When I first started reading about the World Wars, one event that had a great impact on me was the story of Allied troops facing poison gas attacks. For me, therefore, today Y is for Ypres, the scene of many a battle in Belgium during the First World War. There were heavy casualties on both sides. Amongst the thousands who were wounded here was a Corporal in the German Army, a man called Adolf Hitler who was awarded the Iron Cross for rescuing a wounded comrade. Battles were won and lost as the two sides jockeyed for control of the terrain around Ypres. The last shell fell on Ypres in October 1918. It is estimated that in the area around Ypres over 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded apart from an uncounted number of civilians.
The Second Battle for Ypres saw the first time the Canadians were blooded in battle. They gave a splendid account of themselves. The war artist Richard Jack has this memorable painting of the Canadians at was during the second Battle of Ypres. India in those days was part of the British Empire and thousands of Indians fought in the battle fields of France and Belgium as part of the British forces. There is a war memorial for the Indian dead at Ypres.
We hope that there will be no more wars like World War I where the sufferings of the front line soldiers in their trenches had to be seen to be believed. Despite the sacrifices of so many and the hardships they faced, it is a tragic reflection of mankind that some 20 years after World War I , the world had to go to war again in 1939 in the Second World War.
The conditions of the soldiers were so eloquently written of by Wilfred Owen, the British poet in one of my favourite poems, his great one called Dulce Est Decorum Est…. which stood for, “it is Sweet and Fitting to die for your country.”