Many Canadians were just getting the news of the 2nd Battle of Ypres when they came out to see the 27th Battalion off to the front in this May 13, 1915 photograph by Carl Linde.
In April 1915 two Canadian brigades, about 8,000 men, were holding the line outside of the Belgian city of Ypres. French Algerian troops held the line to the Canadians’ north and British troops to the south.
On April 22, 1915, German troops released chlorine gas against the Allied lines. This was the first large scale use of gas in warfare. The gas cloud mostly missed the Canadians, but completely covered the French Algerians’ position. Within hours the Algerians had lost 6,000 men dead and wounded from the gas. The Germans attacked the weakened Algerians and pushed them back toward Ypres.
For the next three days the Germans attacked the Canadians’ exposed flank. On April 24 the Germans launched a second gas attack, this time directly at the Canadian lines. Crude masks made of handkerchiefs and cotton pads soaked in urine were worn, as the ammonia in the urine neutralized the gas. The Canadians took terrible losses, but managed to slow the German forces enough to allow for British reinforcements to arrive. The line had been pushed back, but Ypres was still in Allied hands.
It was after the funeral of a friend killed at the 2nd Battle of Ypres that Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae composed the poem In Flanders Fields. McCrae noticed how quickly poppies sprung up on the graves of fallen soldiers and wrote the poem on May 3, 1915 while sitting in the back of a field ambulance.
Mason’s family moved to Rat Portage when he was a child and his father found work in the local mines. A few weeks after the war started Mason headed to Valcartier, Quebec where the 1st Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force was being assembled. He enlisted in the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles), and he was in France by February 1915.
Mason suffered a gunshot wound to his hand at the Battle of St. Julien, the first engagement for the 8th Battalion. A year later he was guiding a party of stretcher bearers when they were caught in a barrage of artillery shells. He was seriously wounded in both legs and after months of medical treatment in England he arrived back home a double amputee.
A few years after the war Mason married and moved to Toronto, where he died in 1948.
1889 – 1915
Blown completely away by a shell
The son of a fisherman, Duncan grew up on the Isle of Arran in western Scotland and moved to Canada a few years before the war started. In August 1914 he was working as a boat builder in Minaki and along with a few friends from Kenora he headed to Valcartier to join the 1st Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Duncan arrived in France with the 8th Battalion in February 1915 and two months later they were at the Battle of St. Julien. On April 25 he was operating a machine gun when it took a direct hit from a German artillery shell. A letter written by a friend said he was blown completely away in the explosion.
Duncan is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Belgium, the Cenotaph in Kenora and the Honour Roll of the 8th Battalion (Royal Winnipeg Rifles).