Baptism of Fire
The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915Book - 2007
Nathan M. Greenfield's talent for combining rich (and often overlooked) historical data with first-person accounts made his book The Battle of the St. Lawrence both a critical and popular success. Now he turns his formidable storytelling skill to one of the defining battles of the First World War and a seminal event in the building of our country.
The Second Battle of Ypres pitted the highly trained German soldiers--armed with the first weapon of mass destruction, chlorine gas--against the 1st Canadian Division, which had been in the trenches for just over a week. Yet it was the Canadians who ultimately triumphed, stopping the German advance that followed history's first poison-gas attacks.
In Baptism of Fire, Greenfield revisits the battlefields and war rooms of history, deconstructing military motives and unearthing scores of unpublished interviews, giving voice to the men who faced what one officer called a "filthy, loathsome pestilence" that turned copper buttons green and seared the Canadians' lungs. He describes how surprise turned to terror as the infantry saw the first clouds of chlorine gas rolling towards them; how, at first, the German soldiers had joked that their mysterious silver cylinders, spied across the enemy line, were a new kind of German beer keg. Recreating how the Canadians immediately filled the 12-kilometre- long hole in the Allied lines after the initial gas attack, Greenfield takes readers into the unimaginable horror of shell fire that turned men into "pink mist" and obliterated trenches, leaving the survivors to defend a position of death. And he explains how the untried Canadians, with their defective Ross rifles, breathing through urine-soaked handkerchiefs, successfully made one of the most important stands of the war--perhaps even staving off an ultimate German victory.
With alacrity and a great respect for the men in the trenches, Greenfield adds a new dimension to, and explodes a few myths behind, the Battle of Ypres. Within his pages are the words of the Canadian--and German--soldiers themselves, many of whom have never been heard before. Their accounts make this a gripping read for anyone seeking to understand our historical or military past.