Part One of Two
Somehow my great-uncle Stanley survived the Battle of St. Julien1 which was part of the larger Second Battle of Ypres (22 April – 25 May 1915). There were around 100,000 casualties in that battle alone.
Stanley Bagg Lindsay (1889-1965) fought in The Great War with the 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada (RHC). The Germans deployed poisonous chlorine gas in Ypres, Belgium, against the Allied armies (Belgium, French, British Expeditionary and Canadian Expeditionary Forces) for the first time.
This is the letter he wrote home to Montreal on April 27, 1915, from the trenches in Ypres, Belgium:
You must know by now that we have been getting a rather exciting time of it and it is honestly beyond me to understand why I am still alive.
I will tell you briefly what took place.
On the evening of the 21st we took over the trenches from the 14th Battalion. Everything was very quiet. The French were right next to us on our left. About 5 PM on the afternoon of the 22nd bombardment such as I never thought possible began by the Germans. Shells (coal boxes) shrapnel for about two hours, and then the Germans attacked and captured the French trenches which brought them right next to us on our left.
Stanley signed up to to serve with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Forces (CEF) on September 23,1914, according to his attestation papers. He left his studies at McGill University at age 25 to do so.
Seven months later, he witnessed the horrors of the German war machine first hand. His letter home continued:
During the night they rushed troops through this gap and next morning were right in behind us. We, however, held onto the trenches for 24 hours in spite of the fact that they had machine guns behind us, and shelled us heavily. The night of the 23rd we had orders to evacuate those trenches, and dig-in in another position which we did. The next morning we were shelled and shelled and finally shelled out of the trenches. By this time the casualties were high. I took up on a position with MacTier and a few men and stayed there for sometime till we had orders to evacuate. Since then the biggest battle ever fought has been going on. I am afraid the casualties will be very high.
Guy Drummond, Major Norsworthy and Lees are killed and some are wounded. You might telephone to Mrs. C.K.2that he is alright.
Many of these men’s families knew each other socially before the war as they all lived near one another in Montreal’s “Golden Square Mile”. 3 Hence, his suggestion to let their friend, Mrs. Clark-Kennedy, know that her son was still alive.
The events that took place next, with these men specifically mentioned, were written up in – Montreal and the Battle of Ypres 1915 One Hundred years4 – in a book on Canadian Military History.
With German infantry hot on their heels, Captain Clark-Kennedy, with Lieutenants Stanley Lindsay and William MacTier, conducted a resolute rear guard. But the new battalion position proved as hazardous, for it was quickly taken under observed fire from the Germans in occupied Canadian trenches.
Numerous individual and section duels took place during the two long nights when the 13th held the division flank unsupported by artillery, low on ammunition and without food or water. How these exhausted men, without sleep for over seventy-two hours, managed again and again to march, dig, and do battle is the stuff of regimental legend and legacy.
Somehow, during this chaos, Stanley found the time and energy to write his letter home and described the same experience in his own words:
I believe that the authorities think we did well and are pleased with us. The conduct of my own men was absolutely splendid, and I am sorry to say that many of them have been killed and wounded.
I don’t know when I shall be able to write again, so don’t worry. Just now we are in a dugout with heavy shell fire going on. The fight up ahead is heavy. We hope to get a rest soon, as we are all pretty much all (done) in.
The total cost of the battle to the 13th Batallion was 483 all ranks or 49 percent5.
The waiting crowd at Southampton docks burst into cheers when some of these remaining Canadians disembarked the train.
Even the normally reserved Imperials took notice and embraced their colonial brethren. Recruiting posters in Glasgow and Edinburgh for Scotland’s Black Watch, now proudly added, “with which is allied the 13th Canadian Battalion, RHC.” 6
11https://wiki2.org/en/Battle_of_St_Julien – as referenced 2023-02-08
22Captain Clarke-Kennedy fought with Lieutenant Stanley Lindsay.
33https://wiki2.org/en/Golden_Square_Mile – as referenced 2023-02-09
44Roman Jarymowycz (2015) “Montreal and the Battle of Ypres 1915 One Hundred Years,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 24: Iss. 1, Article 11. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol24/iss1/11
5Roman Jarymowycz (2015) “Montreal and the Battle of Ypres 1915 One Hundred Years,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 24: Iss. 1, Article 11. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol24/iss1/11
6Roman Jarymowycz (2015) “Montreal and the Battle of Ypres 1915 One Hundred Years,” Canadian Military History: Vol. 24: Iss. 1, Article 11. Available at: http://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol24/iss1/11