POISON GASES KILLED MANY CANADIANS in 1915

POISON GASES KILLED MANY CANADIANS in 1915

Thursday, April 29, 1915

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: From the Ops-Report attached to the War Diary:- “The Bn. maintained its position on the west bank of the Yser Canal, I13 remaining here during the day of April 29th under more or less shell fire all the time.” [1]

From the Battalion history: “All day on April 29th the Battalion lay in the Canal trenches. An occasional shell dropped nearby, but on the whole, the day was quieter than any the men had experienced since the gas attack of the previous week. At dusk the 14th was ordered to the east side of the Yser Canal to establish a line facing the Pilkem-St.Julien Ridge, between trenches held by the 16th Battalion on the left and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (13th British Brigade) on the right. On arrival, it was found that space existed for but one company of the 14th and authority was accordingly sought from3rd Brigade H.Q. to withdraw three companies of the Battalion to a position on the east bank of the Canal, where the men would not be under direct observation from higher ground. Permission for this move having arrived, No. 1 Coy. dug the trench between the 16th Battalion and the K.O.S.B.’s, Nos. 2, 3 and 4 Companies withdrawing as arranged.”  [2]

POISON GASES KILLED MANY CANADIANS
Dr. John S. Haldane Makes Report After Examining Members of Dominion Force

(Canadian Associated Press Cable) London, April 28. – The Secretary of State for War, Earl Kitchener, tonight issued a letter from Dr. John S. Haldane, who went to France to observe the effects of the gases used by the Germans and reports a most efficacious means of resisting them.

Dr. Haldane devotes his report almost entirely to how the Canadians were affected. He says:-
‘I, with Sir William Horringham, consulting physician to the British expeditionary force, examined several men of the Canadian battalions suffering from the effects of gas. The men were lying struggling for breath and were blue in the face. On examining their blood with a spectroscope and by other means, I ascertained that the blueness was not due to the presence of any abnormal pigment.

CAUSE OF BLUENESS: There was nothing to account for the blueness and the struggle for air but one fact, and that was that they were suffering from acute bronchitis such as is caused by the inhalation of an irritant gas. Their statements were to the effect that when in the trenches they had been overwhelmed by an irritant gas produced in front of the German trenches and carried toward them by a gentle breeze.

One of the men died shortly after our arrival and a post mortem examination showed that death was due to acute bronchitis and its secondary effect. There was no doubt that bronchitis and accompanying slow asphyxiation were due to an irritant gas.

Lieut. McNee, the pathologist, had also examined the body of a Canadian sergeant who had died in the clearing station from the effects of the gas. In this case also very acute bronchitis caused death.

CAPTAIN BARTRAM’S EXPERIENCE: A deposition by Capt. Bartram, of the 8th Canadian Battalion, was carefully taken down by Lieut. McNee. Capt. Bartram was then in a clearing station suffering from the effects of the gas and from a wound. From a support trench about 600 yards from the German lines he had observed the gas. He saw first of all a white smoke rising from the German trenches to a height of about three feet. Then in front of the white smoke appeared a greenish cloud which drifted along the ground to our trenches, not rising more than about seven feet from the ground.

When it reached our first trenches the men in these trenches were forced to leave and a number of them were killed by the effects of the gas. He made a counter-attack about 15 minutes after the gas came over and saw twenty-four men lying dead from the effects of the gas on a small stretch of road leading from the advanced trenches to the supports. He was himself much affected by the gas still present and felt as if he could not breathe.

CHLORINE OR BROMINE: These symptoms and other facts so far ascertained point to the use by the German troops of chlorine or bromine, for purposes of asphyxiation. There are also facts pointing to the use in German shells of other irritant substances, though in some cases, at least, these agents are not of the same brutally barbarous character as the gas used in the attack on the Canadians.

The effects are not those of any ordinary products of combustion or explosives. On this point the symptoms described left not the slightest doubt in my mind.’

Dr. John Scott Haldane is an authority on the physiology of respiration. He has served on several royal commissions and has carried out other special inquiries for government departments on public health questions.” [3]

[1]    Operation-Report of May 6th, 1915, War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089726.jpg
[2]   R.C. Featherstonhaugh, The Royal Montreal Regiment 14th Battalion C.E.F. 1914-1925, Montreal, The Gazette Printing Co., Ltd., 1927, pp. 45-46.
[3]   “Poison Gasses Killed Many of Canadians,” The Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Thursday, April 29, 1915, pg. 10, col. 1.

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