of winter weather forced a break in hostilities.

After November 1914, the British would come to call these trenches 'the Salient" and would remain as Ypres' guardians for the rest of the war.

Second Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was fought from 22 April – 25 May 1915 for control of the strategic Flemish town of Ypres in western Belgium, following the First Battle of Ypres the previous autumn. It marked the first mass use by Germany of poison gas on the Western Front. For the first time a former colonial force (the 1st Canadian Division) defeated that of a European power (the German Empire) on European soil, in the Battle of St. Julien and the Battle of Kitcheners' Wood, which were engagements within the Second Battle of Ypres.

The Second Battle of Ypres consisted of six engagements:

The Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
The Battle of St. Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May
The Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May
The Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May
The Battle of Hooge 30–31 July 1915 (first German use of flamethrowers)
The Second Attack on Bellewaarde 25 September

The Ypres salient followed the canal and then bulged eastward around the town of Ypres, Belgium. North of the salient the Belgian army held the line of the Yser and the north end of the salient was held by two French divisions. The eastern part of the salient was defended by one Canadian division and two British divisions. The II Corps and V Corps of the Second Army comprised the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Cavalry divisions and the 4th Division, 27th Division, 28th Division, 50th Division, Lahore Division and 1st Canadian Division.

Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge (22–23 April 1915)

Fields at Langemark-Poelkapelle, facing north towards the former location of the German trench from which the gas was released on 22 April 1915. In this area, the German trench system ran approximately from the farmhouse on the left to the group of willow trees visible on the right.The hamlet is named Gravenstafel.

Ypres and Langemarck areas

At around 5:00 p.m. on 22 April, the German Army released 168 long tons (171 t) of chlorine gas over a 6.5 km (4.0 mi) front, on the part of the line held by French Territorial and colonial Moroccan and Algerian troops of the French 45th and 87th divisions. Poison gas had been used before at the Battle of Bolimov three months earlier but the gas liquified in the cold and became inert.
German troops carried 5,730 gas cylinders, weighing 90 pounds (41 kg) each, to the front by hand. The cylinders were opened by hand, relying on the prevailing winds to carry the gas towards enemy lines. Because of this method of dispersal, a large number of German soldiers were injured or killed in the process of carrying out the attack.

The French troops in the path of the gas cloud had 6,000 casualties, many of whom died within ten minutes, primarily from asphyxiation and tissue damage in the lungs, many more were blinded. Chlorine gas forms hypochlorous acid when combined with water, destroying moist tissues such as lungs and eyes. The chlorine gas, being denser than air, quickly filled the trenches, forcing the troops to climb out into heavy enemy fire. Many French troops ran for their lives, while others stood their ground and waited for the cloud to pass by.

A 4-mile (6.4 km) gap was left in the front line. The German High Command had not foreseen the effectiveness of the new weapon and all available troops had been transferred to Russia, leaving few reserves in the west. General von Falkenhayn, Chief of German General Staff had ordered the attack as a limited effort by the German 4th Army. German troops advanced at 5:00 p.m. but dusk, apprehension about the effect of the gas and lack of reserves prevented the Germans from exploiting the gap. Canadian troops were able to defend the flank of the break-in by urinating into cloths and putting them to their faces, to counter the effects of the gas. Casualties were especially heavy for the 13th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), which was enveloped on three sides and over-extended by the demands of securing its left flank once the Algerian Division had broken.

Aside (Clarkson)

Arthur Edwin Clarkson was born in May 1893 in Scarborough, Yorkshire, England, the oldest son of Sarah Ann (Annie) Clarkson. In 1898 when Arthur was five years old his mother married John Cahill. When the 1901 census was taken Arthur and his mother were living in Scarborough with his grandparents John and Frances (Clarkson) Pull. His step-father died of tuberculosis the following year on 4 November 1902, at age 28, Arthur was then 9 years old. 

When Arthur was 10 his family immigrated to Canada, arriving in Montreal on 13 June 1903. With him were his grandfather John Pull, his uncle John Pull Jr., his widowed mother and her two other children, John Jr. and Frances. Their destination was listed as Rat Portage (later called Kenora), in northwestern Ontario. Arthur's mother married again in February 1904 in Dauphin, Manitoba. At the time of the 1906 census she was living in East Bay near Dauphin Lake with her husband Maurice Barker, a farmer, and her two youngest children. Arthur was living with Uncle in Kenora, enjoying all that that small community had to offer.

Arthur remained in Kenora for several years with his uncle John Pull and worked at the Rat Portage Lumber Company's box factory. Around 1911 at approximately 18 years he moved with his mother to a farm in Manitoba.

Britain declared war on August  4 1914 which automatically brought Canada into the war.  Arthur volunteered at the age of 21 with the 94th Regiment (Manitoba Rangers) on August 16 and travelled to Quebec by train with the other recruits. At Valcartier they underwent training, medical tests and inoculations. He was found fit for service and on  September  21 1914 he enlisted with the 8th Battalion, a unit made up of recruits from Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.

In October the 8th Battalion embarked for England arriving safely in Plymouth, England on October 14. The 8th Battalion was sent to Salisbury Plain in southern England where they trained for several months. The men were billeted in tents and huts and due to the cold, wet winter weather many of them including Arthur became sick with severe colds and pneumonia. During a period of leave, Arthur  was married in Aberdeen, Scotland on 25 January 1915 to his wife a 20-year-old Sarah Newcombe, a resident of Aberdeen. The marriage certificate recorded Arthur as a Private with the 8th Battalion and his address as Larkhill, Salisbury Plains.

In February 2015 the 8th Battalion was sent to France and not long after arriving Arthur became ill with tonsillitis. He was in a hospital in Le Tréport, then at a convalescent camp for just over a month, from February 26 to March 28. He rejoined his battalion in early April, around the time they were moving to the Ypres Salient in Belgium. On April 12, while ill in a hospital, he wrote his uncle indicating he expected to be returning to the line shortly.

On April 17 a young Canadian Doctor from Ontario, John McCrae arrived near Ypres. After a few days rest, the 8th Battalion were back in the front lines again on April 19. Chlorine gas was first used by the Germans on a large scale on 22 April 1915 at Gravenstafel Ridge near Langemark, and the 8th Battalion was hit by it two days later on April 24th. The battle from April 22 to 24 is known as the Second Battle of Ypres.

The 8th Battalion suffered heavy casualties from the poison and in the fighting that followed as German infantry advanced behind the cloud of gas. Arthur was wounded just behind the trenches in an attempt made by his Company to stop the advance of the enemy coming in on the rear. Arthur lay on the battlefield in pain in no man's land all night. The next day his cries for help were heard.

Company Sergeant-Major Hall of Winnipeg along with Corporal Payne and Private Rogerson endeavoured to reach Arthur who was lying some 15 yards away from the trench, in the face of a very heavy enemy fire. The first attempt failed, and Payne and Rogerson were both wounded and returned to the trench. Hall then made a second  attempt, and was in the act of lifting up Clarkson to bring him in when he fell mortally wounded in the head. Shortly after another shell fell on Private Clarkson killing him as well just short of a month before his 22 birthday.

Neither Arthur's nor Hall’s final resting place are known and both are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Ypres, Belgium), a memorial dedicated to soldiers whose grave locations are unknown.  Hall was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in trying to rescue Private Clarkson. He was one of three men from Pine Street in Winnipeg who were awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War. After the war Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in their honour.

In May 2015 on the 100 anniversary of Clarkson and Hall’s death, My wife and I visited Ypres to take of picture of Menin’s Gate and the Clarkson and Hall’s memorial commemoration.

Menin Gate



Brooding SoldierBrooding Soldier


Resource Credit: Arthur Edwin Clarkson in the Great War Project

At Kitcheners' Wood, the 10th Battalion of the 2nd Canadian Brigade was ordered to counter-attack into the gap created by the gas attack. They formed up after 11:00 p.m. on the night of 22 April, with the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) of the 3rd Brigade arriving as they were forming to support the advance. Both battalions attacked with over 800 men, formed up in waves of two companies each at 11:46 p.m. Without reconnaissance, the battalions ran into obstacles halfway to the objective and were engaged with small-arms fire from the wood, initiating an impromptu bayonet charge. The attack cleared the former oak plantation of Germans, at the cost of 75% casualties.

Battle of St. Julien (24 April – 5 May)(now Saint Juliaan)

Positions on about 30 April, before the British pullback

The village of St. Julien had been comfortably in the rear of the 1st Canadian Division until the poison gas attack of 22 April, when it became the front line. Some of the first fighting in the village involved a hasty stop, which included the stand of Lance Corporal Frederick Fisher of the 13th Battalion CEF's machine-gun detachment; who twice went out with a handful of men and a Colt Machine-gun and prevented advancing German troops from passing through St. Julien, into the rear of the Canadian front line; Fisher was killed the next day using the same tactics.

On the morning of 24 April the Germans released another cloud of chlorine, towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed among the Canadian troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place these over their noses and mouths. The countermeasures were insufficient and German troops took the village. Next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failed to secure their objectives but established a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties. The 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers had hundreds of casualties and with no respite took part in the battles at Frezenberg and Bellewaarde. On 24 April the battalion was subject to a German chlorine gas attack near St. Julien and was nearly annihilated.

Battle of Frezenberg (8–13 May)

The Germans moved field artillery forward and put three Army corps opposite the 27th and 28th divisions on Frezenberg ridge. The German attack began on 8 May, with a bombardment on the 83rd Brigade in trenches on the forward slope of the ridge but the first and second assaults by German infantry were repelled by the survivors. The third German assault of the morning pushed the defenders back. The neighbouring 80th Brigade repulsed the attack but the 84th Brigade was pushed back, leaving a 2-mile (3.2 km) gap in the line. The Germans were prevented from advancing further by the amazing bravery of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)'s counter-attacks and a night move by the 10th Brigade. The PPCLI held up the line, but at a terrible cost. A fighting force of 700 soldiers had been whittled down to 150 who were not in any shape to fight. Their unofficial motto later became the phrase "holding up the whole damn line" and is still used today.

Battle of Bellewaarde (24–25 May)
On 24 May the Germans released a gas attack on a 7-kilometre (4.3 mi) front[24] near Hooge. British troops were able to defend against initial German attacks but were eventually forced to retreat to the north and south. Failed British counterattacks forced a British retreat 1-kilometre (0.62 mi) northwards. Upon the end of the battle the Ypres salient was 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) deep.

By the end of the battle the Ypres Salient had been compressed and Ypres itself was closer to the line. The city was bombarded with observed artillery-fire and gradually demolished. Poison gas had been used on the Eastern Front but surprised the Allies and c. 7,000 gas casualties were admitted to field ambulances and casualty clearing stations; from May–June, 350 British deaths were recorded from gas poisoning.

Canadian troops had achieved a defensive success but the division lost 5,975 men by the time it was withdrawn on 3 May. The division had been unprepared for the form of warfare prevailing on the Western Front, where linear tactics were insufficient against attackers armed with magazine-rifles and machine-guns; Canadian field artillery had been highly effective but the deficiencies of the Ross rifle made Canadian tactical difficulties worse. The Canadian Division received several thousand replacements shortly afterwards but presented a most favourable image to their allies and the world.

German casualties from 21 April – 30 May were recorded as 34,933 by the Official Historians of the Reichsarchv. British casualties recorded in the British Official History were 59,275 men and the French had about 18,000 casualties on 22 April and another 3,973 casualties from 26–29 April. Canadian casualties from 22 April – 3 May were 5,975 of whom c. 1,000 men were killed, the worst day being 24 April when 3,058 casualties were suffered during infantry attacks, artillery bombardments, and gas discharges.

Subsequent operations

An operation known as the First Attack on Bellewaarde was conducted by the 3rd Division of V Corps on 16 June 1915 and a larger operation, the Second Attack on Bellewaarde, by the 3rd Division and the 14th Division of VI Corps took place from 25–26 September 1915. The Battle of Mont Sorrel to the south of Ypres, with the 20th Division of XIV Corps and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian divisions of the Canadian Corps took place from 2–13 June 1916. A Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele was fought in the autumn of 1917.

The Canadian actions in the Second Battle of Ypres are commemorated with the Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner, a pillar surmounted by the head and shoulders of a soldier resting on his arms reversed, set amid green lawns, conifer trees and juniper bushes. The trees are clipped close to represent shell tps and the junipers to resemble shell holes. The plaque erected in 1986.

It was during the Second Battle of Ypres that Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae M.D. of Guelph, Ontario, Canada wrote the memorable poem In Flanders Fields in the voice of those who perished in the war. Published in Punch Magazine 8 December 1915, it is still recited today, especially on Remembrance Day and Memorial Day.

Victoria Cross

Company Sergeant-Major F. W. Hall, 8th Battalion, Winnipeg Rifles, 2nd Canadian Brigade.

Arthur Edwin Clarkson inspired a Victoria Cross 8th Batallion 1122

Third Battle of Ypres or as often referred to as simply Passchendaele.

Kenora Soldiers who fought in thrird battle of Ypres:

Private William Stephen Lodge of Kenora, Ontario, eldest son of William Edward Lodge and Emily Eliza Hawes.

excerpts from

The war started in August 1914 and William Stephen enlisted in Kenora the following January, when volunteers were being recruited for a third overseas contingent. The men were briefly attached to the 44th Battalion but in mid-March the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was organized and they were transferred to the new unit. The 52nd was based in Port Arthur and William was sent there in June along with the rest of the Kenora volunteers. While they were training the 1st Canadian Division was fighting in France and Belgium. Recruits were needed to replace casualties in the front line units and battalions in Canada were asked to send reinforcements. William left for England with the 2nd Reinforcing Draft in September 1915, one of 250 men from the 52nd Battalion. They embarked from Montreal on 4 September 1915 on the SS Missanabie and after further training in England the men were assigned to new units. William was sent to France in February 1916 and attached to the Machine Gun Company of the 1st Infantry Brigade. That fall the 1st Brigade spent almost two months at the Somme Offensive, where both the Allied and German armies suffered enormous casualties, and in December William was given ten days leave in England. The following spring the Canadian Machine Gun Corps was formed and William's unit was renamed the 1st Company, 1st Canadian Divisional Machine Gun Battalion. In April 1917 they took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge and in May and June William spent five weeks in hospital due to illness.

In October 1917 all four Canadian divisions were sent to the Ypres Salient in Belgium for the Battle of Passchendaele (26 October-10 November 1917). On 31 October William's company moved forward to relieve another machine gun unit and two officers were sent as liaisons to an advanced headquarters nearby. The officers were accompanied by four runners, two signallers and a batman. On 2 November the men were in a pill box shelter when a gas shell landed in the entrance and all nine of them were injured. That same day four other soldiers in the unit were wounded while delivering ammunition to the guns in the forward area.

From the War Diary of the 1st Canadian Machine Gun Company, 2 November 1917: During the evening gas shells were dropped around Korek one shell landing in the mouth of the pill box occupied by Capt Donald, Lieut Forster and staff. As the gas caught them unprepared they all suffered and had to be lead out by the hand, the gas having produced the effect of temporary blindness. Casualties Capt Donald, Lieut Forster and seven O.R’s. The transport took up 175,000 rounds SAA to the forward guns and were subjected to severe shelling. Casualties 4 O.R's wounded.

William was one of the unit's casualties that day, suffering from gas poisoning. He was admitted to a field ambulance depot then transferred to a casualty clearing station where he died on 11 November. From William's service file: Admitted 3rd Field Ambulance Depot Nov. 2nd 1917 gas poison. Died of wounds. 10 Casualty Clearing Station Nov. 11, 1917. Gas poisoning. From the Circumstances of Death record for William: Died of Wounds (Shell Gas Poisoning) at No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station.

William is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery near Ypres, Belgium. He is commemorated on the Cenotaph in Kenora, Ontario, on the Kenora Legion War Memorial and on page 276 of Canada's First World War Book of Remembrance, displayed in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Miscellaneous Reference

Coombs, Rose E., Before Endeavours Fade, A Guide to the Battlefields of the First World War