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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: Arthur Edward Last Name: JOHNSON
Date of Death: 23/04/1915 Lived/Born In: Waterloo
Rank: Private Unit: Cornwall Light Infantry2
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Age-18

Born-Southwark

The Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge (22–23 April 1915)

In the late afternoon of 22nd April an unfamiliar green cloud was seen to rise from the German trenches on the northern part of the Ypres salient, held by two French divisions. The Germans had used poison gas on the Western Front for the first time. It was chlorine gas and this destroys moist tissues such as lungs and eyes. The French troops in the path of the gas cloud suffered 6,000 casualties, many of whom died within ten minutes. Many others were blinded. Not surprisingly the French line broke leaving a 4 mile gap into which the German soldiers advanced. Desperate defending by Canadian troops prevented a complete German breakthrough but nevertheless a lot of ground was lost including Langemarck and Pilckem and the Ypres salient became even smaller. Two British divisions, the 27th and the 28th  were holding the line nearby and they sent their reserves to try to stem the German tide. Although this action was given the name of the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge, it was actually fought further to the west in the region of Koorslaere and to the west of St Julien.

On 23rd April 2nd Cornwall Light Infantry, 82 Brigade, 27th Division, were sent to help plug the gap in the line resulting from the German gas attack. They joined with 6 other battalions, all under the command of Lt. Col. Geddes of the 2nd East Kents (Buffs). A general advance was ordered but the inevitable delays meant the attack was postponed until 4.15pm.  But regardless of delays the attack was doomed to failure.  It was across mainly open ground sloping up to the Germans 1st position, 500-800yds away on the Mauser ridge.  The troops were tired, and the reserves almost non existent. There was no preparation nor reconnaissance.  The exact position of the Germans was uncertain and there was poor communications with the artillery who had bombarded the German line at 2.45pm, for the postponed 3pm attack, but not at the later time.  As soon as they rose they were met by heavy fire, every man very visible in the clear light of the afternoon.  There were heavy casualties, especially among the officers and except in the more enclosed ground next to the canal the attack made little progress.  A detachment of 2nd East Yorkshires got to within 30yds of the German line but the others were 100 or 200yds off.  Nevertheless there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting  in the farms and cottages held by the Germans in advance of their line.  At 7pm all movement came to an stop with the line running from Kitchener’s Wood to Hampshire Farm then along the forward edge of Colne Valley through Turco Farm, Fusilier Farm, Glimpse Cottage to the canal at South Zwaanhof Farm where they met the French.  After dark,  a new line in the valley, a bit further back was organised with the troops digging in at least 2 foot to the water line.  It was a miserable night.  Some food and ammunition came up, but not much.

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