St. Julien Canadian Memorial

St. Julien Canadian Memorial

Visible for several miles from its site beside the main road from Ypres to Bruges, the impressive Canadian Memorial at St. Julien stands like a sentinel over those who died during the heroic stand of Canadians during the first gas attacks of the First World War.

It is one of the most striking of all the battlefield memorials on the Western Front. Rising almost 11 metres from a stone-flagged court, "The Brooding Soldier" surmounts a single shaft of granite - the bowed head and shoulders of a Canadian soldier with folded hands resting on arms reversed. The expression on the face beneath the steel helmet is resolute yet sympathetic, as though its owner meditates on the battle in which his comrades displayed such great valour. The statue is set in the middle of a garden surrounded by tall cedars, which are kept trimmed to perfect cones to match and complement the towering granite shaft.

The designer of the monument was a Regina architect, Frederick Chapman Clemesha, who was wounded while serving with the Canadian Corps during the war. The stone for the shaft was cut in quarries of the Vosges and the surmounting bust was carved in Brussels.

The St. Julien Canadian Memorial was unveiled on July 8, 1923, by HRH the Duke of Connaught. Among the many veterans who were present was the former Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies, Marshal Ferdinand Foch. Speaking in tribute to those whom the Memorial honoured, Marshal Foch said: "The Canadians paid heavily for their sacrifice and the corner of earth on which this Memorial of gratitude and piety rises has been bathed in their blood. They wrote here the first page in that Book of Glory which is the history of their participation in the war."

The inscription on the Memorial recalls the Canadian participation in the Second Battle of Ypres:

THIS COLUMN MARKS THE BATTLEFIELD WHERE 18,000 CANADIANS ON THE BRITISH LEFT WITHSTOOD THE FIRST GERMAN GAS ATTACKS THE 22ND-24TH OF APRIL 1915. 2,000 FELL AND HERE LIE BURIED

Ypres, 1915

In the first week of April 1915, Canadian troops were moved to a bulge in the Allied line in front of the City of Ypres. On the Canadian right were two British divisions and on their left a French division, the 45th Algerian.

Here on April 22, the Germans sought to break the stalemate by introducing a new weapon, poison gas. Following an intensive artillery bombardment, they released 135 tonnes of chlorine gas into a light northeast wind. As thick clouds of yellow-green chlorine drifted over their trenches, the French defences crumbled and the troops, unprotected, their lungs seared, died or broke and fled, leaving a gaping six-kilometre hole in the Allied line. German troops pressed forward threatening to sweep behind the Canadian trenches and put 50,000 Canadian and British troops in deadly jeopardy. Fortunately, the Germans had planned only a limited offensive and, without adequate reserves, were unable to exploit the gap the gas created. After advancing only three kilometres they stopped and dug in.

All through the night the Canadian troops manoeuvred to close the gap. In addition, they mounted a counter-attack to drive the enemy out of Kitchener's Wood, an oak plantation near St. Julien. The next day two further counter-attacks were launched against enemy positions. Little ground was gained and casualties were extremely heavy. But, these attacks bought some precious time to close the flank.

The grimmer battle of St. Julien lay ahead. On April 24, the Germans attacked in an attempt to obliterate the salient once and for all. Another violent bombardment was followed by another gas attack in the same pattern as before. This time the target was the Canadian line. Here through terrible fighting, withered with shrapnel and machine-gun fire, hampered by rifles that jammed, violently ill and gasping for air through mud-soaked handkerchiefs, they held on until reinforcements arrived.

Thus, in their first appearance on a European battlefield, the Canadians established a reputation as a formidable fighting force. But the cost was high. In these 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians - one man in every three - was lost from Canada's little force of hastily trained civilians. This was a grim forerunner of what was still to come.

The 2,000 are in various war cemeteries in the vicinity.

Directions

Aerial view of St. Julien Canadian Memorial

The St. Julien Canadian Memorial is about 50 kms north of Lille, 7 kms northeast of Ypres, 30 kms west of Courtrai and 245 kms north of Paris. You can reach Ypres by train or by bus; the stations are side by side in the centre of the town. The Memorial is about 7 kms away from them. You can reach it by bus, direction Roulers (line 745 Roulers) and get off at stop number 36, which is right at the Memorial, beyond the village of St. Julien. By taxi, which you can take from the stations, the cost is approximately €25 return. You can also rent a bike at the train station, which costs approximately €5 per day, €11 per week and €17 per month.

Note: The cost of a taxi is based on return trips without a waiting period. If you want the taxi to wait for you while you visit the site you will be charged €20 per hour. In Belgium, Ypres is Ieper, Roulers is Roeselaere, Courtrai is Kortrijk and Lille is Rijsel.

If you are travelling by car, please follow the directions below:

Note: Speed limits in Belgium are 50 km/h in city limits and residential areas, usually 90 km/h on secondary roads but it may vary in areas and 120 km/h on the motorway. You should be aware of the priority from the right rule and the presence of cycle lanes (usually unmarked) running alongside the road and generally not separated from it.

From Paris or Charles de Gaulle Airport or Arras take the A1 motorway, direction Lille. As you approach Lille you will take the N17 towards Roulers. Drive for about 22 kms and then take the A19. Drive for about 20 kms and take the N313 towards Roulers. The Memorial is about 7 kms northeast of Ypres, beyond the village of St. Julien at the intersection of the road crossing the N313 running from Langemark to Zonnebeke. It should take you approximately 2 1/2 to 3 hours to reach the Memorial.

From Ypres take the N313 towards Roulers. The Memorial is about 7 kms northeast of Ypres, beyond the village of St. Julien at the intersection of the road crossing the N313 running from Langemark to Zonnebeke. It should take you approximately 15 minutes to reach the Memorial.

From Courtrai take the A19, direction Ypres. Continue on this road for approximately 23 kms. Take exit on to the N313, direction Roulers. The Memorial is about 7 kms northeast of Ypres, beyond the village of St. Julien at the intersection of the road crossing the N313 running from Langemark to Zonnebeke. It should take you approximately 45 minutes to reach the Memorial.

From Lille will take the N17 towards Roulers. Drive for about 22 kms and then take the A19, direction Ypres. Continue on this road for approximately 23 kms. Take exit on to the N313, direction Roulers. The Memorial is about 7 kms northeast of Ypres, beyond the village of St. Julien and at the intersection of the road crossing the N313 running from Langemark to Zonnebeke. It should take you approximately 1 hour to reach the Memorial.

Memorials in Belgium

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