The Poison of War

On this day in 1915 in World War I history, Germany first makes large-scale use of poison gas in warfare in the Battle of Bolimów against Russia.

Some three years later, my grandfather was hit with poison gas. He barely survived and lost a lung in the process.

The following is an excerpt from my script Clean Dry Socks: Diary of a Doughboy, based on my grandfather’s World War I diary.

Both mustard and phosgene gases were used at Meuse-Argonne, one causing internal and external blisters. The other had soldiers coughing up pieces of their lungs.

The night of September 28th and 29th were the most disagreeable I had ever spent in my life.

It rained all night and a very cold wind blew. Shells were falling everywhere. As we were coming out of the trenches just east of Montfaucon we received orders to go in support of the 79th division just north of Bois de Montfaucon. We pulled over in a field to prepare supper. Jerry had a good observation and sent over lots of shells.

Some of the shells made a direct hit on a hospital nearby and some landed in the field where we were.

In her commentary my aunt wrote:

Although my father’s diary makes no note of it, this was the time he was gassed. I’m certain that he was wearing his gas mask, otherwise he would have had even more serious complications.

Still the masks were not too effective and were crudely made. They consisted of a pair of goggles with a nose cone attached from which protruded a hose that connected to a metal canister. The idea was to recycle the wearer’s own breath and since their oxygen was soon used up they sometimes had no recourse but to snatch the mask off and many of them were blinded, or even killed.

My grandfather survived, but thousands didn’t. Those who did survive had their live changed forever.

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