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Covering the villages of Wilsden and Harecroft

14th July – A huge German offensive was launched against French 12th July – On the Western Front, British troops used a new form of gas warfare for the first time. It was a railway train whose carriages were loaded with gas cylinders that could be brought up the front by narrow gauge railway, then pushed manually to within a quarter of a mile of the front. In the first attack at 1.40am on the 12th July, more than 5,000 gas cylinders were deployed simultaneously in this way. According to a British corporal, “the dense grey cloud made an awe-inspiring sight as it rolled steadily forward, widening as it went. We watched as it poured over our own front lines and continued across No-Man’s Land. Such a threatening cloud as this we had never before witnessed. Over the enemy lines the gas belt spread wider and wider, engulfing them from sight”. Several hundred German casualties were reported. Another, anonymous, member of the gas companies wrote a poem about their work

Science of the ages, the highest art of man,

Degraded and prostituted, that Man should take the van,

Whilst Empire, Justice, Freedom slumbered.

Then chemist, student, artisan answered Duty’s call;

Our arms, our arts, our poison fumes

Gained Liberty for all

and American held sectors. However, the timing of this attack had been revealed by several German prisoners-of-war, and, as a result of this intelligence, Allied artillery had been able to bombard the crowded German front-line trenches and staging areas for almost an hour before the German’s own artillery barrage began. The German barrage was formidable, with more than 17,500 gas shells (over thirty-five tonnes of explosives) being fired at a relatively small area. This artillery barrage was wasted though, as the French General staff had constructed a line of decoy and dummy trenches. The German attack rolled over these false trenches, killing the few troops stationed there (described as “suicide troops in all but name”) – but when the attack reached the real lines, the Germans found them almost untouched by shellfire, and heavily defended by French and American soldiers. After four days of brutal fighting, leaving carnage along the lines and severe casualties on both sides, the French launched a massive counter-offensive along a 27-mile front. 2,000 heavy artillery guns were in action, along with over 200 tanks. The German line was driven back four and a half miles, 20,000 German prisoners were captured, and 400 heavy guns were taken.

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 From Keighley News