The Second Battle of Ypres was a defining moment in the First World War. The Germans, who were forging their way through Belgium, were fighting for control of the city of Ypres. Of course, the Belgiums wanted to stop them. The British Empire and the French came to their aide, to thwart the Germans’ advance towards Paris. The soldiers fought in the battle between 22nd of April and 25th May 1915. And it marked the first use of mass chemical weapons (poison gas) on the western front. As a result, the chlorine gas wounded around 200 Germans, with only 12 casualties. But it was much worse for the allies, who reported 5000 killed and 15000 wounded.
The Second Battle of Ypres: Resources
First, we watched our go-to videos for the First World War:
I really recommend their series week by week of the whole of World War One, which is very thorough and well researched. We try to watch one a day with the hope that we will have got through them all by the end of our unit.
During this battle, Major John McCrae wrote his well known poem commemorating the death of his friend Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. Punch publication printed ‘In Flanders Fields’ in December, 1915.
The ‘Poems of the First World War’ contains McCrae’s poem, ‘In Flanders Fields’, as well as many others. ‘Where the Poppies Now Grow’ is a gorgeous picture book, about the fields where the battles were held all those years ago which are now filled with poppies. ‘Poppy Field’ is a highly recommended book, and is based on the true story of how McCrae’s poem came to be. My girls really, really enjoyed this book, and it was, as you would expect, beautifully written by Michael Morpurgo.
Lastly, I made up an information sheet for the girls to read which we discussed afterwards. I also photocopied a soldier’s first hand experience of fighting in the second battle of Ypres, and the chemical attacks which occurred:
Battle of Ypres: Activities
I wanted the girls to learn about John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’ and its origin. So, I photocopied some information sheets from Twinkl and we had a poetry tea party where the girls read out the poem:
I’ll be posting more about the activities we did whilst studying this poem.
Making a Gas Mask
The Germans were the first to use chemical warfare on the frontlines. They used chlorine gas, which burnt the throat and lungs as it was ingested and could even cause blindness. Makeshift cloth masks soaked in urine were used to protect the soldiers. Over time, the gas masks developed into far more sophisticated versions where the air was purified through chemical absorbants. I have previously written all about how we made a model of a gas mask from junk and gaffa tape:
It made a great addition to our First World War soldier’s uniform, which we are constructing together.
If you’d like to read more posts about the First World War, including lots and lots of hands on activities, do visit my history page and scroll down to the bottom.