The account of the attack is contained in the war unit diaries of the 8th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. In the lead up to the 100th anniversary of the start of the first World War, the UK National Archives has released almost 4,000 diaries belonging to cavalry and infantry regiments that fought in the war.
One entry recorded by Lieut Colonel Edward Bellingham from Co Louth describes how the gas warning was given at 4.45am and by 5.30am on April 27 “a dense cloud of black gas and smoke” settled over the Irish lines followed by a heavy bombardment of the frontline trenches.
The bombardment switched to the reserve and communications trenches and then the Germans entered the Irish trenches where hand-to-hand fighting ensued. “Nearly all our men were killed or wounded,” he wrote. The attack was eventually repulsed.
Lieutenant Colonel Bellingham reveals how the Germans poured chlorine gas into the lines which caused soldiers to choke to death or to be so incapacitated that they could not resist an enemy attack.
The Irish Times reports that on May 1, 1916 the Germans hung out a famous placard in front of the Irish lines which read: “Irishmen! Heavy uproar in Ireland. English guns are firing on your wives and children 1st May 1916.” It was shot up by the 8th Royal Munster Fusiliers and captured in a night raid.
William Spencer, author and military records specialist at The National Archives said, “This second batch of unit war diaries provides detailed accounts of the actions of the next troops to arrive on the Western Front. They show the advances in technology that made it the world’s first industrialized war with many mounted troops going into battle at first with swords on horseback and ending the war with machine guns and tanks.”
The diaries can be accessed at www.nationalarchives.gov.uk.