November 9, 1914. A 20-year old Lance-Corporal named Edward Dobson hunkered down in a shallow and water-filled trench at the edge of a wood. The German’s were preparing for their final push to Ypres and Edward and the rest of the British Expeditionary Force stood in their way. Meanwhile, 200 miles to the west, on the windswept Salisbury Plain, his half-brother Herbert Clifford was training in the mud and rain along with 33,000 other Canadians. In just over five months time Lance-Corporal Clifford and the Canadian Expeditionary Force would find themselves defending the same patch of earth in the Second Battle of Ypres.
The Germans pummeled the British positions with artillery and repeated infantry attacks but Ypres did not fall in November 1914. But unfortunately young Edward Dobson did not survive the onslaught and his name, one of 54,896 soldiers with no known grave, is engraved on the walls of the Menin Gate in the city he died defending. In April of the following year his half-brother Herbert would be shot and captured when the Canadians poured in to defend the void created by the German’s devastating gas attack on the French lines. And Ypres did not fall in April 1915 either.
I launched “On Active Service” to pay tribute to soldiers like Edward and Herbert. To me a hastily scribbled letter or a dog-eared photograph offer an intimate glimpse into their alien world.