The British Arrive

In mid October 1914 the British Army arrived at Wipers as it became known to the British soldiers and prepared to fight. A few kilometres out the Menin Road is a small village called Hooge. By 25 October 1915 The German Fourth and Sixth Armies were pressing hard to reach the sea. The 1st Battle of Ypres had begun.

1st Battle of Ypres 1st Battle of Ypres

Leaving Ieper by the famous Menin Gate follow the Menen Road for about 4 kilometres. On your left you will find the Hooge Chapel Museum and on the right the Hooge Crater Cemetery.

A little further along on the left is the modern Hooge Château - now a hotel. The original chateau was situated behind its current location.

Hooge Château Shelled

On 31 October 1914 during the 1st Battle of Ypres the Chateau was being used by the 1st and 2nd Divisions' Commanders for their joint HQ.

At a critical moment Major Generals Lomax and Monro were holding a conference. At 13:15 German artillery started shelling the château scoring direct hits. Both generals were injured (Lomax dying a few months later) as were a number of important members of their staffs.

By the end of the battle in November 1914 the Germans had been checked but the front line now ran around Hooge.


The Hooge Mine: 19 July 1915

Up the laneway behind the Museum and in the grounds of the château was a German strongpoint which was proving particularly troublesome. Although The Battle was over for six months the Germans had been seeking to gain the chateau and the stables which had been stoutly defended by the British throughout. The redoubt had in fact been started by the British but it had quickly fallen into German hands.

It was time to do something about it. As trench warfare had become the new way of life so ancient siege methods had been brought into play by both sides. One method of forcing a breach was by tunnelling under the enemy position and detonating enormous mines under their positions. The 175th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers were brought in to dig a tunnel 60 metres long.

I remember watching a documentary about the tunnelling companies and two of the things that I do remember when they were talking about this area are that the water table is very high, and that the clay expands as soon as it comes into contact with the air. Yet such were the conditions back home in the mines that people volunteered to become clay kickers because the risks seemed less on the Western Front than back home at work.

The Tunnelling Companies The Tunnelling Companies

At 19:00 hours on 19th July 1915 the mine was detonated. It was complete success creating a hole some 6 metres deep and almost 40 metres wide. Men from 4 Middlesex rushed in and secured the far side of the hole. The Germans tried to recover their lost position but were beaten off by infantry and a heavy artillery bombardment.

It is ironic that a year later on the first day of the Somme: 1 July 1916 there was an unwillingness to detonate the great mines early because the British tended to make a poor show at capturing the lip of the crater. Perhaps the generals were right for the early detonation of the Hawthorn Mine ended in failure and dire consequences along the entire Somme front.

The First Flamethrower attack on the British The First Flamethrower attack on the British
Hooge Museum Hooge Museum
Hooge Crater Cemetery Hooge Crater Cemetery