Baptism of Fire

Baptism of Fire

The Second Battle of Ypres and the Forging of Canada, April 1915

Book - 2007
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Nathan M. Greenfield's talent for combining rich (and often overlooked) historical data with first-person accounts made his book The Battle of the St. Lawrence both a critical and popular success. Now he turns his formidable storytelling skill to one of the defining battles of the First World War and a seminal event in the building of our country.

The Second Battle of Ypres pitted the highly trained German soldiers--armed with the first weapon of mass destruction, chlorine gas--against the 1st Canadian Division, which had been in the trenches for just over a week. Yet it was the Canadians who ultimately triumphed, stopping the German advance that followed history's first poison-gas attacks.

In Baptism of Fire, Greenfield revisits the battlefields and war rooms of history, deconstructing military motives and unearthing scores of unpublished interviews, giving voice to the men who faced what one officer called a "filthy, loathsome pestilence" that turned copper buttons green and seared the Canadians' lungs. He describes how surprise turned to terror as the infantry saw the first clouds of chlorine gas rolling towards them; how, at first, the German soldiers had joked that their mysterious silver cylinders, spied across the enemy line, were a new kind of German beer keg. Recreating how the Canadians immediately filled the 12-kilometre- long hole in the Allied lines after the initial gas attack, Greenfield takes readers into the unimaginable horror of shell fire that turned men into "pink mist" and obliterated trenches, leaving the survivors to defend a position of death. And he explains how the untried Canadians, with their defective Ross rifles, breathing through urine-soaked handkerchiefs, successfully made one of the most important stands of the war--perhaps even staving off an ultimate German victory.

With alacrity and a great respect for the men in the trenches, Greenfield adds a new dimension to, and explodes a few myths behind, the Battle of Ypres. Within his pages are the words of the Canadian--and German--soldiers themselves, many of whom have never been heard before. Their accounts make this a gripping read for anyone seeking to understand our historical or military past.

Publisher: Toronto : HaperCollins, 2007.
ISBN: 9780002007276
Characteristics: xxii, 474, [16] p. of plates :,ill., maps ;,24 cm.


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Apr 16, 2010

When I was a kid the chap next door to us was a veteran of Ypers and was a survivor of the gas attack that took place there in the battles described in this book. He never spoke of his experience of war - something many veterans do - but he told me that he hated war.

In a sense WWI was the making of Canada. I believe it has been said that a collection of naive farm boys, somewhat undisciplined became the mot feared fighting force on the western front. It began in Ypers in 1915.

The author has captured confusion of battle with primitive communications and a cast of characters in command who were for the lack of a better term "prima donas" who believed that pouring more men at the fight would win the breakthrough they wanted. From reading this book you are left wondering how any one survived in the chaos.

Ypers 2 was not a victory but it proved that fighting men from the "colonies" were a force to be reckoned with. The author contends that without the second battle of Ypers the victory at Vimy Ridge would not have happened.

It is well written and thoroughly researched. descriptions of battles can be a bit confusing but Mr Greenfield has included detailed maps to help you follow the battle as it progresses.

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