It’s been more than a year since the ‘Tour of Ploegsteert Wood’ project began and we are now finally nearing the conclusion. For those of you who have followed our progress around (and within) Ploegsteert Wood, I ought to mention at this point that there have been numerous updates to previous posts since they were first published; in fact I think the number of photographs has probably doubled over the last few months, so you might find it of interest to revisit some of the earlier posts or, dare I say it, start the whole tour again! Radical or what?! Anyway, all of that is entirely up to you. In the meantime, we shall continue our journey…
As we begin the final part of our tour, this view looks south, back down the road in the direction of the Birdcage, with Ploegsteert Wood to the right.
Our route north along the eastern edge of Ploegstert Wood takes us past two wayside crosses, memorials to Private Harry Wilkinson of the Lancashire Fusiliers, whose body was discovered here in 2001 and who is now buried, you will remember, in Prowse Point Military Cemetery.
A faded photograph. A real man. Never forget.
I believe that the body of Private Richard Lancaster, whom we visited earlier at Prowse Point, was also discovered somewhere in this field. Which begs the question: How many other men still lie beneath these cornfields?
Standing right on the British front line, which followed the course of the road at this point, this view looks towards the north eastern corner of Ploegsteert Wood. To the right of the picture, the large farmhouse stands approximately on the site of what was known to the British at the time, for reasons that I shall leave to your imagination, as Three Hun’s Farm.
Before we turn west to follow the northern edge of Ploegsteert Wood back to Prowse Point, you may remember that I promised you previously that we would visit two of the craters formed by the mine explosions early on the morning of 7th June 1917, which heralded the start of the Battle of Messines. To do so we must cross what was once No Man’s Land (don’t forget, we are still standing right on the British front line here) and follow the road pictured towards the German front line on the horizon.
In front of the building in the previous photograph you will have noticed yet another CWGC information board which gives you further information about the action here on 7th June 1917; the map shows that the entrance to the tunnel leading to the Ultimo & Factory Farm mines (officially known as Trench 122 Left & Trench 122 Right) was situated almost exactly where we are currently standing.
No Man’s Land. The trees have since grown on the spoilheap created when the Ultimo mine exploded.
Two views (above and below) of the Ultimo crater, now a peaceful spot far removed from the carnage that must have been caused here when the mine was detonated.
Looking south from Ultimo Crater…
… the small hillocks in front of the trees in the centre of the picture…
…are the spoilbank surrounding the furthest south of the 19 mines detonated on that June morning, that of Factory Farm Crater. The house in the centre distance is the same one pictured during our earlier visit to the Birdcage; you may remember that I mentioned at the time that it would come in useful later to get our bearings. Point proved, methinks.
Okay, we won’t go any nearer, partly because that would be trespassing, and also because I have no intention of messing with these clearly ferocious Belgian cows.
The trees surrounding Ultimo Crater, taken from about a hundred yards behind the German front line. You can just see Ploegsteert Wood in the distance to the left, and it’s high time we returned to the main road from where we will head west to complete our tour.
Back at the road, looking west at the northern edge of Ploegsteert Wood. A few yards north of here a side road will lead us back to Prowse Point Military Cemetery, and thus the end of our tour.
Must be that way then.
Indeed it is. At the end of Part One of this tour I told you we’d eventually find the plaque on the site of Bruce Bairnsfather’s dugout in the hamlet of St. Yves (now St. Yvon) where, in the winter of 1914, he drew the first of his famous ‘Old Bill’ cartoons…
…and here, finally, it is.
And we aren’t the only recent visitors.
Just up the road we come across the Khaki Chums Cross, placed here in 1999 after members of the Association for Military Remembrance had spent five days over the Christmas period living in waterlogged trenches near this spot. Looked after by the local population ever since, the Cross has become a shrine to commemorate the Christmas truce in 1914 that took place in the fields hereabouts (and indeed all along the nearby front lines at least as far south as Le Gheer), and the legendary football match that took place between British and German troops in No Man’s Land. I say legendary because there is actually little real evidence that this happened, although what does seem certain is that footballs were kicked about during the truce, even if an actual match never took place. I have read a number of descriptions of the truce where footballs have been mentioned, only one of which uses the word ‘match’, and it seems to me that, bearing in mind the number of photographs of fraternisation between the lines that have emerged in recent years, it is highly improbable that a football match would have gone unrecorded.
If you look carefully (click to enlarge, of course) you can just see Messines Church on the horizon immediately to the right of the Cross, and also, on the skyline to the left, the Irish Peace Tower, situated in the Island of Ireland Peace Park on the outskirts of Messines (now, of course, known as Mesen).
I also ought to mention that two more of the British mines that explodeded on 7th June 1917, Trench 127 Left & Trench 127 Right, were located in the fields beyond the Cross.
And finally, just a couple of hundred yards up the road, we find ourselves back at the very first cemetery we visited way back at the start of our tour; Prowse Point Military Cemetery. And that really is the end of the ‘Tour of Ploegsteert Wood’. I promise I shall update the accompanying trench map in due course, and I suppose, bearing in mind the number of times the Battle of Messines has been mentioned during the course of the tour, I’d better get started on the ‘Tour of Messines’, or whatever it eventually gets called, where we shall visit many other cemeteries, memorials, mine craters and, and this is a guarantee, lots and lots of mud.