SSNS Home > Senior Years > Curricula 9-12 > Grade 11 > Canadian History > Battlefields Tour > 7 August 2010
We returned to Ypres via a route to the north of Lille, and after a few wrong turns finally reached our destination. Instead of entering the city, we turned right toward Zillebeke and followed the road to the Hooge Crater Museum. We parked and had lunch, then took a few minutes to visit the Hooge Crater Cemetery across the road. After taking pictures, we retraced our steps to the museum and went inside. The place was especially interesting to the boys. There were artefacts for sale, and Kieran got a Lee Enfield bullet, casing and all. We spent considerable time viewing the museum exhibits, the boys taking pictures of everything they could. They were so fascinated with the place that it was hard to get them to leave.
It was raining when we returned to the car. We set out for the Sanctuary Wood Memorial, stopping along the way at the secluded Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. I walked around it in the rain, all the while thinking about Frank Whiting on the frontlines with the PPCLI during the Battle of Sanctuary Wood and moving back under the cover of darkness through this very area. The cemetery is located on a quiet road with trees on either side, and the area became increasingly wooded as we moved up the road. Before going on to the memorial, we stopped to take a closer look at some goats in an enclosure across from a little gift shop. As we stepped out of the car, we saw Steve Douglas, who was conducting a tour of some of the WWI sites. He came over, and we talked while the children petted the goats and fed them blackberries growing nearby.
Although we had planned to go on to Sanctuary Wood, Steve suggested that we tag along with his group to Hill 60. We did so, following a circuitous route to a spot on the ridge. We parked and walked into the woods to see an enormous crater, one of many that resulted when nineteen underground mines were detonated simultaneously at the start of the Battle of Messines in June 1917, instantly killing thousands of German soldiers. It was the biggest explosion up to that time, and David Lloyd George felt the tremor in London. The people of Lille thought an earthquake had occurred. It was a well-coordinated effort and effected the destruction the British wanted. We saw the crater. It was huge and perhaps forty feet down to the pond at the bottom.
The miners who tunnelled the underground shafts were paid several times a soldier’s wage for the job they had to do. Their tunnels were ninety feet down through about three feet of top soil, a layer of blue clay, a layer of porous, water-logged sand, and another layer of impervious blue clay. Once the miners had descended ninety feet, they moved horizontally under the German lines and packed highly-explosive ammonal into underground galleries. I had mixed feelings as I thought of those poor unsuspecting German soldiers. Hopefully, they never knew what hit them.
This was the end of Steve’s tour, so we left for Tyne Cot Cemetery, which is the biggest of the Commonwealth cemeteries. We visited the information centre, a rather dark, cold place of modern design, and looked around, then walked about the cemetery itself. Maybe it was the rain, or that I had already seen too many cemeteries, but I didn’t like this place. Even though it is well-designed, it seemed far too large. Moreover, so many of the soldiers were unidentified. I was glad when we returned to the car.