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We return after a dreadful winter to the signallers of the Lahore Division British Indian Army. This is what awaits them:
The action of today's episode takes place in a flat piece of ground even by Belgium's standards. This is the view north from the Indians position - a light mist standing in for the gas.
As is so common on the Western Front, you find yourself in a CWGC cemetery for a different time of the conflict - this one was Divisional Collecting Post Cemetery and Extension at Ypres.
This view from roughly the German position was near the Cement House Cemetery to the north.
You’ll remember our boys are normally with the Ferozepore brigade but today I thought it best for them to accompany the Sirhind Bde Signals Company for reasons that will become apparent below. The Sirhind Bde HQ was shelled in real life at the same time we said it was in the episode.
That previous day had been a nightmare. The Jullundur and Ferozepore brigades went into the attack, and were swept back in an unstoppable panic when gas was released, to the shame of everyone involved (as well as many distressing and fatal casualties). Overnight the Sirhind Brigade was put into their place, a Captain Tarrant relieving at about 0230 a little knot of men 200 yards from the German front line, and holding the position. Otherwise, everyone else in the Sirhind was well back, being shelled by a vast German gun known as the Wipers Express. I can't say for certain but I'm minded that the Express part of that nickname tallies with the frequent descriptions of the passage of shells sounding like express trains roaring overhead.
Due to the pressure of time we had to leave out a remarkable series of diary references by Smith-Dorrien, in charge of 2 Army. He knew from captured prisoners that the Germans were to attack using gas, and therefore had a week’s warning. His analysis: "The details are so voluminous and exact that I am sure they are untrue...I have let all my commanders know."
The plan on 27th April was to attack at 1330 after a long bombardment and back up the real attack which was on their left, by the French, the 4eme Brigade de Maroc. On the Sirhind’s right was going to be the Ferozepore division. On their right, btw, was a British brigade made of odds and sods that came up but did precious little when its commanders were killed, a command and control nightmare. It was due to this lack of support that the Ferozepore didn’t do much on this day, and I went for the Sirhind instead.
The bombardment was spartan and not much use, and the Gurkha’s actually went ahead before it as they thought they had so much ground to cover they’d better. The attack went in and ground to the usual halt, but you’ll see two incidents more reminiscent of the Napoleonic War proudly written up in the War Diaries: the first is the recapturing of some of their French allies’ guns, and the relief of Captain Tarrant’s band. We sent fire-eating Ahmadullah here so he could also be caught in the only whiff of gas that crossed the British front this day, and rally the men so they didn't panic and run like their brothers in arms the day before.
With the battlefield at a halt, the French went in at 7 pm, to be knocked back by a gas attack which halted the whole thing.