- Name: Edward Donald BELLEW
- D.O.B: 28th Oct, 1882
- D.O.A: 24th Apr, 1915
- D.O.D: 1st Feb, 1961
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Lieutenant, 7th Battalion The British Columbia Regiment, 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, Canadian Expeditionary Force
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 2
Ypres, Belgium 22-26 April 1915
22-26 April 1915
The First World War 1915
When the Germans launched the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915 the northern line of the Allied salient was manned by French troops as far east as the St Julien to Poelcapelle road north of Keerselaere. Here the 2nd and 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigades took over as far as Berlin Wood, half a mile east of Gravenstafel. The 13th Battalion was on the 3rd Brigade’s left flank, north of the River Stroombeek, and adjoining the French 45th Algerian Division. The German attack, preceded by the release of chlorine gas from Steenstraat to Poelcapelle, came from the north and was directed against the French. The gas, for which they were unprepared, caused them to fall back in disarray and a gap of over 2,000 yards opened up to the west of the St Julien to Poelcapelle road. In the middle of this gap was a battery of 18-pounders, commanded by Major W B M King, 10th (St Catherine’s) Battery CFA. At 7pm King requested help from the infantry. A party of sixty men from 14th and 15th Battalions and a Colt machine-gun from 13th Battalion HQ at St Julien was sent to assist him. Lance Corporal F Fisher accompanied this machine-gun and covered the withdrawal of the battery. He then assisted Lieutenant J G Ross, the Battalion Machine-Gun Officer, in taking forward two machine-gun detachments to strengthen the defences. They also brought a French machine-gun into action but Fisher was shot dead a few moments later. The British counter-attacked on the 23rd but the initial German thrust had created a triangular area at the top of the Ypres salient, which it was going to be difficult for the British to defend. Its apex was across the Stroombeek, south of Poelcapelle. Its eastern side coincided roughly with the stream and behind this was the Gravenstafel Ridge. The Canadians were ordered to try to hold this at any cost. At 3.30am on 24 April 1915 the Germans launched a heavy artillery barrage here and at 4am released gas. Assisted by this they broke through the Canadian lines and the Canadians sent in reserves to halt the advance. Amongst these was Company Sergeant Major F W Hall, 8th Battalion (Manitoba Regiment), 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade. When his officer, Lieutenant O’Grady, was killed he took charge of his platoon and brought it to the front line, then going back to bring in two wounded men. When another wounded man who was lying 15 yards from the Allied trenches called for help, Hall and two volunteers, Corporal Payne and Private Rogerson, tried to reach him. When these latter were wounded, Hall made a second attempt on his own, and was lifting the man up to bring him back when he was shot in the head. Moments later the wounded man was killed. Hall died of his wounds the next day. Meanwhile, the Germans were also attacking the western side of the triangle. Here the 7th Battalion, 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, under the command of Major Victor Odlum, held the trenches from Keerselaere to St Julien at the western end of the Gravenstafel Ridge. Lieutenant Edward Bellew, the battalion’s machine-gun officer, commanded two Colt machineguns on the high ground at Vancouver crossroads. With the assistance of Sergeant Peerless he succeeded in briefly halting the German advance at this point, until Peerless was killed and he himself captured. By 1pm Major Odlum was forced to order a withdrawal of his surviving men. In the course of the days’ fighting St Julien was lost and the British fell back towards the GHQ line between St Julien and Wieltje, which itself lay about half way between St Julien and Ypres. The 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade HQ was based at ‘Shell Trap Farm’, Wieltje. Here, since the beginning of the battle, Captain F A C Scrimger, Canadian Army Medical Corps, had been in charge of an Advanced Dressing Station, treating the many victims of the German gas attack as well as the large number of casualties from the Canadians’ counter-attack, in which two-thirds of the officers, all the company commanders and about half of the other ranks fell. On the afternoon of 25 April several shells hit the farm, causing boxes of ammunition to explode and setting fire to the buildings. Captain Harold MacDonald was hit in the neck and shoulder. Despite the shelling Scrimger dressed his wounds, then carried him out to a moat, fifty feet away, where they lay half submerged in water to protect him from shell fire. He stayed with MacDonald until stretcher-bearers were able to carry him to a dressingstation. MacDonald’s subsequent report on Scrimger’s bravery led to the award of the VC. On 26 April 1915 the British attempted to push the Germans back in the northern sector. The Lahore Division launched an assault on enemy positions on Mauser Ridge, west of St Julien. Faced by heavy fire and chlorine gas, this attack failed. In the course of the action Acting Corporal I Smith, 1st Battalion The Manchester Regiment, left his company on his own initiative and advanced towards the German positions to help Sergeant Rooke, carrying him 250 yards to safety. Later in the day Smith helped carry Lieutenant Shipston and several other wounded men into the trenches of the 4th Suffolks. Meanwhile, Jemadar Mir Dast, attached to 57th Wilde’s Rifles, collected all the men he could and kept them under his command until ordered to withdraw. During the return journey, in the course of which he was himself wounded, he displayed great courage helping many wounded officers and men. The 57th Rifles lost over half their men and by the evening consisted of only five officers, two of whom were wounded, and 216 other ranks. The fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres continued until 25 May by which time the troops on both sides were exhausted and stocks of ammunition were running low. The Germans had managed to shrink the Allied salient until the front line ran from the Mauser Ridge in the north, then turned south to pass just east of Wieltje and Hooge before curving west in front of Zwarteleen to St Eloi. However, they had failed to drive the Allies out of Ypres.
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty near Keerselaere on 24th April, 1915, during the German attack on the Ypres salient. Capt. (then Lieut.) Bellew, as Battalion Machine Gun Officer, had two guns in action on the high ground overlooking Keerselaere. The enemy’s attack broke in full force on the morning of the 24th against the front and right flank of the Battalion - the latter being exposed owing to a gap in the line. The right Company was soon put out of action, but the advance was temporarily stayed by Capt. Bellew, who had sited his guns on the left of the right Company. Reinforcements were sent forward but they in turn were surrounded and destroyed. With the enemy in strength less than 100 yards from him, with no further assistance in sight, and with his rear threatened, Capt. Bellew and Serjt. Peerless, each operating a gun, decided to stay where they were and fight it out. Serjt. Peerless was killed and Capt. Bellew was wounded and fell. Nevertheless, he got up and maintained fire till ammunition failed and the enemy rushed the position. Capt. Bellew then seized a rifle, smashed his machine gun, and fighting to the last, was taken prisoner.