Saturday, January 24, 2015

They Called it "Wipers"

After 17 Exhausting Days of Tending to Wounded Soldiers at YPRES, Canadian John McCrae Spent 20 Minutes of Precious Rest Time Scribbling One of the Most Memorable War Poems Ever Written.
It's official Dutch name is Ieper, but it's famous as Ypres. It's pronounced like "E-prey" but the British "Tommies" couldn't say that so they just called it "Wipers." It was a quaint and beautiful Belgium town in Flanders, but became a ruins and a killing field for thousands of young men. My Grampa Dolan was there. He only spent about four months there, but they were four months that changed his life, and I guess you could say, impacted all of our lives too.

Bugler Ernest Dolan 1915
So how did a Swede, who grew up in Scotland, end up in the Canadian army in Belgium? It was something like this: Grampa and two of his brothers, left for the "new world" seeking adventure, and more likely, a good job. They made their way to a fast-growing boom town in the prairies of west Canada, called Calgary. That was about 1911. In August 1914 the Great War began, and along with thousands of others in the territories of the British Empire, Grampa signed up. If they had only known!

The Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) was established and a battalion from Calgary was formed. They were to become famous as "the Fighting 10th." Most of them died fighting on Flanders Fields. Bugler E. Dolan was one of the few from the original 10th who survived. After initial training at Valcartier, Canada, the CEF was headed to the front. But the boys were given leave when they got back to the "old country" and so Grampa came home. The clip from the Newmilns, Scotland newspaper tells the story of this hometown boy on his way to war. The flowery language and visions of glory are interesting - and soon to be smashed.

Long story short - Grampa and the rest of the 10th soon found themselves in reserve near the town of Ypres. Things were to start picking up soon - world war-wise and on a personal level. The 2nd Battle of Ypres officially was fought from April 21, 1915 to May 25th, and Grampa Dolan would be in the thick of it. The world was introduced to the use of poison gas as a weapon of mass destruction. Gas masks were crude and often ineffective. (Grampa told how they would even "pee" into a handkerchief and put that over their nose and mouth. That was supposed to help. If that doesn't give you a hint on how terrifying and desperate it got in a gas attack, nothing will!) A huge German attack followed, and the 10th Battalion played a big part in saving the day, but at the cost of 75% casualties. Use the link on  this website for Wikipedia or just "google" the 2nd Battle of Ypres, if you are so inclined.

The 10th Battalion Drilling on Salisbury Plain in England Preparing for the Call to the Front. Recognize the World-Famous Landmark? Grampa's in there Somewhere!
Gas was bad enough. The machine gun mowing down men by the score in the open field must have been awful. And the constant shelling! Grampa said that the shelling might have been the worst. It was shelling that ended his stay in Ypres. By the early part of June he was in a hospital near Liverpool, England. Winwick it was called and was a "lunatic asylum" converted into Lord Derby War Hospital. He met a nurse there. Her name was "Bessie". She became my Gramma!

All that happened because of a place they called "Wipers!"

At Hospital. Gramma is nurse standing in center of middle row. Grampa is just peeking out of the back row underneath the right arm of the guy on the top.

1 comment:

  1. War stories are just so fascinating and horrific...the terrible things that humans do and witness and live through...