Chapter 19

Germans Dazed By Their Own Chlorine Gas!

 

We had served in important areas for four months. We were all very tired, many horses died in action, a number of men were wounded, gassed (including myself) and the guns required skilled attention.

We withdrew to a place well away from the front line, Talingheim, near to St Omer. Except for attending to horses, food chores and sentry duty, we where given three days rest. We were dirty and 'lousy' so we bathed, had clean clothing, footwear and good food. We indulged in all kinds of sport, had concert parties, boxing matches and horse racing. We had one day of spit and polish - guns, uniforms, horses and kit. We were inspected by General Sir Hubert Plumer, who later said in his report, 'Congratulations to all ranks on general efficiency.'

Next day, 1st January, 1916, we took to the road again - to Ypres to relieve the 17th Division. It was a long forced march under wintry conditions - sleet, rain, frost at night, mud everywhere by day and very cold. A seasoned campaigner by this time, I hid sandbags, grain bags and rolls of tarred paper in various wagons and limbers. At night I had the black tarred paper underneath my ground sheet, my feet in sandbags and was up to the neck in grain bags and covered myself with blankets. We lay down each night with clothes on, hence soon becoming dirty and lousy! While others moaned and groaned I rested and slept soundly to make myself fit for another day of hell.

A muddy patch outside Poperinge was the rear wagon and supply depot for us. I was glad I was going up the line in charge of a gun. Late at night we made our way through Vlamertynghe, once a pretty village and now only a heap of rubble, as it had been shelled day and night for weeks, to Ypres. We came under heavy fire near what had been then the Asylum and was now a pile of smashed red bricks and many of our horses were wounded. By the roadside were hundreds of smashed lorries, guns, dead and dying men and animals.

After a long and trying journey we reached the ramparts of Menin Road, close to 'Suicide Corner'. The gun positions made by the Artillery of the 17th Division were excellent - the best we had experienced. It was one a.m. on 7thJanuary, 1916 and one year after I enlisted, when hooters sounded denoting a chlorine gas attack. We had just secured our nosebag gas masks when the Germans opened up a terrific bombardment along the ramparts around the guns and in the shattered city of Ypres. A divisional order came for all guns to open up rapid fire on a score of chosen targets.

The whole front was an inferno, Verey lights illuminating the sky. The ground rocked under us and at last the slow-moving ground-level cloud of chlorine gas arrived. Just as the cloud reached us the wind changed, a stiff breeze followed, blowing the gas back on the German front!

A switch was ordered in our line of fire and we threw off our masks and let the enemy have a real blanket of fire power. Later we learned that our infantry raiding party had used the gas cloud for cover, attacked the German trenches and brought back many prisoners, most of whom were dazed by their own gas!

We had one man killed, a close friend promoted the same day as myself- Bombardier Ramsay. We were fairly safe in our strong gun-pits, but each night when ammunition and supplies came up, our losses in men and animals reached great proportions. From dawn to daylight each night the shelling, on both sides, was constant. One night, shelling on our sector eased and all the enemy fire-power was concentrated on our October position at Bedford House.

Our guns were taken from the Menin Ramparts to the Bedford House district. We fired as sappers filled sandbags from rubbish around, to give us some protection.

Infantry from Scottish regiments moved up the line and we gave them every support. By daybreak the Gordons had taken a hillock called 'The Bluff and other troops had stormed and captured 'International Trench'. Losses were heavy on both sides, many prisoners were captured and strategic points secured.

For one week I was a guide between advanced headquarters, gun sites and advanced observation posts. I was up and down all the danger spots a dozen times, past the dreaded 'Cloth Hall' at Ypres, without any loss of life. In all, I safely escorted twenty-two officers. For this I was mentioned in dispatches and recommended for promotion.

  

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.