The situation following the gas attack against the French required an all hands to the wheel attitude by the British and Canadians. Admirably this was exactly the response that was given.
Four battalions of the British 28th Division under Lt Colonel Geddes (Commanding the 2nd Buffs) were immediately placed at the disposal of the Canadian Division who requested that they move up alongside the left of the Canadians at Kitchener’s Wood and extend from there in front of Mouse Trap Farm in order to make contact with the French (Wherever that happened to be).
Rather confusingly, whilst the Canadians were acting with great alacrity, the Germans seemed to be contentedly consolidating their positions rather than pushing into the enormous gap they had created. This was all the more odd as they were thought to outnumber the British by 5 to 3 in soldiers, and an easy 5 to 1 in artillery.
They did however ply the British lines with tear gas shells which were incapacitating but only for as long as the shells were bursting. After that it soon dissipated.
As more troops arrived within the battle zone General Smith-Dorrien ordered a counter attack between Kitchener’s Wood and the canal. This would be supported by Colonel Mordacq and those of his troops who were still on the eastern side of the canal. The French though would have to advance without artillery support. All that they had available was to be used in an attack against Lizerne and Steenstraat which were still held by the Germans.
There appears to be some confusion between the French and the Canadians at command level. General declarations of mutual aid were made but seem rarely to have coincided. Each noted that the other hadn’t attacked in accordance with whatever plans had been made higher up.
Having given up waiting on the French to attack the 4th and 1st Canadians advanced against the west of Turco Farm at 0525 hours.
The Canadians ran into the same heavy barrage of machine gun fire that the Zouaves had encountered earlier on and the attack faltered.
In fact the I/2e bis Zouaves were still trying to move up to the right of the III/7e Zouaves and into contact with the Canadians. The ground was so open and the enemy fire so violent that the men were forced to crawl up to the lines, their only protection being provided by a battery from the 28th Division.
The 45e DI War Diary (JMO) records that only at 0630 hours was Colonel Mordacq informed by his Divisional Commander (Général Quiquandon) that the Canadians would be attacking Kitchener’s Wood.
At 1430 hours it was the turn of the Zouaves to launch an attack supported by the English. The artillery bombardment and machine gun fire once more stopped the Frenchmen before they had even started.
When the Canadians tried again at 1730 hours the Zouaves were once more ordered forward. Colonel Étienne the Regimental Commander of the 7e Zouaves (All three battalions) recorded that despite heavy losses his men were not reaching the German trenches.
The 1st and 4th Canadians had also taken substantial losses (over 400 each) as had the British battalions under Colonel Geddes.
The gap however between the Canadians and the French had been sealed and more troops from both nations were being brought forward. The Germans though, were now well entrenched and in an advantageous position.
Having failed to break the line between the French and Belgians at Lizerne, Duke Albrecht of Württemberg now decided that perhaps the Ypres Salient was after all within his grasp.
That evening in Bailleul, General Hull’s 10th Brigade were given their marching orders. Get to Ieper as soon as possible. Amongst the Brigade, which set out on foot at 2020 hours, was the 1st Bn Royal Irish Fusiliers.
At the beginning of April the Battalion was operating in the Douve Sector near Messines when the Germans began shelling their front line trenches. The first shells fell off target but slowly but surely the Germans got their range and started to demolish the trenches piece by piece.
Private Robert Morrow of D Company went forward a number of times at great peril to himself to dig out comrades who had been buried in the explosions. For his bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
That evening the battalion was retired out of the trenches for their billets at Bailleul. They were moved a few days later to the village of Merris where they were allowed a week of rest in preparation for a forthcoming attack.
The surprise would be that it wasn’t a British attack at all but a German one that roused them from their billets. On 22nd April the Germans had attacked the French at Langemark with gas and the line had collapsed. On the 23rd the Irish were ordered north with the rest of Brigadier General Hull’s 10th Brigade.
Crossing the Belgian border they stopped for a few hours rest at Dranouter before leaving again early in the morning via Loker and Vlamertinge where they were again allowed a few hours rest before marching up to the line at St Jan where they received their battle orders at 0315 hours on the 25th. They had marched 35 kilometres with little rest.