Initial Search

My childhood memory of my grandfather's service was that he was a gunner who was gassed and invalided out. The gassing incident was probably a very significant and unpleasant event in his life and for these reasons alone no history of his service would be complete without an account of it. Another important reason for tracing the incident is that although being gassed was by no means unique to him, it does at least distinguish him from the majority of soldiers. This may allow his unit to be determined by looking at the war diaries of the possible units for gas casualties at the time Herbert was gassed.

Gas shell explodes in no-man's-land
(World War 1 Document Archive - see links)

The problem is that not knowing when and where the incident occurred means that there is a lot of searching to do.

We do know however that he served in Salonika and the 27th Division did not return from there during the war. Hence for the gas to invalid him out of the war it is likely that it occurred in Macedonia. Gas was first used in that theatre of war on 17th March 1917 and was presumably not used after the armistice was concluded with Bulgaria on 29th September 1918.

Although a complete set of casualty lists for the war is reported not to exist, several copies of the War Office Weekly Casualty Lists covering the period August 1917 - February 1919 do still remain. These list killed, wounded and captured servicemen. They are not indexed and so each day has to be searched. Very little information is given on the individual, however an approximate date of the casualty can be estimated from the issue date of the list.

Although I have serious doubts as to whether the army considered gassing as wounding there is no gas poisoning section within these lists and so a search for Herbert means a search through the wounded section of the Royal Field Artillery for every day (except Sundays - where no lists were issue) from 1st August 1917 until 29th February 1919. Having searching the complete list I can find no entry for Herbert although his brother Abraham (Halliday 156121 Gnr. A. (Rawtenstall)) is listed in the wounded section for the Royal Field Artillery in the daily list of 24th May 1918.

There are several possible reasons why I have not found Herbert. Firstly, as mentioned, gassing may not be listed as wounded. Secondly, he may have been listed but I have missed him. Possible as it took several days to search the lists. Thirdly, he could have been gassed in the period between 17th May 1917 (when gas was first used in Macedonia) and when the first list was published (1st August 1917 - but relating to casualties in June or July). Fourthly, he was not gassed in Macedonia. Or fifthly, he was not gassed at all.

Without the benefit of obtaining possible dates of the gas attack from the War Office Weekly Casualty Lists, the war diaries of the 27th division have to be searched from 17th March 1917 until 29th September 1918. Having done this, I have found no mention of gas casualties amongst the field artillery personnel, although they did suffer the occasional gas attack during the period July to September 1918. It is possible that these attacks did cause casualties that have not been mentioned in the war diaries but with neither the War Office Weekly Casualty Lists listing him and his probable division apparently not suffering gas casualties in Macedonia it is beginning to look as if I have made a mistake somewhere.

The belief by myself and all other members of his family was that Herbert was invalided out because he was gassed. However, it is really an assumption that because he spoke of being gassed and invalided out these two facts are connected. This is not an unreasonable assumption. The evidence shows that he was invalided out since he received the Silver War Badge (due to wounds or sickness), but was not wounded since he did not receive any wound stripes (as specified on his discharge certificate). Unfortunately the army order responsible for the issue of the wound stripes (A.O. 249 of 1916) does not define wounding. However, in the Medical History of the War - Casualties and Medical Statistics - the Ministry of Pensions review on page 320 lists gas poisoning under diseases rather than under wounds thus indicating that to be discharged due to gas poisoning would probably be the same as being discharged due to sickness. Without there being evidence of any other illness, it is therefore reasonable to assume it was the gas poisoning that was responsible for his discharge.

During a visit to Hay-on-Wye in Powys, Wales I found an old copy of "Salonica and after" by H. Collinson Owen. The book gave me useful background information on life in Macedonia at the time, but little else. I then lent it to my mother who had become interested in my research.

Men blinded by tear gas.
(Photograph courtesy of the
Imperial War Museum, London - Q11586)

On Saturday 1st February 1997 my mother informed me that after reading "Salonica and after" she remembered that her father spoke of malaria and quinine. For my mother to remember this so many years after my grandfather spoke of it suggests that it was mentioned on many occasions. This indicates that he himself may have suffered from malaria. It was certainly rife amongst the British Salonika Force with non-battle casualties (mainly from malaria) out numbering battle casualties by about twenty to one.

We now have a possible second illness. Could it have been malaria that caused his discharge? If so, when did the gas poisoning occur? The evidence from the 27th Division's war diaries suggests that it did not occur in Macedonia. Could it have occurred much earlier while he was still serving on the Western Front?

The 27th division spent a year on the Western Front before sailing to Salonika in January 1916. During this period it was involved in two battles. The capture of the St. Eloi craters (about 3 miles south of Ypres) from the 14th to 15th March 1915 and the Second Battle of Ypres from 22nd April to 25th May 1915. The Second Battle of Ypres was the first occasion when poison gas was used on the Western Front (by the Germans against the British, Canadians and French). It is therefore possible that Herbert was gassed at Ypres in 1915 and recovered sufficiently to carry on his war service.

It has already been stated that the only complete set of casualty lists that exist cover the period August 1917 to February 1919. However, the Times also published casualty lists and for 1915 at least they appear to be complete. In order to prove that Herbert was gassed at Ypres a search of these casualty lists is required starting from April 1915. Copies of the Times are readily available with the British Newspaper Library at Colindale holding originals and many libraries holding copies on microfilm. I have used the microfilm set held at the Hertfordshire Central Resources Library, Welham Green.

During 1915 the casualty rates for NCOs and men (officers were listed separately) varied from about 800 per day at "quiet times" to over 4000 per day at the height of major battles. Huge as these numbers are, they start to look small as the army expanded and the battles became bigger and the British Army suffered 57,540 casualties on the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916.

The following page shows the casualty list published on the 28th September 1915. It lists 2,251 names mainly from the Mediterranean (Gallipoli). However, in the right hand column appears a supplementary list referring to casualties in the Expeditionary Force (France and Belgium) during April and May 1915. Near the bottom is a section marked Suffering from gas poisoning. The list contains 32 Royal Field Artillery personnel one of which is Driver H Halliday 79709.

This is pretty conclusive proof that my grandfather was gassed at the Second Battle of Ypres since this is where the 27th Division was during April and May and I am not aware of gas being used in any other sector of the British line at that time. It also shows that it was not the gas poisoning that caused his discharge and therefore indicates that it was probably malaria that finally brought his service in the Great War to an end.