Case Study 1

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E-learning Activity : 

E-learning Activity Case Study 1

Slide 2: 

The is an excerpt from the diary of Anthony R. Hossack who joined the Queen Victoria Rifles at the beginning of the War and served with them on the Western Front from early 1915 till after the Battle of Arras, where, in July 1917, he was wounded, returning to France at the end of February 1918, when he was attached to the M.G. Battalion of the 9th (Scottish) Division, and, after coming through the retreat from St. Quentin, was taken prisoner in the battle for Mt. Kemmel.

The First Gas Attack : 

The First Gas Attack It was Thursday evening, April 22nd, 1915.  In a meadow off the Poperinghe-Ypres road, the men of the Queen Victoria Rifles were taking their ease.  We had just fought our first big action in the fight for Hill 60. We had had a gruelling time, and had left many of our comrades on its slopes.  We survivors were utterly spent and weary; but we felt in good heart, for only an hour ago we had been personally congratulated by Sir John French, also the Army Commander, General Smith-Dorrien. Now some of us were stretched out asleep on the grass, others making preparations for a much-needed toilet.  Our cooks were preparing a meal, and on our right a squad of Sappers were busily erecting huts in which we were to sleep.  Alas!  We never used them!  As the sun was beginning to sink, this peaceful atmosphere was shattered by the noise of heavy shell-fire coming from the north-west, which increased every minute in volume, while a mile away on our right a 42-cm shell burst in the heart of the stricken city of Ypres. As we gazed in the direction of the bombardment, where our line joined the French, six miles away, we could see in the failing light the flash of shrapnel with here and there the light of a rocket.  But more curious than anything was a low cloud of yellow-grey smoke or vapour, and, underlying everything, a dull confused murmuring.

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Suddenly down the road from the Yser Canal came a galloping team of horses, the riders goading on their mounts in a frenzied way; then another and another, till the road became a seething mass with a pall of dust over all. Plainly something terrible was happening.  What was it?  Officers, and Staff officers too, stood gazing at the scene, awestruck and dumbfounded; for in the northerly breeze there came a pungent nauseating smell that tickled the throat and made our eyes smart.  The horses and men were still pouring down the road. two or three men on a horse, I saw, while over the fields streamed mobs of infantry, the dusky warriors of French Africa; away went their rifles, equipment, even their tunics that they might run the faster. One man came stumbling through our lines.  An officer of ours held him up with levelled revolver, "What's the matter, you bloody lot of cowards?" says he.  The Zouave was frothing at the mouth, his eyes started from their sockets, and he fell writhing at the officer's feet.  "Fall in!"  Ah! we expected that cry; and soon we moved across the fields in the direction of the line for about a mile.  The battalion is formed into line, and we dig ourselves in. It is quite dark now, and water is being brought round, and we hear how the Germans have, by the use of poison gas, driven a French army corps out of the line, creating a huge gap which the Canadians have closed pro tem.  A cheer goes up at this bald statement, though little we knew at what a cost those gallant souls were holding on.

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About midnight we withdrew from our temporary trenches and marched about for the rest of the night, till at dawn, we were permitted to snatch what sleep we could under a hedge. About the middle of the morning we were on the move again, to the north, and were soon swinging along through Vlamertinghe.  About two miles out of that town we halted in a field.  By this time we had joined up with the remainder of our Brigade, the 13th, and, after a meal had been served, we were ordered to dump our packs and fall in by companies.  Here our company commander, Captain Flemming, addressed us.


REFERENCE: "We are," he said, "tired and weary men who would like to rest; however, there are men more weary than we who need our help.  We may not have to do much; we may have to do a great deal.  Whatever happens, fight like hell.  I shall at any rate."  A few moments more - then off we go again towards that incessant bombardment, which seemed to come closer every minute. The Scottish Borderers led the Brigade, followed by the Royal West Rents, then ourselves - all with bayonets fixed, for we were told to be prepared to meet the Germans anywhere on the road. We were now in the area of the ill-fated French Colonial Corps.  Ambulances were everywhere, and the village of Brielen, through which we passed, was choked with wounded and gassed men.  We were very mystified about this gas, and had no protection whatever against it.   First published in Everyman at War (1930), edited by C. B. Purdom.

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