Ceremony marks 100th anniversary of Second Battle of Ypres

The event takes place on Friday, April 24 at Thunderbird Memorial Square in Abbotsford

Private Edwin Durham

Private Edwin Durham

An Abbotsford man is holding a quiet ceremony on Friday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Second Battle of Ypres in the First World War.

John Durham invites anyone interested to attend the ceremony today (Friday) at 7 p.m. at Thunderbird Memorial Square on Veterans Way behind city hall.

Durham’s father, Edwin, fought in the war, starting at the age of 19. On Aug. 20, 1914, he was one of 76 Canadian men who left for Valcartier, Que. for six weeks of military training before leaving for England and more training.

At the beginning of April 1915, Canadian soldiers were ordered to relieve French forces in the Ypres salient in Belgium.

A salient is the portion of a battle line that projects out from the rest of the line and is difficult to defend, being exposed on three sides.

The Canadians improved and extended the trenches, working at night to avoid sniper fire.

On April 22, the enemy released chlorine gas, which drifted over the French-held trenches to their left.

The French abandoned their positions, leaving the Canadian left flank unprotected.

Private Edwin Durham was part of the Canadian Second Battalion that was rushed to fill the abandoned positions in the face of the advancing German infantry.

On April 24, the Germans mounted a concentrated attack to take the salient, again using poison gas and a heavy bombardment of artillery.

The Canadians, although outflanked and outnumbered, held fast and counterattacked to stall the German advance.

Some 6,000 lives were lost in total, including 544 from the 1,000-man Second Battalion.

Edwin was wounded twice and was found lying on the ground by a German officer, who covered him with a blanket, folded up another and put it under his head, saying in English, “For you the war is over.”

The stretcher prisoners were taken to hospital by the Germans and, once his wounds were healed, Edwin was sent to a prisoner war camp at Stendal, Germany.

He was there for his 21st birthday and for the duration of the war.

At the ceremony in Abbotsford, anyone who wishes to is invited to place a wreath at the cenotaph.

The ceremony will also remember Lt. Col. John McCrae, who fought in the Second Battle of Ypres and wrote on May 3, 1915 the famous poem In Flanders Fields after losing a friend in that battle.