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198 The Canadian Historical Review No Place to Run: The Canadian Corps and Gas Warfare in the First World War. TIM COOK. Vancouver: UBC Press 1999. Pp. viii, 296, illus. $85.00 cloth, $24.95 paper Certain images gain a lasting grip on historical memory. For many Canadians, one ofthem is the greenish cloud ofchlorine gas spreading west from the German trenches towards Ypres on 22 April 1915. Thousands of French and Algerian soldiers fled. Two days later and a few miles south, the chlorine cloud rolled over a raw Canadian battalion. Soldiers threw away rifles and kit, and tore open clothing to get breath. Men writhed in agony and lay still, green foam forming on their lips. When gas came, noted a young officer, 'there was no place to run.' Even sixty-five years later, in the Mississauga derailment, the threat ofchlorine would send 400,000 people fleeing their homes. . The least-trained division on the Allied front that April and, with their Ross rifles and Colt machine guns, the worst armed, the 1st Canadian Division suffered a stunning defeat. Instead of disgrace, however, the Canadians learned that they had 'saved the situation.' Chlorine was their alibi. Who else could have gone on fighting? Ypres became a symbol of valour. After Ypres, poison gas generally disappears from the popular narrative ofthe war. Both sides used it, of course, in growing quantities and varieties. Germany's pre-war chemical industries gave it an easy lead. Deadly phosgene and the terrifying mustard gas supplanted chlorine. By 1918, up to half the shells lobbed by German gunners on Allied lines spread gas. The Allies were as good (or as bad) as the Germans in protecting their troops with respirators and other paraphernalia. By the end ofthe war, they were as devastating in delivery. Though thousands died in agony, the real impact of chemical weapons was on morale, not mortality. Properly fitted and worn, respirators safeguarded lungs, but soldiers found them suffocating, vision-robbing abominations and no protection from a fiery vesicant like mustard gas on the damper parts ofthe body. Wounded soldiers tore offtheir masks in agony or sought refuge in shell holes - where fatal gases lurked. Perhaps as much as the endless shelling, gas was a factor in those thousands oftraumatically stressed casualties no belligerent knows how to handle. Humans forget horrors quickly, and memories of gas warfare faded fast, especially when the 1939-45 belligerents left it almost unused. As a by-product of a military studies degree at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Tim Cook has painstakingly restored poison gas to the First World War history of the Canadian Corps. Apart from familiar and Book Reviews 199 repeated tales of horror, he insists that Canadian soldiers accepted the tedious, meticulous gas discipline that kept them functioning amid deadly or crippling chemicals. More than adjoining British divisions and the insouciant Americans, Canadians took their gas drills seriously. As a result, from Vimy Ridge to the Canal du Nord, they could be 'the shock troops ofthe British Empire.' Like the Canadian Gas Services whom he rescues from historical oblivion, Cook has the persistence ofa one-string fiddle. In the eyes ofits devotees, any weapon is the most fearsome in the war. The author exploits a scary topic with an ill-controlled taste for hyperbole. One result is that when he does cite figures, they are sometimes anti-climactic. Statistics compiled at war's end showed that Canada lost 6036 dead, wounded, and prisoners in April 1915. The notorious chlorine cloud was credited with only three dead and 286 sick. Doubtless, as Cook says, true figures were higher, but why would the CEF undercount the victims ofso spectacular a horror? The French, incidentally, reported seven dead. Still, chemical warfare was such a matching horror for belligerents that neither side in the Second World War saw any point in using it. Almost half a century later, chemical agents are still available as war weapons. Tim Cook's book reminds us of their role in the First World War and their potent horror for our future. DESMOND MORTON McGill Institute for the Study ofCanada Canada's Navy: The First Century. MARC MILNER. Toronto...


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