The Second Battle of Ypres took place in April 1915, around the time Robert first enlisted in the army. After the battle, Ypres remains in Allied possession. Most of the Canadian troops are deployed after this time and are assigned to objectives in trenches in towns, villages, and the surrounding woods.
The fact that Ypres, West Flanders has been in Allied possession for nearly a year explains why the Belgian peasant was so hostile toward Robert in Chapter 2. Believing him to be a British soldier, the man was reacting to the trauma of his country being overtaken by enemy forces, showing the devastating effects of war on civilians as well as troops.
Robert, Levitt, and the other junior officers alternate between convoy and battery duties. Robert and another man named Roots start on convoy, where each officer oversees seventy-five men and ninety-five horses. When there is fighting (a “show”), the soldiers form columns to transport the ammunition. The size of the order depends on the duration of the gunfire—two hours is considered important, while thirty minutes is called “nuisance firing.”
As the men reach Belgium and begin combat, the reality of war is different from the dramatic battles that Robert and many others expected. The description of “nuisance firing” suggests that many of the soldiers’ duties are mundane and operate much like an assembly line—a far cry from the glorious heroism they envisioned.
The Huns begin a mission on the Meuse River against the French, aiming to create a “zone of death.” They fly planes overhead (which mesmerizes Robert) and make a gas attack at the Ypres Salient, but it is far enough away that Robert’s men only taste the gas on the snowflakes.
The German forces’ use of aircrafts and chemical weaponry demonstrates the unprecedented destruction made possible by modern technology, as they are able to rapidly devastate entire swaths of land from a distance rather than engaging in close-range combat.