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Webmatters : Mesen: The Spanbroekmolen Crater
Rough Map of Area

Spanbroekmolen Crater

Location

From the centre of Mesen village take the N 314 towards Nieuwkerke and the Messines Ridge CWGC Cemetery. Immediately opposite the cemetery turn right onto Kruisstraat. This road will also take you towards the Kruisstraat craters.

Just before reaching Spanbroekmolen you will come to a crossroads with a large farm on your left. Turn left here for the Kruisstraat craters. Continue straight on and you will reach Spanbroekmolen. It is better to park immediately before the mine crater as there is very little space.

The crater is on a right bend in this direction — do not park the car on the blind bend.

Immediately opposite is Lone Tree Cemetery.

 

Background

The word Molen means windmill and the crater is named after the mill that had stood here for centuries until it was destroyed by the Germans during the 1st Battle of Ypres in November 1914.

The crater was formed by the third largest of the charges laid by tunnellers in the build up to the battle of Messines Ridge. Although the charge placed by the Royal Engineers at St Eloi was two tonnes larger than here, that mine was by necessity deeper and the resulting crater was not as large.

The Spanbroekmolen Crater

The Spanbroekmolen Crater

The tunnellers of 3rd Canadian Tunnelling Company had started the work as far back as 1st January 1916 before eventually handing over to the British 171st Tunnelling Company RE.

Work was completed by 28th June 1916 and the charge of just over 41,000 kilos of explosive was placed. Like many of the mines that were being constructed along the Messines Ridge it was made ready for a possible attack in the summer of 1916.


The Spanbroekmolen Crater

The information plaque

When it became evident that the Battle of the Somme was going to drag on, plans for Messines were put on hold, but the tunneller’s work went on.

The gallery down to the charge was just over half a kilometre and in February and March 1917 the Germans blew a number of counter-mines called camouflets. These not only damaged the gallery but also cut the electrical leads.

A new gallery had to be dug and because of the gas (formed by the German explosions) work was very difficult and dangerous.

The new cables and primer charge were only laid on the evening of 6th June 1917, hours before the battle was supposed to open.

The word to the 36th (Ulster) Division (who would be attacking in the area) from Major Hudspeth of the 171st Tunnelling Company was that he was almost certain that the mine would go up.

At 0310 hours and fifteen seconds on the morning of the assault the mine did indeed go off, but the slight delay meant that the Ulstermen were already out of their trenches (thinking that it hadn’t) when it detonated. There were a number of fatal casualties from the blast and falling debris and some of them are buried in the Lone Tree Cemetery opposite the mine.

The crater was eventually bought up after the war on behalf of TOC-H in Poperinge to ensure that it was preserved. Subsequently named the Pool of Peace it is used by local fishermen. It is quite overgrown now but there is a small platform from which you can look out across the pool and on a warm day listen to little more than the frogs croaking on the lily pads. A far cry from the concussive blast that formed it in that far away summer of 1917.

From the area of the crater you have a fine view out towards Wijtschate on the left and Mesen (with its unusually shaped church tower) on the right.