2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the World War One Armistice
On April 22, 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres, the Allies, including the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, faced both heavy artillery bombardment and the first gas attacks on the Western Front. The 18,000-strong division held out despite heavy losses only to be targeted directly on April 24 with a second cloud of poisonous chlorine gas. While the troops persevered until reinforcements arrived, in just 48 hours, there were 6,035 casualties.
Today, a poignant memorial in Saint-Julien, Belgium, commonly known as The Brooding Soldier - depicted on our medals this year - stands guard over the 2,000 Canadian soldiers who died in the attacks. It is surrounded by tall cedars pruned in the shape of artillery shells and low-cut cedars trimmed to resemble shell explosions. In the middle, an 11-metre high shaft of granite rising from a flagstone terrace is sculpted at the top to form the head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier facing in the direction from which the gas came. His head is bowed and his hands are on his down-turned rifle in the “rest on arms reversed” position – a pose used as a gesture of mourning and respect at military funerals. “It does more than command the landscape,” reported a British newspaper. “This is the soul of those who fell.”
Across from this memorial is a plaque for Canadian Lieutenant Edward Donald Bellew, a machine gun officer who received the Victoria Cross for bravery during the battle. At the memorial’s unveiling, the former Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies spoke of the Canadians’ bravery and sacrifice, saying: “They wrote here the first page in that Book of Glory which is the history of their participation in the war.”