Page 54 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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about six hundred yards away and ran diagonally across the open
mouth of the angle.
had been intended that the 4th Division should co-operate on
1st May in an attack by the French and the Sirhind Brigade on the
left towards Pilckem; and, though this did not materialize, the
12th Brigade received a good deal of the reply of the German
artillery to the French guns' preparatory fire, and the battalion
lost 3 men killed and 28 wounded. The day was spent in strengthen–
ing the position by thickening the banks and building revetments
and parados with sandbags. The night was calm.
And calm, too, were the opening hours of the fateful day of
2nd May, 1915. The air was warm, with a slight breeze blowing from
the east, that is from the German lines, and therefore favourable
for the use of gas. All was quiet at first, until the British artillery
shelled what looked like sand-hills between the lines. Germans
were seen running in twos and threes to the point in these hillocks '
which lay nearest to the battalion's position as if they intended to
attack. But no attack came. About midday, the Germans began a
heavy bombardment of the whole area, setting the farms on fire one
by one and destroying a temporary dressing station. After a while,
the shelling ceased; and the early part of the afternoon was peaceful
and gloriously fine.
Then, soon after 4 p.m., came disaster. Just when many of "B"
Company had begun to enjoy a drink of tea, shouts went up from
several sentries to "look at the German trenches," one man remarking
admiringly on the unusually heavy and yellow fumes of the British
lyddite shells, as he imagined what he saw to be. Everybody looked
and saw yellow clouds coming from jets, put in the German lines
three or four to every hundred yards, like water from a hose and
shooting straight up into the air. Then they settled down into
thick, billowy waves about three feet high, with a fringe of fumes
above, and rolled towards the British lines. Their nature was recog–
nized and as they took between two and three minutes to cross No
Man's Land, it was possible to give a general gas alarm. Positions
were manned and fire was opened with rifles and machine guns in
case the Germans should be advancing to the attack behind the gas.
Such men as had respirators put them on. These consisted of small
rectangular pads of compressed cotton wool soaked in a solution of
sodium hypochloride which had been issued at Vlamertinghe on a
scale of two to each platoon, though most of the signallers and
machine-gunners, being "nobody's children," had none at all. But
these pads were ineffective as they did not cover the nostrils . Fortu–
nately, the medical officer remembered the firemen's trick of holding
a wet cloth over the mouth and nose when fighting fumes, and