The Hill 60 memorial park at Zillebeke is easily reached from Ieper or the French border.
From Ieper come out of the Rijselpoort and continue straight across at the roundabout onto the N365 following the signs for Rijsel (Flemish for Lille).
Within a short distance you will come to a railway crossing with a Belgian Military Barracks and the road to Mont Kemmel on your right. This crossroads was known as Shrapnel Corner during the war and was under constant bombardment.
Immediately before the railway line is a road off to the left, alongside the railway, and signposted to a number of CWGC Cemeteries.
Take this road and continue towards Zillebeke passing Railway Dugouts Cemetery on your right. You cross over the railway and continue on for two kilometres until you see a sign for Hill 60 directing you off to the left and back over the railway.
From France via either Bailleul/Kemmel or Armentières/Ploegsteert follow the directions for Ieper. Near Voormezele you will reach the Barracks and see the Railway crossing. Coming from Ploegsteert you have to cross the railway and turn immediately right.
Just over the bridge there is parking space immediately in front of the Light Division Memorial — relocated from its original site at Railway Wood.
Immediately to the left of the parking area is a small enclosure containing the memorial to the 1st Australian Tunnellers and the entrance to Hill 60 is to its left.
When the railway was cut through the area a number of spoil heaps were formed. One of these became known on the British maps as Hill 60 (as it was marked by a 60 m contour line). On the far side of the railway line was another artificial mound which, because of its shape, was known as the Caterpillar.
Following the war the land surrounding the hill was purchased by the Queen Victoria’s Rifles and they erected a monument to their first action in France on the highest point.
Entering Hill 60 it should be remembered that the ground was churned up again in June 1917 during the Battle of Messines. However the cratered ground gives a good idea as to just what it would have been like here in 1915. You just have to forget the trees and the grass !
The Queen Victoria’s Rifles were more formally known as the 9th Bn London Regiment and were amongst the first Territorial units to arrive in France. During the initial capture of Hill 60 they had been in reserve and taken little part in the fighting. Then on 20th April 1915 they were moved forward to aid the East Surreys on the hill.
During the battle Lieutenant Harold Woolley would become the first Territorial Officer to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
His citation reads :
For most conspicuous bravery on Hill 60 during the night of 20th-21st April, 1915. Although the only officer on the hill at the time, and with very few men, he successfully resisted all attacks on his trench, and continued throwing bombs and encouraging his men until relieved. His trench during all this time was being heavily shelled and bombed and was subjected to heavy machine gun fire by the enemy.
After the war Wooley, the son of a clergyman, resumed his theology studies at Oxford and later worked as a parish priest and as the chaplain of Harrow School. He rejoined the army in World War 2 and served as a major in the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department.
It is possible to walk quite close to the railway cutting and look across to the Caterpillar on the far side. It would have been in and around this area that Lt Woolley gained his Victoria Cross.
The large crater was formed by the Messines Ridge mine of June 1917. It is the only one of the nineteen exploded that day that is not filled with water.
Just behind the memorial is a large bunker, it is in fact an Australian one superimposed over a German pill-box. The German bunker had been easily taken on 7th June 1917 following the detonation of the huge mine under the hill. In 1918 when they took over the area the Australians constructed the current structure. It would be given up a short time later during the German Spring offensive.
It would between the bunker and the QVR memorial that Lieutenant George Roupell (1st Bn East Surrey Regiment) and his men made their stand on 19th April 1915 and he earned himself the Victoria Cross.
At the top of the hill is the memorial to Queen Victoria’s Rifles which was dedicated by its ex officer, now a chaplain, Harold Woolley VC.
What you see is a replacement for the grander original which was demolished during the Nazi occupation.
The plaque reads :
On this spot was erected in 1923 a memorial to all ranks of Queen Victoria’s Rifles who gave their lives for their country in the first world war 1914-1918. The memorial having been destroyed in 1940 by the Germans this plaque has been placed by the regiment on some of the original stones of the memorial to perpetuate their memory, and in grateful remembrance of those who gave their lives in the second world war 1939-1945.
The upkeep of Hill 60 memorial park is now in the hands of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.