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Remembered Today:

German Use of Poisoned Shells


Patrick Watt
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Hi guys

Does anyone happen to if the German army used poisoned shells at the Battle of Festubert on the 17-18th May 1915?

I am researching a Captain Ian H Baillie of the 4th Cameron Highlanders and one source says he was killed by a splinter from a poisoned shell which turned gangrenous and another says he was wounded and then swam across a polluted canal to get reinforcements for his battalion and the wound became gangrenous that way.

I thought if I can find out if the Germans used poisoned shells at Festubert in May 1915 this might eliminate one possibility.

Thanks in advance

Patrick

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Patrick, a fragment of shell would not cause gangrene because the shell contained poison. Gangrene results from infection. Depending on the type of gangrene, the infection is either caused by organisms carried into the wound (e.g. because a shell fragment rips through dirty clothes and carries dirt into the wound), from contamination of the wound by external sources (such as dirty water or contact with mud), or from contamination by the bacteria that normally live on the skin of every person.

Robert

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Thanks Robert

All the best

Patrick

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............. Does anyone happen to if the German army used poisoned shells at the Battle of Festubert on the 17-18th May 1915?

..............Captain Ian H Baillie of the 4th Cameron Highlanders and one source says he was killed by a splinter from a poisoned shell which turned gangrenous and another says he was wounded and then swam across a polluted canal to get reinforcements for his battalion and the wound became gangrenous that way.

Patrick - I've never seen anything about "gas shells" at the Battle of Festubert - especially involving 4th QOCHs. Also - there is no canal anywhere near where 4th Bn attacked, there are numerous ditches though, and these caused lots of problems for the battalion. One of their officers, Ian Mackay, wrote to his mother saying he feared many of the battalion's dead had drowned in those ditches. The battle was really the end of 1/4th Bn.

Robert's explanation is almost certainly the correct one.

Tom

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Hi Tom

Thanks for your reply. I think the newspaper report called it a canal when it was the largest of the ditches which intersected the area between the Rue d'Ouvert and the British Trenches. I have seen several reports in the Highland papers talking about one ditch which was larger than the others that the men of the 4th Camerons used to get back to safety from the Southern Breastwork communication trench. Presumably Captain Baillie was hit during the retreat.

I have almost finished writing a book on the 4th Camerons during the war and Ian Mackay and his brother William's letters to their parents were a wonderful source of information. As always with these types of project getting ones hands on photos is the problem!!

All the best

Patrick

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  • 3 weeks later...

Patrick,

The Irish Guards were involved in action on the 17/18 May 1915, at festubert and there is no mention in the Battalion Diaries of Gas being used around then.

Rgds

Mick

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Robert has it spot on.

Wound Gangrene is caused by a soil bacterium called Clostridium perfringens which when I was a microbiologist some 40 years ago was called Clost. welchii after William Henry Welch, a senior pathologist at Johns Hopkins University and its hospital. He researched numerous diseases, but is most renowned for his discovery of the Bacillus welchii, a bacterium that causes gangrene.

Throughout his career, Welch advocated asepsis and other general reforms in American hospitals to control disease and advance medical care.Welch was born in Norfolk, Connecticut in 1850. He attended Yale and graduated in 1870. He then studied to be a surgeon at Columbia University, earning his M.D. in 1875. Welch then pursued advanced studies in Europe. He studied at several universities, but was perhaps most influenced by his time in Berlin. He returned to the United States in 1878 and was a professor and physician at Bellevue Hospital and Medical College in New York.

Welch's commitment to public health, as well as clinical medicine, garnered several awards, including the U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal and Citation. Because gangrene was not only a serious surgical risk, but also an endemic problem with battle wounds, Welch's identification of Bacillus welchii was of military and medical interest.

In addition to his academic appointments, Welch held several offices in professional organizations. He founded the Journal of Experimental Medicine in 1896. Welch served on the Maryland State Board of Health for 31 years. He was president of the American Medical Association in 1910.

Welch died in 1934.

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An American company The Automatic Machine Company advertised shell casings made of a form of steel 'guaranteed' to cause major infections/festering in wounds. How this was achieved they did not say (chemical reaction?) but they tried to sell the product to both sides - nice people!

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And further info. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F30F13F7395B17738DDDAD0894DF405B858DF1D3

Looking at the original Cleveland Automatic Machine Company advert They seem to claim that the explosion of the shell coats fragments with a combination of acids causing "death in terrible agony within four hours"

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hi patrick, first german gas attack was dec 1915.

Alas your soldier sufferd a wound and it got infected, very common. Robert is correct , and Taylov. A source to look for is any Royal Army Medical Corps records.

pete.

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hi patrick, first german gas attack was dec 1915.

Alas your soldier sufferd a wound and it got infected, very common. Robert is correct , and Taylov. A source to look for is any Royal Army Medical Corps records.

pete.

Pete,

The first German gas attack was on the Eastern Front in January 1915. First use on the Western Front was April 1915 at Ypres.

Simon

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Interesting though that at the time claims were being made in the press re poisoned shell fragments and we have a claim/report of someone dying from the same. Possibly someone adding two and two to make five? [Poisoned shells are reputed to be being used, someone dies of a shell splinter wound that becomes infected or poisonousness ergo it must have been a poisoned shell splinter] Fallacious probably but one can see how it might convince at the time.

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Black propaganda. There was an awful lot of it connected to German gas attacks and particularly the first use of poison gas. The newspapers at home sold much copy with lurid and often completely false statements about the use of gas,and the Government were happy for this to happen. This was often fuelled by equally lurid reports from soldiers at the front, based on little more than rumour.

TR

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Black propaganda. There was an awful lot of it connected to German gas attacks and particularly the first use of poison gas. The newspapers at home sold much copy with lurid and often completely false statements about the use of gas,and the Government were happy for this to happen. This was often fuelled by equally lurid reports from soldiers at the front, based on little more than rumour.

TR

But this isn't about gas!

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