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Event commemorates First World War gas attacks

12:23 14/01/2015

The province of West Flanders has announced details of Woordfront, the second of its First World War public commemoration events. On April 18, the province will mark the anniversary of the first gas attacks in Belgium, centred on the town of Tielt (pictured).

It was in Tielt that, in April 1915, the decision was made to allow the chief of German staff, General Erich von Falkenhayn, to carry out the gas attack he had been pressing for. The attack, on the Ypres front, was to be a trial run for von Falkenhayn’s plans for the Russian front.

The attack took place through an array of lead pipes at 17.00 on April 22. One German soldier described it as “a hissing sound, as though a hundred pipes were letting off steam. As the cloud rolled forward it was yellowish-green, a hellish, sulphurous haze. As the sun broke from behind a cloud, this new and monstrously beautiful image was lit up before us.”

Some 1,150 soldiers were killed in that first attack, and chemical weapons would continue to be used throughout the rest of the war. Gas accounted for about 4% of deaths in the war, despite international treaties outlawing their use. All of the major countries involved in the war used them at one time or another.

For the Woordfront event, representatives of Tielt and other groups will read texts and 1,150 will march through the streets shouting slogans to music, each group representing one of four emotions: anger, fear, sorrow and hope.

The texts for the marchers will be provided by Belgian novelist Saskia De Coster and the music by Inne Eysermans of the local band Amatorski.

 

photo courtesy Paul Hermans/Wikimedia

 

Written by Alan Hope