Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Why Messines?

Messines is the smallest town in Belgium, situated on a small ridge in the rolling landscape, not far from the border with France. Today it is a quiet place, the red brick houses, rebuilt on the foundations of those destroyed during the Great War, at first glance appear to be more than 90 odd years old. Only the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on the eastern edge, the Irish tower and New Zealand Memorial on the southern edge, the multitude of flags international fluttering outside the Peace Village and the musical chime of the Peace Bells marking the passing of time from the church tower, provide any indication of events almost a century ago.

 The New Zealand Memorial at Messines.

About ten miles to the north is the city of Ypres, famous during the Great War for remaining in allied hands, the fiercely defended symbol of defiance against the invading army. A few miles to the south is Armentières, also in Allied hands, between the two the front lines sweep in a wide curve with the German Imperial Army holding the ridge and the towns of Messines and Wytschaete with their excellent views over the surrounding countryside. 

This was the situation from October 1914 onwards. The Allies had halted the advance, but were unable to push the enemy back. Both sides dug in, fortifying the lines, using farm houses and town houses as shelter from the shelling and defensive points against infantry attack . In the towns on the ridge the German's had the advantage of the cellars beneath the houses and in Messines the large cellars beneath the Institution Royale were ideal.

Despite appearances, the Allies did not just hold the line for the next three years, plans were afoot to break the enemy's hold on Flanders, and Messines was central to that plan.

No comments:

Post a Comment