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Messines Ridge British Cemetery

Messines Ridge British Cemetery https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/messines-ridge-british-cemetery The New Zealand Memorial to the Missing shows the cost of Messines and those who died during the German Spring Offensive in 1918. Ngā Tapuwae Trails https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/sites/default/files/stop/media/Western%20Front-Messines-Messines%20Ridge%20British-Alexander%20Turnbull%20Library-12-012772-G.jpg

The New Zealand Memorial to the Missing shows the cost of Messines and those who died during the German Spring Offensive in 1918.

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Messines Ridge British Cemetery

You are now standing at the entrance to the Messines Ridge British Cemetery. In front of you is the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing for those who died in the battle of Messines both in 1917 and during the German Spring Offensive in 1918. Most of the 828 names on this memorial are from the battle of Messines - from 7 to 14 June.

The memorial itself is formed from the base of the windmill of the Institute Royale. This windmill was destroyed in the fighting between 1914 and 1917. It became a very important strong-point on this left flank boundary of the New Zealanders and was used by the Germans, against the attack coming out from the valley that you see to your left - up the road.

The New Zealand Pioneers and the Cyclist Battalion cleared the route forward through the wire. They established a mule track, which is roughly the line of the road you see in front of you, for hauling weapons and supplies, and this track became the major evacuation point for all the New Zealand wounded up here on the ridge. When the New Zealanders took this ground, the shelters in the base of the windmill soon became the central hub for all the battalion regimental aid posts, and the surrounding area was used to bury the dead, forming the cemetery that you now see. The only Roman Catholic priest present was the Reverend J. J. McMenamin of the New Zealand Division and he was killed by artillery fire while burying the dead.

The New Zealanders advanced up beyond here and down the far slopes of the ridge so that by 5.20 in the morning they’d secured their objective, well ahead of schedule. Mid-morning, the Otago Mounted Rifles, in a rare mounted operation, recce’d the area forward of this position to your right, along the road - looking to gather information about the German retreat and if there were any positions left to deal with. They were met by long-range German machine gun fire and suffered casualties. Later in the afternoon, elements of the 4th Australian Division pushed through and continued to drive the enemy back down the reverse slope to the final objective, the Oosttaverne Line.

It’s not until 8 June that the area was consolidated and positions sorted out. The Germans were now in full retreat. On 8 June, Major-General Russell of the New Zealand Division stood here, alongside Brigadier-General Brown. An artillery shell exploded and killed Brown, wounding others, and Russell was lucky to escape unscathed.

The cost of the battle of Messines is shown on this memorial. There were some 3,060 New Zealand casualties, and if you walk around and look at the names, there are some notable people commemorated here: George Sellars, one of the original All Blacks of the Auckland Battalion; Charles Sciascia, a Māori All Black who was killed in August at La Basseville, and Sergeant Penrose of the Rifle Brigade, who was recommended for the Victoria Cross for his bravery in the fighting here at Messines.

Messines was an outstanding victory, despite the casualties, and one in which all nine Allied Divisions played their part, New Zealand among them. Messines also showed just how much the British had learnt and improved since the battle of the Somme. This success provided Haig with the springboard to mount the Ypres offensive, culminating in the battle of Passchendaele. This was a victory that was much celebrated and was a great boost to morale, but here at this cemetery we get a glimpse of the true cost.

How to get here

Getting there

From the Church, get back onto the main road (N365) and continue until you come to the intersection with the N314 just outside of Mesen.

Turn left onto the N314 following the sign to Messines Ridge British Cemetery and Wulvergem. Messines Ridge British Cemetery will be on your left.

Where to stand

Enter the cemetery. Walk past the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing. When you reach the first headstones turn back and face the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing marked by the memorial cross.

GPS
50°45'53"N
2°53'26"E
Decimal GPS
50.76482
2.890791
  • Men from the Pioneer Battalion lay a road in Messines, Belgium, immediately after the Allied advance. 1917.
    Men from the Pioneer Battalion lay a road in Messines, Belgium, immediately after the Allied advance. 1917.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-012772-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22563673

  • Led by New Zealanders, young and wounded German soldiers arrive at a New Zealand field hospital.
    Led by New Zealanders, young and wounded German soldiers arrive at a New Zealand field hospital.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-012774-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22827996

  • A New Zealand machine gun company, some wearing German trophies, take a well-deserved break after the Battle of Messines. June 1917.
    A New Zealand machine gun company, some wearing German trophies, take a well-deserved break after the Battle of Messines. June 1917.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/4-009469-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23157769

  • A New Zealand chaplain practices holy communion near the firing line, Messines Ridge.
    A New Zealand chaplain practices holy communion near the firing line, Messines Ridge.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-012781-G http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23209516

  • An Ambulance Corps unit attends to wounded soldiers at an advanced dressing station during the Battle of Messines.
    An Ambulance Corps unit attends to wounded soldiers at an advanced dressing station during the Battle of Messines.Credits

    Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-012773-G. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/22324292

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
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69.80967086787646
-68.72628399999996
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66.0084106438686
-80.688629375
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59.8900188045748
-98.81263778124998
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Decimal GPS:
66.07910529989225
-30.661455093749964
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Stop Images

Sequence:
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.75681305294956
2.885429608459617
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.75758
2.886245
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.76245
2.895355
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.7641
2.898788
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Decimal GPS Real Location:
50.76482
2.890791