4

St Nicolas Church

St Nicolas Church http://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/st-nicolas-church This position was staunchly defended by a combination of the 3rd Bavarian and 40th Saxon divisions. Ngā Tapuwae Trails http://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/Western%20Front-Messines-St%20Nicolas%20Church-National%20Army%20Museum-NAM%208119.jpg

This position was staunchly defended by a combination of the 3rd Bavarian and 40th Saxon divisions.

WF_Messines_Loc_MessinesChurch_20150.mp3
Read this story

St Nicolas Church

You are standing outside Saint Nicolas Church. In front of you is the plaque of Samuel Frickleton VC. If you look at the ground around you, you’ll notice in the brick work what appears to be the outline of a much larger building. This was the site of the Institute Royale - an enormous complex that had been established under Royal Patronage and was the centrepiece of the town, bringing fame to Messines before the First World War.

By 1914 this large complex had become a girls’ orphanage, but by 7 June 1917, this church and the orphanage alongside it was simply a heap of rubble - but it was still important because it was the central strong-point defending the town. Defending this position was a combination of the 3rd Bavarian Division and the 40th Saxon Division. They were just handing over when the attack took place and so merged together for its defence. Captain Thomas was the German Officer defending the town and his headquarters was somewhere in this area based in the cellars. The crypt of the church sheltered soldiers during shelling and it was also a medical aid-post.

Interestingly, Corporal Adolf Hitler was wounded in the initial fighting around Messines in 1914 and he was treated in this very church crypt. He also used it as a shelter with the other soldiers during Allied artillery barrages. The young corporal also painted several scenes of the ruined church, and a copy of one can be viewed in the Messines museum.

Back to the story of the battle, and it’s in this area of Messines that we hear about the heroics of Sam Frickleton. Frickleton was an interesting character, one of 11 children, born in Scotland, and on his father’s death they migrated to Blackball on the West Coast where they became miners. He was one of five brothers that joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. In this attack he was leading his section up through the artillery barrage. He was slightly wounded and their advance was held up in the rubble of the buildings around here.

He made it forward and knocked out a machine gun post, killed the three crew and then came under fire from the next machine gun post - so he went forward again, fighting his way forward, killed the three gunners firing the machine gun, and then took on and killed the nine Germans in the dugout alongside - before being severely wounded. His action allowed the attack to keep its momentum and it was part of a series of small-scale actions as they fought through and cleared each of the cellars.

The New Zealanders have successfully cleared the Germans from the ridge and the town of Messines. The enemy is demoralised and retreating, but the battle is not quite over yet.

Let’s move along to the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at the Messines Ridge British Cemetery.

How to get here

Getting there

From the intersection of Nieuw-Zealanderstraat and Armentiersstraat, turn left onto Armentiersstraat (N365) and continue along this road until you see the church in front of you.

Where to stand

Stand on Featherston. 

GPS
50°45'50"N
2°53'55"E
Decimal GPS
50.7641
2.898788
  • Messines Church, Belgium, after the capture of the town. June 1917.
    Messines Church, Belgium, after the capture of the town. June 1917.Credits

    1993.1287, National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/8119

  • The German View: Messines, Belgium, during the German occupation in 1917, looking south on the Rue Basse. On the left are the ruins of the Institution Royale.
    The German View: Messines, Belgium, during the German occupation in 1917, looking south on the Rue Basse. On the left are the ruins of the Institution Royale.Credits

    1992.757, National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/5684

  • Messines, Belgium, during the German occupation  in 1917, inside the courtyard of the Institution Royale.
    Messines, Belgium, during the German occupation in 1917, inside the courtyard of the Institution Royale.Credits

    1992.757, National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/5688

  • Samuel Frickleton was awarded the Victoria Cross for single-handedly taking out two German machine gun positions during the battle of Messines.
    Samuel Frickleton was awarded the Victoria Cross for single-handedly taking out two German machine gun positions during the battle of Messines.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-094051-F. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22317042

  • Messines Church.
    Messines Church. Credits

    1993.1287 National Army Museum, NZ http://nam.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/8119

Stories & Insights

A soldier stands next to a large water-filled mine crater, blown by Australian Engineers at the start of the Battle of Messines, near Wytschaete.

An ancient method of warfare evolved with devastating effects.

A witness to the huge mine explosions, McCaw saw ‘hell let loose’ during the attack.

New Zealand soldiers training in Belgium for the attack on Messines.

In order for an attack to be successful, a great deal of preparation and training was involved.

Molloy was wounded by shrapnel attacking German trenches near the village of Messines.

William Massey and Joseph Ward inspect the New Zealand Cyclist Battalion in France, 3 July 1917.

Once trench warfare settled in on the Western Front, the use of horses and bicycles changed drastically.

Twisleton’s work was difficult, dangerous, and never ending.

Useful resources for those looking for more information.

A selection of First World War vocabulary and common phrases.

Take the next trail

The next Ngā Tapuwae trail is Plugstreet. Proceed to Hyde Park Corner.
Link to the first stop

Decimal GPS:
71.62108858805637
-65.14718243749996
Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS:
69.80967086787646
-68.72628399999996
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS:
66.0084106438686
-80.688629375
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS:
59.8900188045748
-98.81263778124998
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS:
66.07910529989225
-30.661455093749964
Sequence:
5

Stop Images

Sequence:
1
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.75681305294956
2.885429608459617
Sequence:
2
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.75758
2.886245
Sequence:
3
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.76245
2.895355
Sequence:
4
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.7641
2.898788
Sequence:
5
Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.76482
2.890791