Battle of Messines & the War Underground

Outline Itinerary

Sunday 4th - Thursday 8th June 2017

Day One

After a late morning crossing, we arrive on the battlefields of the Ypres Salient around lunch time. We start the tour with a circuit of the ground known as the Ypres Salient, to help familiarise customers with the geography and topography of the area. We then head to Hill 60, where on the 17th April 1915 the British detonated their first series of mines on the Western Front.

Layer of Blue Ypres Clay

Day Two

Today's first visit is to the Hooge "Crater" sector, where both British and German mining work was very active throughout 1915. Hooge and it's Chateau changed hands frequently and many signs of the fighting above and below ground remain. It was also here in July 1915 that the Germans used flamethrower for the first time against the British. We will visit the chateau grounds including the remnants of mine craters and later concrete blockhouses, the memorial to the Royal Engineers of the 177th Tunnelling Company and Hooge Crater Museum.

The most active mining ground was usually where opposing lines were at their closest, with one side holding observational advantage. Our tour continues with two such locations: the Bluff on the North Bank of the Ypres-Commines Canal and the Mound at St. Eloi. By February 1916 both sectors were mine and shell cratered landscapes and as the mines became more powerful  the scale of attack - followed by counter-attack, followed by attack - intensified. Both sides fought to a stand still to either retain or win these positions. We will walk from the Bluff to the Mound where much of the battlefield remains, as do many of the fatalities from the intense fighting, in many of the smaller battlefield cemeteries within this "Quite" sector.

Day Three

Our first visit is to the William Hacket VC and Tunnelling Companies Memorial at Givenchy. William Hackett was the only Sapper to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War; his story is one of self sacrifice. We will then continue to Vimy Ridge, north of Arras. The ridge is usually associated with the Canadian Corps and their attack here in April 1917. However the British arrived here in March 1916 to relieve the French Tenth Army. The French and German underground war had been very active, but by May 1916 British Tunnelling Companies had got the measure of the enemy. Here we will look at the work of the Tunnelling Companies in terms of their offensive and defensive mining, including a visit to the galleries of the Grange Subway excavated and used by the Canadian Corps. After lunch we will visit the Wellington Quarry in the centre of Arras and learn about the work of the New Zealand Tunnellers. A number of cavernous medieval quarries were linked by a series of galleries to bring the infantry safely underground to their jump off trenches for the Battle of Arras in April 1917.

Day Four

Today commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines. Commemoration events have not as yet been published, but it is likely that amongst the many visitors to Ypres for this event will be large contingents from Northern and Southern Ireland and New Zealand. Today is all about the Battle of Messines, including a walk in the footsteps of the 19th Division, from their positions close to Hollandschur Farm. They advanced to their first objective, Bayernwald (Bavarian Wood) assisted by three huge mines, before advancing on to a series of objectives denoted by coloured lines across the Messines Ridge, before arriving on their final objective, the Oosttaverne Line. We will plan our detailed itinerary around the proposed commemorations and events of the day, culminating in the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.

Day Five

On our last day we head down to the Somme for a visit to the ongoing excavations around the Glory Hole at La Boiselle. By the time of this tour the site should be ready to welcome visitors to see at first hand the intensity of underground wafare.

We depart Victoria Coach Station at 7.00am and return on the last day at 7.00pm. Accommodation for the four nights of the tour is in Ypres.

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