Hill 60

Location

This memorial park 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 N 365 following the signs for Rijsel (Flemish for Lille).

You will then 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 a few kilometres until you see a sign for Hill 60 directing you off to the left and back over the railway.

14th (Light) Division

14th (Light) Division

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.

The entrance to Hill 60 is by the left hand edge of the Australian monument.

 

Queen Victoria's Rifles

Queen Victoria's Rifles

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 60m 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 QVR and they erected a monument to their first action in France on the highest point. The upkeep of Hill 60 is now in the hands of the CWGC.

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 !

At the top of the hill is the memorial to Queen Victoria's Rifles which was dedicated by one of its ex officers now a chaplain, Harold Woolley VC. What you see is a replacement for the grander original which was demolished during the Nazi occupation.

The Australian bunker

A little further in and you will see a bunker. Between it and the memorial is where Lt Roupell and his men made their stand and he earned himself the VC.

The bunker is in fact one built by the Australians on top of an existing German pill box. The German bunker had been easily taken on the 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 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 own Victoria Cross.

The large crater was formed by the Messines Ridge mine of June 1917. It is the only one of the 19 exploded that day that is not filled with water.

 

1st Australian Tunnelling Company

1st Australian Tunnelling Company

Hill 60 was the scene of some of the very first mining operations carried out by the British Army. The first mine exploded here was detonated on 17th February 1915 shortly after their arrival in the sector.

Three mine shafts were dug into the hill for the assault on the 17th April 1915 resulting in the position falling (for a few weeks) to the British.

Two long tunnels were dug under Hill 60 and the Caterpillar position, on the far side of the railway bridge, and these formed the two most northerly of a series of 24 planned for an assault on Messines Ridge. They were completed by British and Canadian tunnellers and had already been charged with 24 and 31 tons of explosives respectively by the time the Australians arrived in the area on 7th November 1916.

The Australians however had the responsibility of ensuring that the tunnels and explosives remained sound and undiscovered by the Germans over the next seven months until they were finally detonated on the 7th June 1917. The tension in working with 50 tons of already placed explosives at the end of a 421 metre gallery, which passed under the railway line in the case of the Caterpillar, can well be imagined.

Drainage and ventilation shafts had to be dug in the unfamiliar blue clay, whilst listening posts had to be manned at all times. These posts were only a few metres underground and therefore susceptible to collapse during bombardments. The Germans were by no means inactive in trying to find British tunnels and numerous counter tunnels had to be dug down towards the German excavations so that they could be mined with small charges and destroyed.

In April 1917 the German infantry conducted a raid into the British lines trying to find the entrances but failed to do so. Then on the 25th (ANZAC Day) a detonator exploded in the Australians' underground HQ killing ten men. Altogether approximately 30 of the Australian tunnellers were killed on the hill (perhaps more correctly - under it).

The Official Australian History states that at Hill 60:

... underground warfare reached a tension which was not surpassed anywhere else on the British front.

This is one of few memorials to commemorate tunnellers of any nation (The New Zealanders have their memorial in Arras near to the Wellington Quarry).

Wellington Quarry Wellington Quarry

A memorial to British, Canadian and Belgian Tunnellers can be found alongside the Belgian canon at St Elooi - one of the other Messines craters not far from the railway crossing you passed on the way here.

A basic introduction to the tunnellers and their work can be found in the pages about the Battle for Messines.

The Tunnellers The Tunnellers
 

French Resistance

French Resistance Memorial

From the car park it is possible to look across the road through the houses and see the spires of Ieper only a few kilometres away.

Just alongside the railway bridge is a small memorial to members of the French Resistance who were shot here on the 2nd October 1944.

Pierre Marchant and Lucien Olivier had been taken prisoner by the SS near their home close to Lille. They were put on board a train bound for Belgium which stopped near the bridge waiting for a locomotive to arrive from Ieper. What took place here is not certain. They may have attempted to escape or were perhaps simply executed by bored guards.

Whatever transpired, their two bodies were discovered on the embankment by locals the following day. Originally buried at Zillebeke they were later returned to their home town. This monument was completely renovated for Armistice 2004 and was re-dedicated in the presence of the sister and brother of the deceased.

The view southwards down the tracks shows just how difficult it would have been for the British to have tried getting across the cutting and taking the Caterpillar - in the wood on the right behind the playing field.

It is now possible to enter the wood (Known as Battle Wood) to visit the Caterpillar crater. It is now a water filled pond.

 

Hill 60 The Battle for Hill 60 1915