Whitby High School

Battlefields Tour 11-14th March 2004

Flanders Field, Belgium - Friday 12th March

Sanctuary Wood/Hill 62

Sanctuary Wood/Hill 62

The name was given by the British troops who used its shelter to regroup during the 1st Battle of Ypres. The wood changed hands many times - notably in 1916 when the Canadians re-took the wood and Hill 62, just above the present museum site, only to lose it again shortly afterwards. In 1917 Sanctuary Wood was the starting point of several costly attacks during the opening days of the Passchendaele Offensive.

The Site Today: The trenches preserved in the wood are British front line trenches belonging to a system known as Vince St. and jam Row. They are the best example of the front line trenches left in the salient. They include a communication tunnel and several dugouts. Also of note are the shell blasted stumps of trees - all that remained of the original forest. The site is privately owned and has been in the same family since 1923.

When visiting any of these preserved sites, it is natural for a historian to question their authenticity, although this does not interfere with the purpose of remembering those who fought here. Sanctuary Hill in particular has come in for criticism by those who feel the site has been more than 'recreated'. See this forum for example for a current debate: The Great War Forum . It also includes the views of WWI author and guide Paul Reed. What do you think?

The museum contained some fascinating objects including a water pump, which must have seen a great deal of use in keeping the tunnels clear, and mustard gas shells. Shells of all shapes and sizes are constantly coming up from the former battlegrounds every year, and a small munitions team are still kept in full employment in dealing with the on going problem. Near the entrance was a stack of shells recovered from this site by the landowner. The weather all day on our visit was appalling, with bitterly cold temperatures and driving rain. The trenches here had become flowing streams with slimy, clinging mud everywhere. It was certainly a comfort to return to the warmth of the coach, but it really made you think hard about the conditions during WWI.

Hell Fire Corner

On our return we passed through Hell Fire Corner. Situated on the Menin Road, this was an important junction where supply routes leaving Ypres through the Menin Gate fanned out to various points in the Salient. The Germans were well aware of its importance and had guns permanently zeroed on it. They knew that whatever time they fired they were likely to hit something. Canvas screens were erected to try to hide movement but they were not effective. On the site today there is a demarcation stone at the road junction, indicating the nearest that the Germans ever got to Ypres in April 1918. The original crossroads was replaced by a roundabout in 1994.

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Updated 8th April 2004 by Mike Royden
The Whitby High School, Cheshire County Council.