Whitby High School

Battlefields Tour 22nd-25th March 2013


Flanders Field, Belgium - Sunday 24th 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'. In recent years the site has seen some attempt at much needed renovation and improvement to museum and visitor facilities, especially to bring it up to the standards of other sites around the Salient.

The museum does contain 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 is stack of shells recovered from this site by the landowner. The weather all day on our visit was showery, with a bitterly cold wind. 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 April 2013 by Mike Royden