You are in the valley of the river Douve, in front of Gabion Farm. If you look up to the ridge in front of you, see the houses on the skyline – that’s the village of Messines, or Mesen, as it’s known now. From Messines, through to Wijtschate which is marked by that church spire further along the ridge to your left - is this dominating piece of high ground, which the Germans held from October 1914.
From this position along the Messines-Wijtschate ridge, the Germans could dominate the supply roads coming into the city. This allowed their artillery fire to interfere with any attempt to reinforce Ypres, so if the British wanted to mount a major offensive it was critical that this ridge be taken.
Where you’re standing now was known as Gabion Farm and in front of you - below Messines ridge, is the line of the stream - that was the New Zealand outpost line in the lead-up to the battle. Initially that line was closer to where you’re standing now, but the Otagos came out in a carefully planned operation and secretly dug a new trench before the attack. Imagine 500 men moving along with picks and shovels and sandbags digging a completely new trench in one night, as quietly as possible and without the Germans hearing anything. Quite an impressive feat! That trench became the jump-off point for the attack.
Following the line of the road, you’ll see the New Zealand Memorial in front of you - that marks the German frontline. All down this slope towards you, to the line of the river was barbed wire entanglements. The Germans had fortified the ridge with bunkers and machine-gun nests and created strong wire defenses that had to be destroyed with artillery.
There were in fact nine British Divisions attacking from here, spread out over a ten kilometre front, and on your right was the 3rdAustralian Division. This was an attack that General Plumer had been preparing for since 1916 and for the previous nine months, 24 tunnels had been carefully dug by Allied tunnellers right under the German frontlines. British artillery had been firing for days on end, bombarding German positions, then, quite suddenly, the guns went quiet.
At 3.10 in the morning, 19 mines exploded with 500 tonnes of explosive. Simultaneously the artillery opened up again to lay down a huge barrage, providing a shield of shell fire which moved ahead of the advancing New Zealanders, they moved forward, through the wire, that had been broken by the shelling, and up into the high ground - straight into the stunned Germans.