Fuller: The story behind the poem that drowned out the guns

The Second Battle of Ypres, like the rest of the First World War, was a horrible thing. Violent, sudden death hung in the air whether you were in a shallow, muddy trench or miles behind at an artillery position. It was the first major battle of the war for Canada. It was the first time the Germans used gas to poison the enemy. By hand, they carried thousands of 90-pound cannisters to the front line. When the wind was right, they opened the valves. In the April air, the greenish-yellow gas drifted toward the French line, which was to the left of the Canadians. The chlorine turned to acid when it contacted moisture in the eyes and the lungs. The gas would kill a man in 10 excruciating minutes. Burning inside, spitting blood and blinded, they fled the protection of their trenches and were easily gunned down. The Germans advanced, passing gassed soldiers whose skin had turned black. They took the rifles away from those clinging to life and told them to lie down “to die better.” It’s a picture of hell. Ypres was one of the last Belgian towns the Allies held. Without it, the ports on the […]

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