Taking the N332 road west out of Ypres for about 5 km Vanbieryliet Steenbakkerij (or The Zonnebeke Brickworks) is a large open clay pit and processing works on the left of the road between Frezenberg and Zonnebeke. This is a popular stopping place for Tours of the Battlefields from Bruges such as Quasimodos tours run by Mr & Mrs Notre Dame.
The clay is excavated from the huge quarry at the rear and it is interesting to note in the slope of the walls the layer of blue 'London' clay clearly visible some 20 feet down and the variations in colour above caused by trenches and shell holes. A metal detector is used before each pass is made by the automatic clay excavation system, this ensures that the equipment needs the minimum of repairs through explosions of ammunition. Much of this is recovered from the clay grading and riddling screens and is placed carefully in baskets ready for collection by the Military. (See also Battlefield Debris from WWI.)
In 1984 the diggers found a
large dugout close to the rear of the works almost beneath the
rail on which the trucks operate. It proved to be an L-shaped
complex, possibly a forward post, a field dressing or rest and
recuperation station and is thought to be of Australian origin
from the style of work. There was provision for over 120 men with
bunks in three tiers and an officer's quarter. The
management of the brickworks has thoughtfully preserved it in its
entirety, installing electric lighting, a concrete covering and
an access path to a solid door to enable visitors to taste the
flavour of subterranean life. Much of the rusting wire of the
bunks and the debris of occupation has been cleared but there
still remains the damp atmosphere, the decaying corrugated iron,
the original mud and cement steps, and the makeshift wooden
ladder. When I first saw it ammo, particularly a couple of large
rusty shells, were to be seen but when I went some months later
they had gone. On enquiry I found that they were still live and had been taken away
to be disposed of!. Visits can be arranged with permission gained
by applying to the office at present but it is hoped regular
viewing hours will be made in the near future. This may be
possible after working hours, as access is dangerous whilst the
trucks and other vehicles are operating.
Hill 60 is a slight hill alongside the railway line near Ypres which had a german bunker on top until 1916. The hill was strategically important to both sides, and all efforts by the British to take it had proved costly in lives and had failed.
In the months following the great May battles of 1915, the
main struggle went on underground. Deep mining began in August
1915 by 175th Tunnelling Company from an entrance in the bank of
the railway cutting some 220 yards behind the British front line.
It was to pass 90 feet below the surface. In April 1916 the 3rd
Canadian Tunnelling Company took over and mines were commenced on
the Caterpillar as well. After a long underground struggle
between the miners of both sides, the Hill 60 gallery was
finished in July 1916 and charged with 53,500 lbs of high
explosive. In October, the gallery under the Caterpillar (the
area on the other side of the railway line near to the road) was
also completed and 70,000 lbs of explosive was placed there. In
order to achieve this, the German main gallery had to be
destroyed by a camouflet.
In November 1916 the Ist Australian Tunnelling Company took over the maintenance of these mines. This entailed endless fighting above and below ground to keep the enemy from discovering the galleries and charges.
The two mines were to be the most northerly in the long chain of twenty-four mines which were being prepared for the attack on the Messines Ridge. In the event only nineteen were blown. It was at 3.10 a. m. precisely on June 7, 1917 that these exploded with a tremendous shock, similar to that of an earthquake. It was felt even in London and other places in England.
Immediately after the mines had been fired and almost before the earth ceased to heave. the entire artillery force of the Second Army opened a three-pronged barrage on the German lines. Fifteen minutes later, at hill 60, the men of the 69th and 70th Brigades, Yorkshire Bns. attacked the hill and gained the feature with few casualties and no trouble.
The force from the exploding mine under Hill 60 lifted the bunker clear off the ground and turned it upside down. A British pillbox was later built on top of the inverted bunker.
Right: a view showing the later british pillbox built on
top of the inverted German bunker.
The following Victoria Crosses were among the many awards for gallantry in the Hill 60 operations: Lieutenant G. R. P. Roupell, 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment. for his magnificent example of courage and devotion on April 20. Private E. Dwyer, Ist Bn. East Surrey Regiment for gallantry in bombing and assistance under fire to wounded comrades. Second Lieutenant G. H. Woolly. 9th Bn. London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles). He was the first Territorial officer to receive the VC which was awarded for defence on the night of April 20/21 when, for a time, he was the onlv officer on the hill. Second Lieutenant B. H. Geary, 4th Bn., attached Ist Bn. East Surrev Regiment, for conspicuous bravery and determination on April 20/21.
Beside the railway bridge near a small car park, a small monument recalls the death of two members of the French Resistance here in World War Two, summarily executed at the railside after being caught in an act of sabotage.
Overlooking this is the 14th Light Division Memorial. Which in
September 1978 was moved here from Railway Wood where it had
suffered from subsidence and as local needs required the land for
To get to The British Military Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing from the brick works one takes the N332 again and carry on straight through Zonnebeke towards Broodseinde following the road (still the N332) the left at the cross roads towards Paschendaele. After approximately 1km. Take the road to the left at the sign for Tyne Cot, given this name by the men of 50th Northumbrian division. The Cemetery is about 1km. on the right and is a very peaceful spot. I certainly could not stand and stare at all those white grave markers without a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye. Here lie the greatest number to be buried in a commonwealth war cemetery. There are 11,908 graves of known dead and at the rear is a curving wall between two domed pavilions on which are recorded the names of 34,888 men who have no known grave from after August 16th 1917. to the end of the war. At the back of the cross of sacrifice are the original graves from battles on the site and the dead from when the area was used as a field dressing station.
At the back of the wall containing the names of the missing there is another cemetery laid out in a fan shape. This contains groups of Tuscan columns which have behind them two circular cloisters on either side of a central apse. which is the New Zealand Memorial to their Missing.
|Just at the side of the Cross of Sacrifice lie a small number of German graves of those who fell on the site. These have been left undisturbed except for planting and a headstone.|
|Tyne Cot is unique in that the Cross of Sacrifice is
actually built over a bunker used by both German and
Allied troops at various stages. A small piece of the
original concrete bunker wall can be seen behind the
wreath in the panel below the cross.
The bunker was part of the Flanders I line built by the Germans and the largest was used as a dressing station by the 33rd and 50th Divisions and two Canadian Formations who all buried their dead around it. The station again fell into German hands when the Allies withdrew at the end of March 1918. A plaque at the Cross of Sacrifice gives details of its capture by the 2nd Australian Division. From the base of the cross the whole of the salient can be seen stretching away to the south west as far as Kemmel and on a bright, clear sunny day the cross can be seen from Dunkerque Lighthouse.
|On returning to the main N332 one can get to Langemark Soldatenfriedhof by the round about route if one is on a tour to see more memorials or more directly by returning to Zonnebeke and turning right at the cross roads making for Fortuinhoe and Langemark. On arrival in the centre of Langemark drive across the cross roads and just out of the town where you will find the cemetery on your left. A dark foreboding atmosphere as you see the entrance.|
|Looking into the cemetery from the gate one sees directly in front of you the Kameradengrab: a large azalea bed which contains the remains of 28,834 men. At the rear of the cemetery there are vague figures of four soldiers in bronze standing bare headed and on closer examination one will see that they are virtually featureless but very effective figures watching over their comrades.|
Please see also:
There are more sites connected with the First World War and its memorials on the Links Page, particularly Hellfire Corner, a Great War Battlefield and memorial site.
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This site is a work in progress.