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The Second Battle of Ypres, April 1915


The Canadian 1st Division landed in France and was moved into the line in front of the Belgian city of Ypres on April 17th, 1915. Having arrived without any experience of trench warfare and to a seemingly quiet sector the Canadians were unprepared to fight in one of the greatest defensive battles ever fought by Canadian soldiers. This battle became known as the Second Battle of Ypres and it started five days after the Canadians arrival.

The battle was notable for the first use of chemical weapons (chlorine gas) by the Germans, and the steadfastness of the Canadians in sealing a significant breach in the lines. If the Canadians had not filled the breach and held the line against terrible odds the way would have been open to the German forces for the likely entrapment of 50,000 allied troops.

The cost to the Canadians was great with approximately 6,000 casualties and over 1000 dead.

Ypres From Kemmel after D.Y. Cameron, A.R.A.
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Ypres From Kemmel, [ca. 1915] (detail)
After D. Y. Cameron, A.R.A.
Reference Code: C 334-2-0-0-5
Archives of Ontario, I0013652
The Second Battle of Ypres, [ca. 1915] (detail), A fter Richard Jack, A.R.A.
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The Second Battle of Ypres, [ca. 1915] (detail)
After Richard Jack, A.R.A.
Reference Code: C 334-2-0-0-4
Archives of Ontario, I0013651

The Canadians had held fast at Ypres during their first major encounter with the enemy but there was nothing documenting this heroic stand.

Richard Jack, the first artist to be commissioned by Beaverbrook, undertook the commission sometime after the battle to produce a painting that captured this magnificent action. The scale of Jack’s picture was twelve by twenty feet, a huge canvas that incorporated every icon associated with nineteenth century battle art. A wounded officer waving troops forward; a dying soldier; and other conventions.

But, even though the painting contained numerous inaccuracies, it served its purpose and made for inspiring viewing once shown to the public.

The number of paintings that actually represented a battle in progress was very few and they tended to typify an approach full of heroic gestures, various inaccuracies and sentiment.



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The Estaminet dug-out, Ypres front, [ca. 1915]
Alfred Bentley
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Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-11
Archives of Ontario, I0003123

The Estaminet dug-out, Ypres front, [ca. 1915]

There are a number of recurring themes and images to be found among the images, but perhaps none came to represent the devastation of war more than the ruins of the Cloth Tower in the city of Ypres.

Print: View of Ypres, France, 1914
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View of Ypres, France, 1914
Bertram Buchanan
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Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-3
Archives of Ontario, I0003127

The ruins of Ypres, [ca. 1915]
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The ruins of Ypres, 1917
Bertram Buchanan
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Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-1
Archives of Ontario, I0003125

The Great Square Ypres
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The Great Square Ypres, 1917
Lieut. C.H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-21
Archives of Ontario, I0013632

The Great Square, Ypres
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

In this important plate, the etched work is supported by aquatint. The scene depicted, which perhaps more than any other gives a comprehensive idea of the utter desolation of the once beautiful city of Ypres, is one which every soldier who ever was in the Ypres section must know well - perhaps too well. This drawing was made in October, 1917, during the Passchendaele show.



Ypres - From Railway Dugouts
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

A familiar view of Ypres. At one time or another practically all the Canadian Battalions have been quartered in the Railway Dugouts. The "Shrapnel Corner" road is seen in the middle distance (the sketch was made on April 4, 1916). The trees in this plate exhibit perhaps more than any other Mr. Barraud's fine draughtsmanship.

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Ypres - From Railway Dugout, April 4, 1916
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
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Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-4
Archives of Ontario, I0003106

Ypres from the railway dugout
A view of Ypres from the Bund dugout, May 13, 1917
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A view of Ypres from the Bund dugout, May 13, 1917
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
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Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-14
Archives of Ontario, I0003113

Ypres from Bund Dugouts
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

A view of Ypres from the south east. A delicate and beautiful etching, showing the towers of St. Pierre on the left and St. Jacques on the right and the Cathedral and Cloth Hall in the centre. With the exception of part of the Cloth Hall all the others have since disappeared. The sketch was made on May 13, 1917.

Evening on the Ypres-Poperinghe Road, 1917
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Evening on the Ypres-Poperinghe Road, 1917
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-19
Archives of Ontario, I0013634

Evening on the Ypres-Poperinghe Road, 1917
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

This well-known corner near the Asylum on the western outskirts of Ypres was, during the greater part of the time that the Canadians held the salient, just within view of a German observation post, and was consequently a place to be avoided. This etching forms a perfect companion picture to the one above and is also printed in brown tone. The sketch for the etching was made by the artist November 1st, 1917.



The Battle of Ypres did much to establish the reputation of the Canadians as a fighting force and directly gave weight to the national policy of keeping Canadian troops together rather than dispersing them under British command.

Vimy Ridge and Mont St. Eloy


The Germans occupied Vimy Ridge in September 1914 at which time it was turned into a very strong defensive position with protection from artillery and infantry.

The French in trenches opposite also reinforced their positions and then over several months made repeated attempts to take the ridge at a cost of over 150,000 casualties.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge
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The Battle of Vimy Ridge, [ca. 1917] (detail)
After Richard Jack, A.R.A.
Reference Code: C 334-2-0-0-3
Archives of Ontario, I0013650

The Canadians took over this stretch of the line during the winter of 1916 and soon the four Canadian Divisions numbering 30,000 men were being prepared to participate in a major offensive that included taking the 60 meter high ridge in front of them.

The battle started on the evening of April 8th 1917. The Canadians had great success in achieving their objectives with the notable achievement of forcing the German troops from the top of Vimy Ridge and down to the plain below.

The Canadians held their ground and on the 12th of April under the cover of darkness the German troops withdrew. The Canadians had broken through the most formidable part of the lines where all others had failed. They had inflicted heavy enemy casualties and captured the high ground, a most important tactical success.

The trenches at Vimy, [ca. 1916]
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The trenches at Vimy, [ca. 1916]
Alfred Bentley
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Reference Code: C 334-1-5-0-10
Archives of Ontario, I0003122

Mont St. Eloy from the southeast, May 7, 1917
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Mont St. Eloy from the southeast, May 7, 1917
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
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Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-2
Archives of Ontario, I0003104

Mont St. Eloy
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

A beautiful etching of Mont St. Eloy from the South-east, May 7, 1917

While the Germans held Vimy Ridge practically all this ground was under observation; but within a few days of the capture of the Ridge on April 9th, 1917, it was almost entirely covered by tents and camps of Canadian units. On the summit of Mont St. Eloy stand the ruins of an old convent that was half demolished by the Germans in the war of 1870.



View of Mont St. Eloy, [ca. 1916]
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View of Mont St. Eloy, [ca. 1916]
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
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Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-12
Archives of Ontario, I0003111

Berthenval Farm near Vimy Ridge, 1916
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Berthenval Farm near Vimy Ridge, 1916
Lieut. C. H. Barraud
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Reference Code: C 334-1-2-0-7
Archives of Ontario, I0003100

Berthenval Farm
By Lieut. C. H. Barraud

The eastern entrance to the courtyard to the farm facing Vimy Ridge. The farm lies in a hollow in the direct line between Mont St. Eloy and the Ridge. This farm suffered very heavy shelling during the battle of Vimy Ridge.