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October 19 – November 22, 1914: The First Battle of Ypres

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The First Battle of Ypres was a bloody WWI Battle fought October 19 – November 22, 1914, around the city of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium. It was the climactic fight of the “Race to the Sea,” an attempt by the German army to break through Allied lines and capture French ports on the English Channel which opened access to the North Sea and beyond. The battle was extraordinarily costly in terms of casualties. Allied losses included 54,000 British soldiers, 50,000 French soldiers, and 20,000 Belgian soldiers either killed, wounded, or missing. German casualties numbered more than 130,000. The battle was an attempt by both sides to advance past the northern flank of their opponents, but neither achieved significant breakthroughs leading to an indecisive win. During the battle, both sides settled into trench warfare which became commonplace all along the Western Front for the remainder of the war. 

German soldiers in a trench near Ypres in 1914

In September 1914, German forces advanced through Belgium and eastern France but were stopped by Allied troops in the Battle of Marne. Both Armies then began the “Race to the Sea,” an attempt to outflank each other as they headed northward. The armies came face to face near Ypres, the gateway to the English Channel and key ports including Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Fighting began on October 19, 1914, and with the real possibility of losing the Channel ports, Allied soldiers were ordered to entrench and hold their position to prevent German soldiers from pushing through.

Pvt. Thomas H. Evans is one of many soldiers reported missing at Ypres

On October 25, Belgium’s King Albert took drastic action to prevent a German incursion north of the Lys River. He ordered Belgians to manipulate the canals and floodgates in the Yser valley. As the tide came in, they opened the floodgates, then closed them before the water could recede. On October 29, Albert ordered the sluices opened and a rush of water destroyed the town of Nieuport. It also flooded the battlefield occupied by three German divisions, forcing them to retreat. With this action, the Allies secured the left flank.

Meanwhile, German forces continued their assault southeast of Ypres pushing back British troops. On October 31st, German troops broke through the line and captured Gheluvelt but a counterattack pushed them back out of the village.

British heavy artillery gun is transported into position in Ypres

In early November, Germany captured Messines and Wytschaete, but fresh French reinforcements stopped the advance. As temperatures fell, the onset of winter brought miserable conditions. Soldiers were holed up in trenches half-filled with freezing water. After a lull of several days, German troops planned one final assault with plans to break through into Ypres. On November 11, after an intense bombardment on Messines Ridge, they broke through and penetrated Nonne Bosschen. Once again, counterattacks drove the Germans back. After a final attack at Herentage Wood on November 17th, German forces moved into a defensive mode and sent available troops to the Russian front. Sporadic fighting continued until November 22nd when the arrival of winter forced the battle to end. Both sides suffered appalling casualties and the city of Ypres would be the scene of two more battles before the end of the war. To research your ancestors that fought in the First Battle of Ypres, search WWI collections including British Army Lists, British Army WWI Pension Records; British WWI Wounded and Missing; Airmen Died in the Great War; and Biographies of Fallen British Officers. Search Fold3 today to learn more about the First Battle of Ypres.

49 Comments

  1. Although fighting under the British flag, the Canadian contingent lost 2,000 troops during the first battle of Ypres. To include their deaths as British casualties in your article dishonours their efforts and memory. Canadian losses were much larger during the second battle at Ypres..

    • I agree, my grandfather survived the first battle of Ypres. He was a medic with the CEF. First Canadian field ambulance. He saw much of the devastation, and was awarded his DCM for his conduct under fire.
      He was at many of the big battles including Givenchy, Mons and Ypres and more….. he came home after serving 1914-1919. Many Canadians have been forgotten. Lest we forget.

    • Many Canadian soldiers who were volunteers in the Canadian Expeditionary Force not only fought valiantly at Ypres, but in many other important battles in WWI. In fact, many of those valiant men still lie in marked and unmarked graves in Europe, and to disrespect their contribution as you have done, sticks in my craw! My great-uncle was wounded, a maternal uncle was blinded and suffered from COPD for the remainder of his life from the mustard gas used by Jerry, and my paternal uncle is memorialized on the Menin Gate for his part in that “War to end all wars”! Also, two of my wife’s cousins were awarded medals for their valiant contributions, and other men from both our families valiantly took part in stopping the rape of Europe.

    • I think its a shame that all you took from the articles was the necessity to write a negative comment.
      I have yet to speak to anyone who would dishonour or disrespect any member of the armed services.

      No one has been forgotten because we remember them.. All of them.
      I am British and lost a very large number of relatives in both great wars…

      When I remember I remember everyone.

      War is a cruel cruel place.

      Lest we forget !

    • My grandfather enlisted in the Canadian army army age 18 in1914 in Montreal.His first attempt to enlist under his name which was blatantly German was rebuffed. He went to the back of the line getting through byenlisting with his mother’s maiden name which was English. He served in France and in Ypers, Belgium with the 60th Battalion, 16th Platoon CEF.He was severely gassed and spent several months in a London hospital. He was discharged in 1919 and was listed as Corporal in the 60th Canadian Expeitionary Force. He was an American citizen by birth, son of Canadian citizens from New Brunswick. As a result of the damage to his lungs, he contracted tuberculosis and spent time in TB hospitals dying in 1936 in Massachusetts.

    • Unless I am mistaken the first Canadians to arrive in France were Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. They did not arrive until December 1914, with the 1st Canadian Division arriving in early 1915. So they would have missed the first Battle of Ypres.

  2. My grandfather, Rene Corrion a Belgian soldier, was severely wounded in this battle and sent to Manchester, England to recuperate. His wife, Hortense Corrion , and their six children ages 1-9 fled their home in Flanders and lived as refugees in the cold winter of 1914-1915 until she learned her husband had been wounded. She ultimately made it with the six children to England malnourished and covered in lice.

    As immigrants she and the children were sent to Katrine, Scotland for the remainder of the war. She and her husband Rene were reunited in Scotland and had three more children before returning to Belgium after the war only to find their home and village destroyed.

    They rebuilt their home and lives and in 1928 they along with their twelve children immigrated to America.

    • Outstanding.

    • Not only was your grandfather courageous, but your grandmother and their kids were, too. It’s amazing how people endure through times like those.

    • Incredible!

    • Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story of your family; truly heroic behavior by your grandfather, grandmother and your aunts & uncles (and father? mother?). These individual stories reveal the true horror of war. There is no such thing as a ‘good war’! All are horrible and devastating on so many levels. Yet, sadly, some are necessary! America is blessed to have your family in it !!

  3. I’ve toured the Ypres battlefields and trenches. So brutal. I highly recommend it to feel the battle conditions, not just read about them.

  4. I heartily recommend attending a remembrance ceremony held each evening at the Menin Gate in Ypres. It is evocative and underscores the reverance that the Belgian people hold for those who sacrificed. I was so moved that I returned a second night. The Last Post ceremony sets the standard for remembrance ceremonies.
    I love the people there !

    • True.

    • Yes. We have attended the service at the Mennin Gate. My Great Uncle is named on the gate with other Australians killed there.
      It was a group effort.. French, British, Belgian, Canadian and Australian.
      It is a very moving ceremony’s Mennin Gate.

    • I couldn’t agree more about the Last Post remembrance at the Menin Gate in Ypres. We visited Ypres in Summer 2019. We were tremendously moved by the sincerity of the ceremony and the Menin Gate itself, with the numerous wreaths, flowers, photos and other remembrances left there. There are over 50,000 names on that monument – and that’s just names of those MIA. The city was completely destroyed in WWI. The people immediately rebuilt after the war. It is a beautiful place and the local folks are so friendly. I don’t feel we Americans learned enough about WWI. Most of what I learned I learned on my own, out of respect for all who served. While all war is terrible, WWI was an absolute horror, from trench warfare to mustard and chlorine gas attacks. There is a museum in Ypres that is simply exceptional in bringing the war to life, with writings of soldiers and citizens. If you have the opportunity, a visit to Ypres is very much worthwhile.

    • As an American, I was so impressed with the Menin Gate as a remembrance for all the participants from all the British Crown colonies including the Aussies and New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians, Brits, Scots whose names and units are etched in history. Such a harsh war and I am not sure we have learned lessons necessary to avoid any further conflicts that cost the lives of so many participants and locals. Ypres is a place in Europe that I would certainly recommend any person visit.

  5. I am unaware of a Canadian formation at First Ypres are you? Canadians serving in the British Army were not dishonored by reference to them as British. They were in fact British subjects at the time. Many if not most early Canadian volunteers had in fact been born in the UK. The first Canadian formations as I understand it did not reach France till after this battle in fact not till February 1915. So if they were British subjects as well as the other Imperials I do not see an issue.

    • My Canadian born grandfather was a fortunate survivor of the 2nd Battle of Ypres (22 Apr-25May, 1915) which, as I understand occasioned the first use of mustard gas in warfare. My father has his father’s medals displayed in his home along with corroborating documentation. Regarding the negative comments, we Americans and perhaps modern Canadians too have a strong independent streak, but I don’t know if the feeling was the same among our forebears. My grandfather always said he fought for the Union Jack ( the British flag) and my granny ( who immigrated from Scotland before marrying my grandfather) taught me to sing “Rule Britannia” when I was young. I do no think either of them would have minded being listed as British.

  6. A little additional information from the Canadian Government Website. An earlier non-Division arrival of Canadian Troops but still after the battle.

    The first Canadian troops to arrive in France were the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, which had been formed at the outbreak of war entirely from ex-British Army regular soldiers. The “Princess Pats” landed in France in December 1914 with the British 27th Division and saw action near St. Eloi and at Polygon Wood in the Ypres Salient.

    • My grandfather from the US was assigned to the 27th Division. He was shot and stabbed, suffered from the gas poisoning and was awarded a Purple Heart for his service.
      All fought to stop the Germans praise them all for giving us freedom.

  7. Further to the comments above.

    My Grandfather with 16th Canadian Scottish was part of the CEF, joining up in Vancouver in 1914. They did preliminary training in Valcartier, Quebec prior to heading to Britain.

    Although many were inexperienced, it is true that others had a military background as my Grandfather did. (He had been with the Gordon Highlanders prior.)

    After a period of training in England, the First Contingent, formally known as the 1st Canadian Division, went to France early in 1915. The First CEF saw their first large-scale combat at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, where they faced the first poison gas attacks launched by Germany.

  8. I think it worth pointing out that WWI still creates emotion almost 116 years later. No surprise, though. This was The Great War, setting the stage for what was to come after in the XXth Century. We must remember the men and women who served, fought and fell in horrendous circumstances.

    To answer Colonel Andre N. Coulombe USA (Ret): The Canadians WERE technically British subjects, but they fought as Canadians just as the other Empire troops fought in dual roles. That the records show this dichotomy reflects colonial thinking and should not, in my opinion as a military historian be continued. So doing hides any number of individuals who served outside of their own nationality and minimizes the contributions other nations made. How many people know of the suffering of both Chinese and Indian laborers and troops?

    From a U.S.A perspective, I had an uncle who enlisted in the Reserve Mallet, a French trucking unit way before the USA entered the war…as did many others. Still other served in ambulance and trucking companies under French control until the USA formally entered the war. Even then two U>S. infantry division of black troops served under the French because the U.S. military establishment didn’t want them. Yet an other example of the social issues revealed in The Great War that has carried into this new Century

    So, for Canadians to push back here makes sense to me. Today’s

    • I also agree that troops from other nations should be specified. Australian and New Zealand forces volunteered to help “the Mother Country” in times of peril and should be recognized as such.

      Thank You,

    • Do not forget the Irishmen , who rushed to the defence of their family and friends who lived in Belgium , this was an earlier attempt to push back the invading forces of Germany ; Irishmen on both sides of their own border buried their differences on their home soil to fight and die in another , alongside their commonwealth brothers …
      My grandfather lost an arm at Ypres , his brother lost his life …

      My best friends grandfather manned a machine gun at Tynekop at Ypres , on the wrong side

      War is shite …as we say back home ! And don’t forget at the outbreak of we1 Ireland had just had a vote in favour of home rule in the English parliament , war destroyed another countries history ?

    • I think your country should do it’s own article then.
      This was a well written article and some of you are taking this in the wrong direction.

  9. My Grandfather served with the Royal Horse Artillery in the BEF. He was also a member of “The Old Contemptibles” Not really sure whether he was at Ypres though.

  10. My Grandfather was gassed during this war but we have no records… Do not know where he was, what he did or what happened to his unit(s) . Is there somewhere I can go to find out any info ? I understand his “records” were burned when sent to ???St. Louis ???? Would appreciate any hep or suggestions.
    Thanks, Doris Kirschke Brown
    [email protected]

    • Hello Doris ,Have you tried the Commonwealth War Graves.They maybe able to help you they have the records I know you have no records.They should be able to help. Hope you can resolve the problem.
      [email protected]

    • Hello Doris
      Have you tried the Commonwealth War Graves also they should Have archives of who Survied and who was killed. I hope this helps you to find the information you require.
      Regards Jackie

  11. There are some very good posts in this sequence. But, I don’t wish to pick up my sword over any of them. I’m a retired Canadian senior officer with a Masters degree in military history. I still reflect back on those courses and their associated seminars with a great sense of warmth. I served 38 years, most of them “fighting” the Cold War.

    My father served in the Canadian Army near the end of World War Two.

    Two of my grandfathers served in World War One. One of them was wounded in both arms at Vimy Ridge. One grandfather, Charles Grant, was joined overseas by four brothers, two in combat units, two in the Canadian Forestry Corps. The combat brothers served in different units, shot, were shot at, were wounded, and were gasses. Oh, and one was “irritated” during an encounter with a syphilitic gal just before returning home. They all married, raised families and lived well into their 80s.

    The Fold3 summary of the first Battle of Ypres is fine as an overview. It’s only meant to provide an introduction and pointers to some sources. Let’s remember what this site is here for, use it, enjoy it.

    Happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

    Allen Grant
    Ottawa, Ontario

  12. I knew very little of my family’s Canadian history, even less of of their military history, until finding ANCESTRY. It took me transcribing my father’s memoir, and a researcher from the Revelstoke Museum…. to introduce me to the the great grand daughter of my great grand parent’s next door neighbor in England, who by the way, had been researching MY family her whole life. She is an expert on one of my great uncles, Jim, who was killed while carrying a stretcher in Belgium during WWI. She should be…. as she and her family have made many visits to his grave site over the years to lay poppies. During our research we also located his younger brother, Harry, who fought in the same war, and was discharged for being a minor, aged 16. Jim and Harry were ‘in country,’ at the same time. One lived, one did not.

    It is reasonable to estimate that many of the Canadian men in my family either died in WWI or from the Spanish Flu.

    Given that information I am BLESSED to be here!!!! As you can see, this COVID-thing apparently isn’t my first rodeo.

  13. I know fold3 is an American institution, and you have only recently started to add the stuff from Ancestry behind this extra paywall…But…It would be nice if a little research was done first. The most obvious is that a Private in the British, Empire and Dominion Forces is abbreviated to Pte …Pvt is a colonial abbreviation…
    Pte
    L/Cpl
    Cpl
    Sjt or Sgt
    Sgt Major (CQMS, SQMS, WO11)
    WO1 (RSM)
    Lt
    Capt
    Maj
    Lt Col
    Col
    Brig etc
    A nice touch to show that all your records are not colonial centric pse!

  14. My father was born in 1985 and he was 55 when I was born. He served as a stretcher bearer in the 9th field ambulance CEF and was at Ypres and Paschendale. Although I was only a teenager when he died, I remember some of the stories he told me about trench warfare.
    On one occasion he was with a detail bringing wounded back to the lines. They would sometimes have 5 men on a stretcher if it was a long way. One in front to show the way, two on the head of the stretcher, one on the feet, and a reliever following.
    A shell exploded and the ones at the front and the wounded man were never seen again. My father was knocked unconscious but was unharmed.
    I am aware of how close I am to non-existence.

  15. Just to say that the Canadians are definitely not forgotten if you go to the Ypres memorial and the one at Passchendaele in particular. There are rooms dedicated to each nationality, uniforms, military equipment and testimonials.
    There is a memorial garden designed and dedicated by each nationality around the bomb craters and woods they fought through to commemorate those that sacrificed so much of all nationalities.
    My husbands grandfather fought at the 2nd and 3rd battle of Ypres, among several other areas. He never spoke of it .One brother died,no known grave, one wounded and sent for orthopaedic rehabilitation to Manchester and a brother in law killed in the same offences as he took part in.

  16. My grandfather enlisted in the Canadian army army age 18 in1914 in Montreal.His first attempt to enlist under his name which was blatantly German was rebuffed. He went to the back of the line getting through byenlisting with his mother’s maiden name which was English. He served in France and in Ypers, Belgium with the 60th Battalion, 16th Platoon CEF.He was severely gassed and spent several months in a London hospital. He was discharged in 1919 and was listed as Corporal in the 60th Canadian Expeitionary Force. He was an American citizen by birth, son of Canadian citizens from New Brunswick. As a result of the damage to his lungs, he contracted tuberculosis and spent time in TB hospitals dying in 1936 in Massachusetts.

  17. Over 38,000 Australians were killed or wounded in the Ypres Battles. Our population in 1914 was 4,948,990.
    The stone lions that marked the Menin Gate in the Ypres ramparts during the War now flank the entrance hall at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

  18. Canadians who fought in the First World War are far from forgotten. Here in the village of Bere Regis, in Dorset in England, the names of our 38 dead are read out each year on Remembrance Sunday, along with biographies of each man, written from research undertaken by our local Scouts. Three of those names are of members of the Canadian Forces, whose families remained in the village after the sons had emigrated. Lest we forget.

  19. Both of my Grandfathers served in WWI, both were wounded, and were captured by the Germans and sent to POW camps. My mother’s father, originally from Dublin, Ireland was a Sergeant with the highly decorated “Connaught Rangers” Regiment, receiving an impressive scroll of recognition signed by the King. My father’s father from West London, served with the Middlesex Regiment, 8th Reserve Battalion, unfortunately he died two months before I was born. I wish that I had been able to learn more about the sacrifices made by these brave soldiers, who I am proud to call my grandfathers.

  20. My Grandfather was a London bus driver who was one of many who volunteered at the start of WWI to go to France to ferry men and equipment to and from the front lines. In so doing he became a member of the BEF and was among those who became known as the ‘Old Contemptibles’. He was at the 1st Battle of Ypres for which he received the appropriate 1914 Star medal with the silver ‘clasp and roses’. He may not have been a front line soldier but he and his compatriots nonetheless provided a vital service and suffered many privations in the process. Quite a lot of these brave men were killed or wounded but fortunately for me and my family he returned home to his wife and children and in the fullness of time I was born.

  21. My Grandfather was with the 2nd Btn Notts & Derby Rgt, Sherwood Foresters at Ennttiere en Weppes near Lille, known as the Battle of Armentieres as part of the 18th Brigade, 6th Division BEF 20th Oct 1914.
    A massive push by the Germans overwhelmed the Allied contingent with many taken prisoners.
    My Grandfather received wounds he was to die of however was able to be shipped back to the Royal Herbert Hospital, Woolwich London where he passed away 6th Nov 1914 (his son was born whilst he was in France, 5th Sept. 1914)

  22. The CEF was not involved in the First Battle of Ypres. The 1st Division and PPCLI were at 2nd Ypres ( the first gas attack) and 3rd Ypres ( Passchendaele). Any Canadians at 1st Ypres would have been members of the British Army.

  23. How can I find records of Belgian soldiers in WW I? Looking for info on my great grandfather Leon Pattyn from Roeselare West Flanders Belgium.

  24. My grandfather disappeared in the 2nd battle of Ypres in 1915between the 25th and 26th of September. He came to Europe with the Canadians but because he had been a British officer in the Boer War he was swapped to the West Surreys and sent over as a Captain, though he enlisted as a private in Canada.
    Captains lasted 2 weeks on average.
    His body was never found. Only 2 members of his battalion returned. HIs wife was not paid his salary or his pension entitlement. He never received a medal for dying in the war unti she made a fuss in the 1920s.
    It is interesting to see the elaborate enlistment papers signed by the king and a pathetic telegram, written in penscil to say he was missing. Were they only “cannon fooder”?

  25. War is never good or nice they are losses on all sides, and for what a area of of this earth where we live to extend a countries size, wealth, martierials, minerals, beliefs.
    To take up arms to fight for for oil, and none existing weapons that government advisers believe to exist.
    To intervene in disputes between two nations because it will upset the balance of the surrounding areas.
    The British are good at this: Tony Blair (Labour party) took Britain to war seven times while he was prime minister and for what.
    To be proven wrong.
    We are very good at remembering our lost and fallen men and women in all wars as they went into battle for a country, nation in the belief it was the right thing to do.
    Always remember your brave family members who passed and all others in all wars.

  26. The complaints about Canadians not being identified in the article show a lack of understanding about the relationship between Canada and the British Empire in 1914. I did a little research about it and found the following. The commonwealth has undergone many changes since the 1700s, but in 1914, Canada was still an essentially full-fledged member of it. The empire drew troops from its territories around the world including Australia, Canada, India and many others. All such conscripted soldiers were considered British troops. Since then Canada and the others have become fully independent able to completely govern themselves.

  27. Thanks to Fold3 for posting all of this great material. Preserving this history honors all who sacrificed so much from many countries and it is a shame we are so divided today as a country and world. The young of today have no idea what their great grandfathers and their great uncles endured in the name of freedom in World War I. In fact many of them know nothing about the real history of America. World War II and the significance of D-Day and the dropping of the bombs on Japan are lost on them and I dare say many adults. Add to that the distortion and attempts to revise history and no wonder there are riots and unrest.
    I will add that my grandfather was in the AEF and was gassed and disabled for the rest of his life. That would explain why he kept to himself, had twitches and did not talk much. He married my grandmother and brought her back along with my Uncle. Little was ever told to us about what he went through and one story we did hear is that he was the personal barber to Black Jack Pershing. Its very possible since he had a career as a barber and spoke a half dozen languages. He was born in Poland and his parents where Austrian. I have no idea if he had siblings and would like to learn more about his military service and life.
    I would also like to know if he ever was awarded the Purple Heart if his injuries can be documented. All I know from WWII draft card is he was a barber and listed as disabled and on a pension. His last name was Koney I believe that the Battle of Ypres was the first time gas was deployed- a very horrible weapon. As a former Army Ordnance Officer I have seen what it can do . Most of my uncles fought in WWII and my Dad was in the USAAF stationed in Burma for several years at Mytkinya Airbase

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