A bizarre episode took place at the battle of Neuve Chapelle in October 1914, it was in fact the first ‘gas’ attack of the war, but not the deadly ‘mustard’ gas..
Early in the war, German Major Max Bauer, Chief of Artillery and the Fortress Section of Operation Branch had convened a group of scientists to develop a chemical shell of incendiary, smoke, irritant, or stink type to drive enemy troops from inaccessible places. The result was the “Ni-shell”. The Ni stood for ‘Niespulver’- Sneezing Powder. Professor Nernst of Kaiser Wilhelm Institute had developed the idea of placing irritant among the balls of standard shrapnel shell.
3, 000 of these non-toxic shells were fired at Neuve Chapelle. The British and Indian troops did not realize that they had been victims of the ‘Ni shell’ until they read about it after the the war. Legend has it the Prof Nernst’s ‘Ni shells’ were abandoned after Erich Van Falenhayn’s son had won a case of champagne by wagering that he could stand in a cloud of the irritant for 5 minutes and emerge unharmed.
Meanwhile, a new type of Gas weapon a shell filled with xylyl bromide was being developed and would be used, against the Russian’s in 1915.