A Tour of the Messines Ridge Part Three – Peckham Farm Crater & Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery

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On leaving Irish House Cemetery we must head back along the main road (far left) towards Wytschaete for a few hundred yards, before we follow the course of the front lines south.  The first of the mine craters blown on that morning of 7th June 1917 that we shall see on this tour, Peckham Farm Crater was formed when some 87,000 pounds of ammonal were exploded at a depth of 240 feet beneath the German lines here.


Beneath the farm buildings (more specifically the right-hand building) beyond the flooded crater another mine, considerably smaller at 20,000 pounds, but nonetheless just as deadly to anyone in the vicinity, still lies dormant deep beneath the earth.


Above & below: In the middle of the fields just a couple of hundred yards south east of the crater, the spire of Wytschaete church visible on the horizon towards the left, lies little Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery.



Cemetery entrance.


The cemetery contains the graves of 52 men of the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, men of the 16th Irish Division who were killed on 7th June 1917 (three died the following day).  Six further burials are unidentified.

Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery Plan

There are also special memorials to these six men of the Royal Irish Rifles who are known to be buried here but whose graves were destroyed; indeed the cemetery itself was lost during later fighting and only rediscovered after the Armistice.


Baldrick reads a note left at the base of the grave of Rifleman Thomas Todd of the Royal Irish Rifles.


The Cross of Sacrifice.


The view above looks south east with the twelve headstones of Row B nearest the camera and the six special memorial headstones we saw earlier visible in the final row.


This view looks north towards the Cross of Sacrifice, with Row B again in the foreground and Row A beyond.


Above & below: A reminder, once again, of the conditions underfoot even on a beautiful day like this.


Don’t forget that British troops captured all the land you can see in these photos in just three hours on the morning of 7th June.  The mines undoubtedly caused immense devastation to the German defences, but bearing in mind the stalemate of the previous two years, I still marvel that the initial advance was so successful.

Aerial view of the Peckham Farm Crater.  And we must move on.  Another mine crater, and another small but beautifully sited cemetery, await.

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19 Responses to A Tour of the Messines Ridge Part Three – Peckham Farm Crater & Spanbroekmolen British Cemetery

  1. John says:

    Am I to understand that the smaller 20K pound ammonal mine you speak of NNW of the Peckham Farm Crater is unexploded?

  2. Magicfingers says:

    Oh yes. 19 mines were exploded on that June morning, but 25 mines had been laid the previous year. You may remember towards the end of our Ploegsteert Tour we visited the site of four mines, the furthest south of all, that were laid but never detonated (one blew up in the 1950s), and there’s yet another 50,000 lb mine under a farm to the west of Messines itself, about a mile south of where we currently are on this tour, that we shall visit at a later date.

  3. John says:

    Thank you ! I knew some were unexploded but had not delved yet into documenting the locations of those yet. A must for my yet undated future motorcycle tour of the Ypres and Somme regions. So, I know where to ride by slowly, avoiding times when thunderstorms are about.

  4. Magicfingers says:

    Lol. A motorbike tour of Flanders. Sounds like a fabulous idea. Although not, perhaps, for me, as bikes of any sort and me never really got on. Unfortunately for you, now that you have mentioned your plan, you do realise that Baldrick and I will track you down and buy you beer! Probably lots of it.

  5. Jonny Gilpin says:

    Hi there, I know it’s probably a shot in the dark, but the picture of Baldrick reading the note at the gravestone of Thomas Todd, you wouldn’t happen to know what the note said? I’m Thomas’s great grandson and would love to find out. Any response would be thoroughly appreciated.

    Many thanks

  6. Magicfingers says:

    Jonny, I’m not around much of this week, but if he doesn’t respond by next week I shall give him a nudge. I suspect it’s a long shot though. I’m not sure the copious quantities of Grimbergen imbibed later that night would have helped much.

  7. Stephen Moore says:

    Hi. I am trying undertaking a Remembrance Day project for my church St John’s Church of Ireland, Ballyclare and I am trying to obtain information on the eleven men that are named on our First World War memorial. One of these is Thomas Todd and I see that one of your party is reading a note left at the base of his grave. It is a very long shot, but can he remember who wrote this note and what it said. If he can would he send me an email? Many thanks. Stephen

    • Magicfingers says:

      Stephen, how interesting. You will notice that you are not the first to ask that question if you check out the other comments. Unfortunately Baldrick (one of my party. Actually, he is my party.) hardly remembers the day, let alone the note. In all seriousness, I’m sorry but it was a couple of years ago and I’m afraid he cannot remember what was on that particular note.

  8. Eddie Brittain says:

    Hello Jonny,
    It’s interesting to see mention of a Todd. My grandfather, Albert Eddie Todd, was a 19 year old 2nd lieutenant at Messines with the 8th RIR. I don’t suppose there is any family connection? Eddie Todds father was a jewller in Belfast.

    Magicfingers, many thanks for a great web site.
    All the best!

  9. Michael Paul Burchell- (Grand son of Ernest Burchell 6th Wilts Reg) says:

    Does anyone have the Farmers details at Peckham Farm, I saw him from a distance in July 2017 when we briefly visited the area during the 100yrs Passchendaela commemoration. I plan a visit this year and would love to meet up with him.
    My Grandfather Ernest Burchell won his DCM defending the Ridge during the German Spring offensive of 1918. I am doing a book on Ernest.

    • Magicfingers says:

      Hello Michael. Hopefully one of our Belgian readers might be able to find out for you. Or already know the answer. Just to make it a little more complicated, there is actually a small group of farms at Spanbroekmolen. I have also had a thought as I type. As the mine crater is the property of Toc H in Poperinghe, I bet they could tell you who owns the farm. Missing photo in above post now fixed, by the way.

  10. Pete Jones says:

    Hi MF,

    I’ve been asked about a man called Samuel Coulter, killed on 7th June 1917 and buried at Spanbroekmolen; his son Jackie was a footballer of some note. As usual I haven’t got a photo of the cemetery as I get obsessed with the craters, so I did what I usually do and checked in here for photos of the area. Would you believe that you have a photo with his headstone so would it be ok to pass the link on to the family? Also if we come to write his war up could we use the photo with acknowledgment of course? No is a perfectly acceptable answer to this last one.

    Most importantly I hope all is well with you and yours in the current climate,



    • Magicfingers says:

      Afternoon Pete. Love your ‘so I did what I usually do and checked in here for photos of the area’. That’s what I like to hear! And you came up trumps. In the perfect world I would get all of you lot to stop people in the streets and promote this little website, so please pass on the link – and tell them that the photo is theirs to use as and when.
      Keep safe too.

  11. Pete Jones says:

    You are a diamond geezer and a prince amongst men MF. The cemetery appears to be in a little valley; just a fold as far as I can tell. I honestly can’t ever remember visiting it despite being in the area lots of times. I’ve got one taken from the Pool of Peace which looks right over it without it being visible, and my view of Peckham and Spanbroekmolen from Madelstaede Farm hides it behind the farm building which still has the mine underneath. But then my efforts give battlefield photography a bad name, in complete contrast to this little website.

    • Magicfingers says:

      I have awarded myself a diamond geezer badge (always wanted one). And you are most welcome, mate. And bless you for your kind comments on my snaps – I promise you, I am an amateur too, but I have a decent eye (and I’m bloody excellent at computer manipulation. Ha!). I have no idea why you have never spotted this little cemetery – although, personally, I’d be blaming the Chimay – but bearing in mind Baldrick & I had the same experience at Bethleem Farm East (admittedly on our first visit), who am I to talk:


      • Magicfingers says:

        And you, Pete Jones Esq, get your own TBN Gold Star because your most recent comment above happens to be the 5000th comment since this website began. Wear it with pride.

        • Pete Jones says:

          I’m going to get a tee shirt made with The Big Note Gold Star on it; TBN merchandising, it’s the future. As it turns out the Coulter family has visited the grave all the way from Canada, so I hope they will have photos. However as I’ve always rated your composition skills I’ve been doing the virtual equivalent of stopping people on the streets (probably illegal in the current climate) and bigging up the site to my chums. Despite being the worst battlefield photographer in the visible universe I know good stuff when I see it….

          • Magicfingers says:

            Yeah TBN merchandising, Pete. Very cool idea. In all seriousness, you may be right. This website costs a fair few quid to run, and one day the money is gonna run out, so maybe I shall have to sell my soul……..
            Otherwise, appreciate your kind comments, and your spreading the word is much apppreciated.

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