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“Go Away and Let Me Die!”

22 Apr
English: Canadians on guard over German dug-ou...

Canadians on guard over German dug-outs waiting for Huns to surrender. Vimy Ridge. . Photograph taken during Battle of Vimy Ridge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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No troops ever received a more severe baptism of fire in World War I than the Canadians who moved into the front line in mid April 1915.  They were assigned to hold Ypres in Belgium, gateway to the channel ports of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. The Germans had nearly broken through in 1914, as they did in 1940.

Nothing exciting happened until the afternoon of April 22, when a little breeze blew up.  Suddenly the Canadians saw gas drifting like fog across the fields toward them.  Algerian conscripts on the left flank broke and ran, throwing away their rifles.  As the gas was moving at 6 miles an hour, many were overtaken by it and fell into canals and ditches clutching their throats.

Soon, two French divisions to the left of the Canadians were over-run and the Germans came pouring through the gap, bayonets high.  The flank of the Canadian division was turned and almost trapped.

Ralph Allen in Ordeal By Fire says: “Three things stopped the Germans: their lack of any master plan, … the terror and discomfort the advancing soldiers met as they stumbled over their writhing enemies into the gas cloud they had created; and perhaps above all else the valour of the Canadian division.”

The battle raged back and forth until May 4, under the most terrible conditions.  There were no gas masks but the Canadians learned they could get some protection by holding urine-soaked rags over their noses and mouths.  The gas destroyed the will to live.  Victims usually cried, “Go away and let me die.”

On the first day of the battle, one battalion was down to 193 of its 800 men. Another had 250 left.  By May 4, the Canadians had lost 6,000 men; either killed, wounded, or missing, one man out of every five who had been rushed into battle.

In all, the Allies lost 60,000 men in the defence of Ypres, a tragedy made deeper by the aftermath.  Military historians still cannot decide whether it was worthwhile.  At this great cost Canadians proved that they ranked with the best of fighting men.

There are a few places to read about this on the net. A few I suggest are About.com, Veterans Affairs Canada, The Great War is a site I’ve recently discovered.

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25 responses to ““Go Away and Let Me Die!”

  1. johns448

    May 10, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    It is a shame that so many people have to die over money and power, and it is really how these people are misled into these wars. My grandfather almost lost his feet in the mountains of Korea from frost bite. Is there really a price for freedom? and if there is why does it come at such a high price?

     
    • tkmorin

      May 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm

      I agree on all the points you make! Thank you for visiting and commenting! 🙂

       
      • johns448

        May 10, 2013 at 4:46 pm

        Not a problem, I will try to compliment your posts as well as you compliment mine. Thank you.

         
  2. angrygaijin

    April 23, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Canada doesn’t get enough credit for its involvement in WW2, perhaps.

    I wonder where they got the idea to soak rags in urine for protection!

     
    • tkmorin

      April 23, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      I wondered about that too … Accidentally? Or logic? 🙂

       
  3. The Edmonton Tourist

    April 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

    I had the unbelievable good fortune to visit Ypres, Dunkirk and Vimmy Ridge. Three of the most profound experiences of my life. I was moved beyond words. The Canadian Government did an amazing job at Vimmy. You can easily envision the battle and sections of fenced off because of unexploded shells. It remains without a doubt the most moving experience of my life.

     
    • tkmorin

      April 23, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      I can imagine how powerful those visits were … I’m happy for you. I probably never visit it myself, but I sure would like to. Thank for sharing that! I appreciate it. 🙂

       
  4. seeker

    April 23, 2013 at 12:16 am

    I honour Remembrance day. I have so much respect for the soldiers who fought during the war. Thanks for the history, TK.

     
    • tkmorin

      April 23, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Yes, me too. Thanks for the visit and comment! 🙂

       
  5. Maurice A. Barry

    April 22, 2013 at 11:58 am

    That gas was such a horrible weapon. My Irish grandfather, who fought with the British army elsewhere on the Somme was gassed but survived. His lungs were scarred for the rest of his life, though, and was advised never to come to Canada to visit my Mom. He never did. He did live into his nineties, though.
    Your post reminds me of W. Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est.”

     
    • tkmorin

      April 22, 2013 at 12:18 pm

      Why was he advised not come to Canada? I am glad, however, to hear he lived until his nineties. I’d never heard of the poem, so I looked it up. Very well written I must say. For those that want to read it, just go to: http://www.warpoetry.co.uk/owen1.html — definitely worth reading. Thanks Maurice! 🙂

       
      • Maurice A. Barry

        April 22, 2013 at 2:25 pm

        There were two problems: first, the slightly rarefied air in the cockpit was not sufficient for him and second, the cold, damp climate of Newfoundland was something he could not handle.

         
        • tkmorin

          April 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

          Oh, yeah, I could see how that could be a problem. Too bad. Did your mother get the opportunity go visit him? Such terrible sacrifices these brave men and women made for our freedom!

           
          • Maurice A. Barry

            April 22, 2013 at 8:37 pm

            Lots of times and, what’s more me and my sis went over to Ireland too…often. Some of my best memories. Not all of them pleasant, though. The times we were there were difficult ones for all who lived in Ireland.

             
          • tkmorin

            April 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm

            I’m happy for you and yours to meet up, even if it was during tough times. Long lasting war consequences … Hope the powers that be learn from that!

             
    • Leslie Welsh Robinson

      April 25, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      That is one of my favourite poems ever, Maurice.

       
      • Maurice A. Barry

        April 25, 2013 at 7:49 pm

        Owen’s work had a powerful honesty that was at once terrifying and beautiful.

         
  6. J. G. Burdette

    April 22, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Sad times. Have you ever read “The Great War As I Saw It” by Frederick George Scott?

     
    • tkmorin

      April 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm

      No, I haven’t. You recommend it?

       
      • J. G. Burdette

        April 22, 2013 at 12:12 pm

        I’m part of the way through it, so haven’t formed an opinion as of yet. You can get the free ebook download off of Project Gutenberg. Here is the link if you are interested:http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19857

         
        • tkmorin

          April 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm

          I love that site! I think the work they do is great! I will to see it, for sure! :> Thank you!

           
  7. Lenora

    April 22, 2013 at 9:35 am

    What a tragic story, its hard to imagine how terrible things must have been for the men in that situation. They were so brave and won’t be forgotten.

     
    • tkmorin

      April 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

      It’s stories of bravery like this I wish every one would remember on November 1st! True heroes who fought for our freedom! 🙂

       
  8. L. Marie

    April 22, 2013 at 8:30 am

    Oh my! So awful! They were truly brave.

     
    • tkmorin

      April 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

      I was moved as well …

       

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