A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Twelve – Ultimo Crater & Bruce Bairnsfather

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.

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32 Responses to A Tour of Ploegsteert Wood Part Twelve – Ultimo Crater & Bruce Bairnsfather

  1. Bev Payton says:

    My grandfather was in WW1 and WW11, I have two shells (that were chromed ) and made into vases. One shell has enscribed around it Ploegsteert 2.4.17 The other has enscribed around it Messines 7.6.17. On the bottom of each shell they are both marked with DEZ 1916 FN is circled st. 13 HL27. Can anytone give me info on these shells. eg. Were they Australian shells ?

  2. Magicfingers says:

    I’m afraid that I have no idea about the shells Bev. I have a few myself but there is nothing similar marked on them. Try the Great War Forum. Someone there is bound to be an expert. But most interesting to have a shell inscribed with that date at any rate.

  3. Jeff Scouse Mouse says:

    Hi Bev,
    your description “Dez1916” would indicate that they may well be of German origin, manufactured in December 1916 and used in 1917 in the Plugstreet and Messines sector.

  4. Claude says:

    Hi Magicfingers, the brown boards around Ploegsteert Wood were placed by the local Tourist Office with the help of members of the Ploegsteert Memorial Committe who is organizing the Last Post once a month at Ploegsteert Memorial.

  5. Kevin Whettingsteel says:

    I have recently uncovered a trench map that was in my grandads possession. It is of the Ploegstreert trenches, is dated May 24th 1916 and shows a section of both British and german trenches. He was a runner with the 1th Hants. The hand drawn map is in very good condition and I was wondering if it is of interest to anyone ?

    • Magicfingers says:

      Kevin, I am extremely interested! I am currently in sunny Spain but back at the weekend. Would love to discuss the trench map when I get back.

      • kevin says:

        Glad that they might be of interest. One of them is a lot more detailed than the other. I have taken a scan of both of them so I can email them if required.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Kevin, if you wish to discuss the trench maps off-post, then by all means email me at Pumori@btinternet.com. Look forward to hearing from you.

        • garry trown says:


          Just read your thread on the trench maps you have from a past relative. I’m visiting the Ploegsteert sector as a group of 5 in October and wondered if you would kindly let me(the group) have a copy(ies) of your maps.
          Garry Trown
          Chairman Lincoln Branch
          Western Front Association

    • Mark Dinan says:

      Hello Kevin.

      I am planning a bicycle trip in the area. I would also be very interested in obtaining copies of your trench maps if you are still willing to share.

    • Chris Starr says:

      Kevin I know this is some time since you posted this. My great uncle George Frederick Stopher White G/9753 10th Battalion Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment died 12 July 1916 Age 19. At the time the battalion was occupying trenches 112 to 120. Would your map show the location of these trenches?

  6. Guy Spilsbury says:


    I’ve just come across your Tour of Ploegsteert, and what a great blog!

    My Great Uncle – James Spilsbury was involved in the “Meeanee” trench raid conducted by the 10th Cheshire Regiment on 17th Feb 1917 in the area around the present Rue Riche near Ploegsteert Wood (I think this involved raiding the German trenches on the site of the later Ultimo and Factory Farm mines).

    If anyone have any information about which German division / battalion was occuying these trenches during this time I’d be grateful.


    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Guy. Glad you found your way here, and glad you are enjoying it. I would like to help but, as I explained in response to another comment this evening, my books are currently unavailable to me, but let’s hope someone else has the information you are after.

      • Magicfingers says:

        Although I can tell you that the 5th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, part of the 4th Bavarian Division, were in the trenches opposite Ploegsteert Wood in May 1917…….which probably doesn’t help much!!

  7. Merv says:

    My Grandfather was at “Plugstreet Wood” during latter part of 1914, with 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry; until he was shot and wounded on 1st December, and a few days later was back in hospital in England. Relating the incident to me years later, he was exchanging fire with the enemy who were in a farmhouse when he was shot.
    Would like to hear from anyone who has knowledge of the regiment, and their area of engagements at the time. According to their War Diary; no mention of casualties that day but concerned much about the waterlogged trenches and ordered a pump to be brought up. Only record of my grandfather been shot is in the 1st Somerset’s Roll Book. He was back with his regiment in early July 1915, and took part at The Battle of The Somme a year later.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Merv. Thanks for posting your Grandfather’s story. It’s an interesting place, Ploegsteert Wood. It was one of the first places I went to on my Flanders visits and, although I haven’t been in the wood for a few years now, I like to see it when I am in Belgium, even just driving past, as I did only last weekend on the way to visit the cemeteries at Nieppe. Hope someone responds to your comment.

      • Merv says:

        Hello Magic,
        Many thanks for your comment. Ploegsteert Wood is somewhere I hope to visit sometime. On my first visit to WW1 Battle fields a few years ago was with an organised tour so did not get the chance to visit there.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Merv, funnily enough I have made eleven trips to Flanders and one to the Somme, and I have never been on an organised tour. Yet. It seems that may change in the not-too-distant. And yes, you must visit Ploegsteert Wood if you get the chance. I hope you have read the entire Ploegsteert Wood tour on this site, btw.

  8. Merv says:

    Magic, this site is great and I cannot thank you enough for the interesting information that gets added here. If anyone has any info about the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry (4th Division) at Ploegsteert Wood during their time there in 1914 or any trench maps, photos etc, I would love to hear from them. Many thanks.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks Merv, good Sir! Much appreciated. Hope someone responds at some point.

      • Merv says:

        Update; I managed to visit Ploegsteert Wood in March 2017, to get an idea of where my grandfather was shot and wounded on 1st Dec 1914. As far as I can gather he and a few men were trying to take out some enemy snipers that were in a farmhouse and had been giving the 1st Somersets some grief over the past few nights. The battalion War Diary of late November shows this.

        A wood of melancholy and reflection. If I get chance I would definitely visit again.

        • Magicfingers says:

          Hello Merv. It’s been a while! Ploegsteert was the first area in Flanders that I got to know really well, but although I pass by the wood quite frequently on my way to the French Flanders battlefields, I have not visited for too many years now. I think I need to rectify that sometime soon.

          • Merv says:

            Hello Magic. I lost touch owing to my old AOL account, could not open anything on there. Ploegsteert Wood is well worth visiting; loads of history in there, sadly the cemeteries hold testimony to that. I also got to other battle areas where my grandfather fought with the 1st Somersets on the Somme in 1916 and later east of Arras during the Spring Offensive 1917.

  9. Gary Wall says:

    Hi, hope this site’s still active !
    My great Uncle, William Biggs (5784, 1st Hampshire’s) was KIA just north of Le Gheer on the 4th January 1915, buried in Lancaster Cottage Cemetery, one of six OR’s of the 1st Hampshire’s killed in January 14. After the xmas truce which I think ended after new year, I believe he would have been busy pumping flooded trenches, does anyone have any idea where he might have been on that fateful day as I’m planning a visit next year and would like to visit the rough area where he was killed. Thanks.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Of course we’re active!! Loads of stuff elsewhere on this site about the Ploegsteert-Houplines area. Check the Categories. And someone might actually answer your question, who knows? Thanks for commenting.

  10. Magicfingers says:

    Merv, it just proves the old adage: You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave! Glad you’re back.

  11. Morag Sutherland says:

    good morning – I am glad I clicked on the link from the post card page and I plan to read all the information about this area- my granny’s cousin A S king fought with the CEF and he is buried in La Plus Douve – needless to say his name was Alexander Sutherland (byname KING) the CWGC have graciously changed the cemetery register to reflect this after a monumental effort on my part……….but that they say is another story

  12. Morag Sutherland says:

    Good afternoon. Thanks for this. I have a fair amount of information about him. I sent you a picture of him ….but every addition is welcome

    • Magicfingers says:

      The links take you to the relevant pages on this site. La Plus Douve includes a fabulous story – you will love it.

  13. Larry M. Jackson says:

    Very moving , for one whose country did not enter until 1917, have read about Christmas Truce1914, am haunted by the possibility of very different ending to the war. If only….the Boys of 1914 May They Rest In Pease. Gone , never forgetton

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