The Ypres Salient - CWGC

The first gas precaution instructions sent out to Allied forces stated that the troops should hold wetted handkerchiefs or cloths over their mouths, or use respirators made of lint and tape (recommended by Lieutenant-Colonel N C Ferguson, 2nd Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with first respirators, March-June 1915the Assistant Director Medical Services, 28th Division) damped or dipped in a solution of bicarbonate of soda kept in buckets for the purpose. The reality of the situation on 24 and 25 April onwards was that despite these recommendations no respirators were available to front line troops and the buckets of solution were conspicuous by their absence. The soldiers rapidly improvised their own protective measures using any available cloth dampened with urine ('the liquid most readily available in the trenches' - as the military historian Liddell Hart delicately put it) to cover noses and mouths. For some, a minority, the appalling constriction of such home-made protection was intolerable and their makeshift dampened face masks were discarded during the heat of battle.

Having endured unimaginable hardships a start was made in withdrawing the bulk of the Canadian Division into the reserve by the evening of 25 April. The Canadian infantry losses for the period 22-25 April were exceedingly high - in the region of 4,000 (killed, wounded and missing). The British official history provided summary statistics for the period 22 April-4 May 1915 as follows: 208 officers; 5,261 other ranks; a combined total of 5,469 (killed, wounded and missing).


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