Ypres Salient map highlighting the town of Poperinghe to the west of Ypres.Gassed civilians arrive at a British Casualty Clearing Station

22 April 1915: 19.00

Dusk began to fall. A British nurse, who was serving as a Sister in Charge at a British Casualty Clearing Station (believed to be C.C.S. No. 5 at Poperinghe), described her astonishment as Belgian civilians began to arrive with unusual and distressing symptoms, the like of which she had never seen before:

“... a Belgian came staggering in, and for a short time it was very difficult to find out what was the matter with him. He looked like a patient in an advanced stage of pneumonia, and hardly seemed to know what had happened to him. Our difficulties were increased by the fact that he only spoke Flemish of which none of us understood a word. We had scarcely got him to bed when some ambulances arrived bringing some more patients, nearly all women and children. They were all in the same kind of condition, and at first we were greatly astonished when it was discovered that they had all in some way been gassed. Later we knew that they were the ones who were on what one might call the outskirts of the gas attack. Soon we had the hospital full, or rather I should say packed with our own men. At first I think we were all filled with astonishment at this fiendish mode of warfare which had certainly never entered into our calculations. Every conceivable remedy was tried, but I have little hesitation in saying that these gassed cases are the most distressing that one could possibly have to deal with. These patients were not by any means the worst or most numerous that we ever had to deal with, but being the first we had ever seen or even thought of made them seem much more difficult to tackle.” (1)

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(1) Extract from The Passage of a Dud Shell Through the Western Front or Some Experiences of an Army Nurse in the Late War, p. 25. This anonymous account of a nurse's experiences on the Western Front is contained in the papers of Dame Maud McCarthy at the Army Medical Services Museum, Surrey.