St Julien

On 22 April 1915, elements of the German Fourth Army attacked the northern shoulder of the Ypres Salient, a strategically vital position defended by British, Canadian, French and Belgian forces. There, for the first time on the Western Front, the German Army employed chlorine gas, a lethal chemical agent. Lacking any protection against the suffocating chlorine, French troops defending the sector between the Yser Canal and Poelkapelle were overrun and forced to withdraw towards Ypres. The immediate British and Canadian response to the gas attack hinged on the small village of St. Julien, situated on the Ypres-Poelkapelle road. Dangerously exposed on the open left flank of the 1st Canadian Division, the village was defended by a composite force of Canadian troops mainly from the 3rd Brigade, including No. 2 Company from the 15th Battalion (48th Highlanders of Canada).

For three days after the initial gas attack, St. Julien witnessed heavy fighting and significant damage as the Canadian garrison struggled to hold the village. On 24 April, after another devastating chlorine attack — this time concentrated against the forward Canadian trenches east of St. Julien and north of Gravenstafel Ridge — German troops occupied the village. At dusk on 25 April, the 15th Battalion  had lost nearly 700 men – killed, wounded, missing or taken as prisoners of war. Most of these casualties were sustained by Nos. 1, 3, and 4 Companies during the gas attack of 24 April. These units were situated in the front line trenches near the Stroombeek as well as the Battalion’s forward headquarters and support positions near the Stecnakker windmill and Locality C on 0.L.Vrouwstraat. Many Highlanders from No. 2 Company however also fell in the battle for St. Julien.

Petawawa Aug 1914. Lts Cory & Barwick
Captured at St Julien & POWs at Scharmstedt
Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919,  Nicholson
Sgt Ralph captured
at St Julien.
Lts Cory & Fessenden at
Scharmstedt POW camp, Germany
St Julien Memorial
‘Death Mill’ near the St Julien memorial. Site of 15th Battalion
Advance HQ on 24 April 1915.