'They fell with their faces to the foe.' The First Battle of Ypres Commenced

October 19, 2015 | Ann

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World War I Daily Mail Official War Photograph, Series IX, No. 68, titled Ypres "after two years of war."
This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain. This is because it is a photograph created by the United Kingdom Government and taken prior to 1 June 1957.

This verse is written by Robert Laurence Binyon and taken from a poem called, For the Fallen. Binyon composed this while looking out towards the sea atop a north Cornish coastline. His words conveyed the English soldiers' ultimate sacrifice to protect their land. This poem is very similar to another piece written by a Canadian Lieutenant stationed in Ypres as he gazed at the red poppies springing up through the tightly packed graves in Flanders Fields.


First World War centenary: the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, as it happened written by Richard Preston 8:19PM BST 27 Jun 2014
Drawing of Galvrilo Precip killing Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo published on July 12, 1914 from Italian paper, Domenica del Corriere. This media file is in the public domain because its first publication was published prior to January 1, 1923.

The event that precipitated the First World War occurred on St. Vitus' Day, Serbia's National Day, on June 28, 1914 with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, the Countess Sophie Chotek. From that point forward, preparation for war was underway.

October 19, 1914, 101 years ago today, marked the First Battle of Ypres in Belgium where the French and British armies prevented the Germans from capturing Ypres and heading towards France. Historical resources showed the challenges that the World War I soldiers endured in this first year of battle.  

A trench on the Canadian front showing "funk holes"
Image courtesy of Library Archives Canada on an  Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons licence.

To appreciate how the soldiers persevered through trench warfare, Anne Perry distilled this particular experience in a series of mystery novels. The novels also examined how the Great War was fought on distant lands. The main character, Captain Joseph Reavley, was based on Perry's actual stepfather who fought in the Great War. He shared stories of that period with Anne and this sparked an interest to incorporate these experiences into her rich historical novels.  

No graves as yet by Anne Perry Shoulder the sky by Anne Perry Angels in the gloom by Anne Perry At some disputed barricade by Anne Perry We shall not sleep by Anne Perry

The first book began with the four Reavley siblings living quietly and contentedly in England. A tragic accident suddenly killed both of their parents on the same day that Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated. Joseph and Matthew Reavley started an investigation on the cause of their parents' deaths and located a secret document that could prevent the War from happening. If this document were placed in the hands of the enemy, Europe would fall under German control. The remaining four books (representing each year of the war), detailed the adventures of the four siblings as they gathered government intelligence to bring the enemy spies and their parents' murderers, to justice.

Other popular World War I works of fiction are available through our Toronto Public Library catalogue including:

A duty to the dead Maisie Dobbs: a novel The blood royal A test of wills


To lighten the mood from the deadly battles against the enemy, the British soldiers created some light humour by publishing a magazine called, The Wipers Times. Copies of this magazine (and the movie by the same name) are available to view and borrow from the Toronto Public Library. It is worth noting that the British soldiers mispronounced Ypres as Wipers--hence the name for this magazine.

The Wipers Times, issue cover March 1916 Wellcome
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

For readers interested in the history of the Battle of Ypres and the First World War, the following titles may draw your attention:

Ypres: the first battle, 1914 Douglas Haig and the First World War Ypres, 1914-15 A storm in Flanders: the Ypres salient, 1914-1918: tragedy and triumph on the Western Front
It was their war too: Canadian women and World War I The courage of the early morning: a biography of Billy Bishop, the great ace of World War I Mothers of heroes, mothers of martyrs: World War I and the politics of grief The Great War as I saw it

For more information on Ypres, glance through these intriguing websites located around the world:

  1. Canada and the First World War from the Canadian War Museum website.
  2. Toronto Public Library's Pinterest page on Ypres.  
  3. Allied Powers from the editors of the Encyclopedia of Britannica.
  4. The battle to feed Tommy: New exhibition looks at the diet of a WWI soldier from Express.co.uk. Imagine the food these soldiers ate and how they had to prepare their meals.
  5. Tony Allen's Picture Postcards of poetry and verse from the Great War.
  6. WW1 Monuments and Memorials from The Great War 1914-1918 website.
  7. Germany - TracesOfWar.com provides a visual collection of the different German artifacts of war.
  8. Britain and World War I on BBC provides historical background on how Britain became involved in fighting this war.  
  9. Australian War Memorial illustrates Australia's involvement with naval and military expeditions. 
  10. Villages East/North-east of Ypres from the World War One Battlefields website provides a good visual tour of the cemeteries in the past and present.
  11. Germany during World War I from First World War.com is an American historical perspective on the Great War.
  12. "You Say Ypres, I Say Ieper, Can't We Just Get Along?" from What Do I Know, Anyway? blog that provides light satirical articles on various intriguing topics including the many different pronunciations for this Belgium city. 

This major event occurred over a century ago, but its repercussions helped to shape the future in culture, politics, and technology of our world today.