The Second Battle of Ypres
A British Doctor
November 11 1921
It’s been three years since the Great War ended. I still recall everything as it had happened and it remains so clear and vividly in my mind. I’ve tried so hard to forget what I had witnessed, but I cannot clear my head of all the atrocities. Ever since I was a little chap I’ve known from my heart that I’ve wanted to be a healer, to help people overcome their sicknesses and recover. I grew up in a poor family so I did not have much to lose when I applied for the University of Oxford. To much of my father’s dismay, I got in and studied medicine for a very long time. I was his only son and there was no one else to take over his shop. I had tolerated these expectations for so very long that I resented him and his dreams for my future. Now that he has left this Earth I realise I acted selfishly whilst he acted out of love and care.
After all that I have witnessed, I sometimes regret the profession I've chosen. I used to work under Britain’s best surgeon, and I was not married at the time so I was automatically enlisted as a doctor to heal the wounded soldiers. Although, every single inch of the war was covered in blood and absolutely insane to put it lightly, the Battle of Ypres has kept me from sleeping. This particular part of the war has been the most detrimental to me and my fellow colleagues. To Canada’s disadvantage this was their first war and unfortunately mines as well. We were both trained minimally for what was about to happen, although the events that occurred were completely unforeseen and could not have been expected. Approximately 31 000 Canadian soldiers had came to support the British soldiers and fight off our enemies, the Germans. I had heard about the ongoing political problems between Germany and Belgium. Germany had almost conquered every single piece of land except a very significant and old town in Belgium, Ypres. The British made it their mission to protect this portion from Germany; it became a matter of pride and honour. It was their job to protect the Belgium people as well as the rail and road links to parts on the coast that our allies were determined to protect. (2) (1)
I remember the site of the trenches, a deadlock between Switzerland to the English Channel. The mud, the ruins and the bloody human left overs. I remember that night so clearly. It was April 22 1915, the army had called us in. I couldn’t believe my eyes, I expected some blood and broken arms, maybe even a chopped off leg but there were bodies pilling on bodies. My team and I moved fast, I tripped over a man lying limply on the ground, and by the time I got to him there was nothing left of him but a slow pulse as was basically dead but as a doctor I was required to do everything I could possibly do to save him. Sir John Cumbercatch was my first loss but thankfully I discovered something that other doctors missed and it saved so many lives. From my research, the Germans were using chlorine and mustard gas as their weapons, and I immediately remembered that urinating into a handkerchief or cloth while covering the air ways could neutralise the air around it. (1) Thankfully, over the course of the war we made a significant improvement to protect against these attacks. It was estimated they had released almost a whole 160 tonnes of this waste. The French and Algerians were attacked first, most of the troops ran for the hills while some suffocated and died. The chlorine essentially burned their throats and filled their lungs with foam and mucus which resulted in them drowning. Our forces spent days attempting a counter attack to fill in the massive 6 kilometre gap. (1)The survivors and newcomer soldiers were given instructions on how to deal with the gas as it appeared in a large greenish yellow colour cloud and followed the direction of the wind. It easily fogged up glasses which I also unfortunately have so the best possible solution without the urine cloth would’ve to find shelter and retrieve the items to fight against the fog. Although all the soldiers were aware that using urine covered cloths was the ideal protection, we figured out that we could also use cotton pads dipped in a solution of bicarbonate soda held over our face.
I was very proud that my discovery of the poisonous gas and its solution influenced the creation of the highly effective filter respirators, using charcoal and antidote chemicals.(4) Only one good thing came out of this war, I was recognized by the medical world. Many doctors examined the gas but were not able to conclude what it was without my research. I helped millions of our allies and saved thousands of lives. Not only that, I was recognized by the medicine world and they now have a statue of my stethoscope, white lab coat and I. Many of my friends remind me daily of what I’ve accomplished, but I honestly feel ashamed. As a doctor, it’s depressing, it was depressing as the death toll rose every day. It’s taken me years to grow the courage to become a doctor again, accept what has happened and move on.
I had never anticipated such gruesome attacks. It breaks my heart every time I ponder about the battle. I spent every last second saving lives, making sure these young men will get to see their wives or parents again. It was so upsetting to see so many young patriotic men willing to serve their country, risk their life for something that may have never been relative to them either way. Anyways, it was a couple of days later on April 25 1915 when the new Canadian soldiers were on the front line and German launched another full on gas attack directly towards them. These soldiers persevered and used whatever materials they were able to find, they held on and fended off German soldiers. Their main goal was to close the gap that was created by the attack, they continued to launch a counter attack and drive Germans out of Kitchener’s Wood. After they cleared the woods, it bought us some time to clear the woods. Two days later, the Germans attacked once again at the Canadian line situated near St.Julien.(3) It was incredibly horrendous to witness. The soldiers lost their arms, legs and worst of all their lives. This day our own child, Canada won respect from nations around the world for their continuance perseverance against the Germans. Even though we had won this battle, the loss was devastating with over 6500 casualties. The death toll of the Great War just got worse from there.
I had achieved many things medically, preformed over 1000 surgeries and saved countless lives and for that I’m grateful. But I cannot sleep; the war might not ever leave my system. I can still remember the smell of the chlorine gas, the disgusting yellow colour sitting in the air waiting for its next victim. Canadian troops marched into the battle as amateurs and came out well respected veterans, while this was the first war that poisonous gas was used and a mass number of causalities. There was one man dying in front of my eyes, if I had preformed one of the most basic surgeries, I could’ve saved his life. The fog was nearing and my judgements were clouding with it. The urine soaked cloth would only save me for so long. I was conflicted with my Code of Ethics: Always take your patients best interests before others. Did that mean risk my life and my family? Could I have saved his life? I’ll never know and I can never forgive myself for he had a father, mother and maybe even a wife. This thought will haunt me for the rest of my life.
And so, there were many battles until November 11 1918. Germany had finally surrendered and a treaty was made to bring peace among our nations. Will there ever really be peace? Only God knows.
(1)Monroe, Susan. "Battle of Ypres 1915." About News. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://canadaonline.about.com/od/ww1battles/p/ypres.htm>.Foot,
(2)Richard. "Second Battle of Ypres." Historica Canada. N.p., 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/battle-of-ypres/>.Leeson, David. "
(3)Ypres: Inexperienced Canadians Hold the Line." Historica Canada. N.p., 12 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://thecanadianencyclopedia.com/en/article/ypres-inexperienced-canadians-hold-the-line-feature/>.Miller, M.G..
(4)"THE MEDICAL ASPECTS OF GAS WARFARE." WW1 The Medical Front. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://www.vlib.us/medical/gaswar/gasindex.htm>.McIlree, J.R., John Uprichard, and Lester Stevens.
(5)"ARCHIVED - Oral Histories of the First World War:." Library And Archives Of Canada. Government Of Canada, 7 Sept. 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2015. <http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/first-world-war/interviews/025015-1100-e.html>.
Link to Mina Stefonvic: https://tackk.com/va76p6
Link to Aleena Ghafoor: https://tackk.com/v1td36
Link to Aysa Salmasi: https://tackk.com/3fckj5