Zuidschote is a hamlet approximately eleven kilometres to the north-west of Ieper. It lies just off the N 369 road between Ieper and Diksmuide. Coming out of Ieper along the N 369 you will pass Essex Farm Cemetery on your right. Continue towards Boezinge and Diksmuide.
A few minutes after Boezinge you will see this tall Metal Cross on your left. This is the Franco Belgian Gas Memorial. Zuidschote is the village to your left and there are two more ‘gas battle’ memorials on its territory.
There is room to park a vehicle either side of the road at the cross.
On 22nd April 1915 the Germans bombarded the French lines to the north of Ieper in the first phase of the 2nd Battle of Ypres. This bombardment was followed by a massive discharge of chlorine gas between Langemark and Bikschote. A dense green mist that gently floated on a light breeze into the French Lines.
Suddenly all along the French line soldiers started coughing and gasping for breath.
The cloud was the result of 180,000 kilos of chlorine gas being released into the wind in just five minutes along seven kilometres of the front. The bombardment had been temporarily halted so as not to disperse the gas.
Some of the French commanders thought that something had caught fire in the German lines, and by the time that they finally realised what was happening the German infantry appeared out of the gas wearing face protectors.
Chlorine is a severe irritant to the eyes, nose and throat. If exposed to enough of it death can occur.
The French officers found that they could hardly get orders out to try to control their men. If they stayed and tried to fight they were out fought by an enemy who was better equipped to deal with the debilitating atmosphere. In retreating however, the French soldiers were simply moving back with the gas cloud and increasing their exposure to its effects.
The French field artillery had been firing for all its worth but the crews were soon affected by the gas themselves.
Thankfully the canal formed a natural barrier to the Germans and the remainder of the Territorials rallied to man the front lines. However by 1845 hours the Germans had reached the canal banks and taken Het Sas (which means: the canal lock) and were menacing Boezinge. The bridge at Steenstraat had fallen and the Germans had crossed over into Lizerne.
At Steenstraat fierce fighting was taking place between the Germans and the Belgian Grenadiers who held the right of their line.
The gas cloud had blown apart by the time it had reached the village and whilst the smell was still very much in the air and causing annoyance it was not sufficient to bowl the Grenadiers over.
Fighting continued in the area over the next few days and the Germans would eventually be forced back across the canal.
In French the monument is known as the Croix de réconciliation in Dutch Verzoeningskruis.
The Flemish word for things connected with the gas attacks of 1915 is gasaanval.
The original monument designed by Maxime Real del Sarto was unveiled by the French 418e Régiment d’Infanterie on 28th April 1929 in the presence of King Albert I and the French Général Gourand. It depicted a French soldier clutching at his throat whilst beside him lay two others who had already succumbed to the chlorine cloud.
The occupying Germans in 1942 took exception to the depiction and had the monument blown up.
This 15 metre high aluminium cross is its replacement. The idea was conceived in 1954 by Emmanuel Lancrenon, Canon of Notre Dame de Paris. The structure was created by the architects Paul Tournon and Pierre Devillers and was consecrated on 25th June 1961.
The cross stands on a small hillock around the base of which is a carved wall carrying the names of those regiments who were involved in the April 1915 gas attacks. French units on the right and Belgian on the left.
In the recess at the front you will see a small oil lamp.
The words aside it state in French and Dutch :
Erected in 1929 on the initiative of the 418e Régiment française d’infanterie the monument to the first victims of gas launched by the Germans on 22nd April 1915 was destroyed by them in 1942. The Belgian and French veterans raised this cross in its place with the wish for peace and reconciliation in the world.