French General Headquarters dismisses General Ferry's warning
16 April 1915
On the morning of Friday 16th April General Ferry of the French 11th Division received a reply from French General Headquarters to his urgent message sent two days earlier. He was, in effect, reprimanded by his senior commanders.
The reply to General Ferry stated that “all this gas business cannot be taken seriously”. It went on to say, with reference to the message he had sent to the British 28th Division warning them about the gas, that he had no right to communicate directly with other Allied troops and that he should only do so through the proper channel through his Army Corps. In addition, the reply said that the number of French troops in the front line had been fixed by the French General Headquarters and the troops in the possible danger zone in front of the German gas would not be thinned out.
General Ferry wrote with disappointment of the reaction to his crucial information:
“We thus thought that we had done, as quickly as possible, everything necessary to avoid surprise, the effect of terror, and the heavy losses which the Germans counted on inflicting with this new and abominable weapon of war... But, nobody budged... neither at 20th Corps, nor at Army, nor at French G.H.Q. [French Army headquarters] ... From the latter we only received, a few days later, through the aforementioned liaison officer and by way of reply, the following characteristic observations (i) "all this gas business cannot be taken seriously" - (we repeat that at this time knowledge of the German gas was already in possession through the Government intelligence service) - (ii) "a divisional commander has not the right to communicate direct with allied troops but only by the channel through Army Corps"; (iii) "the distribution of troops in the trenches and particularly of the garrisons in the forward lines has been fixed, ne varietur, by the instructions of French G.H.Q.” (1)
With that, General Ferry's hopes of preventing a possible disaster in the Allied front line of Flanders were dashed.
(1) Official History of the Canadian Forces in The Great War 1914-1919, Volume I, Chronology, Appendices and Maps, Appendix no. 180, p. 227-228