A Visit To Sanctuary Wood

November 19, 2017.  After visiting the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry Memorial in Zonnebeke, Belgium, we went to Sanctuary Wood in Zillebeke to the Hill 62 Monument overlooking Mount Sorrel.  This memorial commemorates Canadian forces who served in Ypres Salient, especially during the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916.

CIMG8771 Sep 9 2017 Sign to Sanctuary Wood

Sign at the entrance to Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood) Memorial. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The road leading to the memorial, Canadalaan (literally Canada Avenue, but also known colloquially as Maple Avenue), once formed part of the Canadian front line.  After the war, the avenue was planted with maple trees as a mark of respect for the Canadian sacrifice.

Two of the men listed on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion lost their lives here, during the Battle of Mount Sorrel: Charles Benjamin BUXTON of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, and George Albert CAMPBELL of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles.  Both men have no known grave and are listed on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. (See A Daytime Visit To Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres )

Before going to Sanctuary Wood Cemetery and Maple Copse Cemetery, places where perhaps our two soldiers are lying in an unmarked grave, we wanted to know more about what exactly happened here during the defence of Ypres in 1916.  The first thing that struck is was how close Ypres was.  We could see it clearly from the memorial!

CIMG8775 Sep 9 2017 Sanctuary Wood Ypres can be seen from Hill 62

The spires of buildings in Ypres can be clearly seen from Sanctuary Wood. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Sanctuary Wood, also known as Hill 62, was the place where Canadian troops fought as a national unit for the first time.  During the battle, which was fought between June 2 and June 4, 1916, 8,430 soldiers were killed, wounded, or missing.

We were curious why it was called Hill 62, and a bit bemused to realize it was called that because the hill was 62 metres above sea level!

Hill 62 and nearby Mount Sorrel were the only places of a higher elevation that were not controlled by the Germans….and they wanted it.  Canadian troops were almost alone in defending this territory, having only the support of British artillery.  The rest of the British troops were preparing for the Battle on the Somme in July 1916.

So what happened?  On June 2, 1916, the Germans attacked the Canadian positions with artillery and the detonation of 4 large mines under Mount Sorrel.  You can imagine the deadly effect this had in the trenches.

As per the map of the battle, Buxton’s unit (PPCLI) was at Sanctuary Wood, and suffered 400 losses.  Campbell’s unit was a support brigade at Maple Copse, and by the end of the day 59 were killed, 272 wounded, and 50 missing. Buxton and Campbell were among the casualties.

battle of mount sorrel map

Map of Battle of Mount Sorrel on June 2, 1916. (Credit: http://www.canadiansoldiers.com)

It only seemed right to place the photos and plaques we had of these men, which we’d taken to Menin Gate earlier in the day, here at Sanctuary Wood Memorial.

CIMG8897 Sep 11 2017 Photos & Plaques of Buxton & Campbell at Sanctuary Wood

Plaques and photos for George Albert Campbell and Charles Benjamin Buxton. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

CIMG8894 Sep 11 2017 Pieter at Sanctuary Wood with photos and plaques of Buxton & Campbell

Pieter holds the photos and plaques of Buxton and Campbell at the Sanctuary Wood Memorial. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

We decided we had to visit both Sanctuary Wood Cemetery and Maple Copse Cemetery and learn exactly what happened to each man, but that would have to wait for another day.  It was getting late, and we wanted to get to Ypres for the Last Post ceremony at Menin Gate.

Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg



Visiting More Memorials In The Passchendaele Area

November 7, 2017.  After visiting Cement House Cemetery and the grave of Vincent Carr, and the St. Julien Monument to commemorate the position where Canadians were during the first poison gas attack, we stopped at the German Military Cemetery in Langemark.  Its official name is “Deutscher Studentenfriedhof”, one of four German cemeteries in the Flanders region of Belgium.   ‘Studentenfriedhof’ means ‘the students’ cemetery’ and is called that due to the large number of young volunteer soldiers who are buried here.

This is the only German cemetery that seems to get visitors at all, especially non-Germans.  It’s an impressive but depressing cemetery.

CIMG8740 Sep 9 2017 Statue at German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze sculpture by Emil Krieger of four soldiers in mourning. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The cemetery has 44,061 burials.  25,000 of these were unknown and buried in a large communal grave.

CIMG8742 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Memorial says “In this cemetery rest 44,061 German soldiers from the war of 1914-1918”. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Over the decades, researchers have identified 17,000, whose names are now on bronze plaques positioned around three sides of the cemetery.

CIMG8745 Sep 9 2017 German War Cemetery in Langemark

Bronze plaques with the names of identified German soldiers. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

After this rather chilling stop, we continued on to the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial, located on Canadalaan (Canada Lane) in Zonnebeke.

CIMG8746 Sep 9 2017 Canadalaan location of Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Canadalaan was named in honour of Canada’s role in the Battle of Passchendaele. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

It was here that we were reminded of the madness of the Battle of Passchendaele. British and Australian soldiers had tried, from July until early October 1917, rather unsuccessfully, to capture the German-occupied Belgian coast.  They made only minimal advances and the commander of the British forces, Sir Douglas Haig, ordered the Canadian Corps to take their place and capture Passchendaele.

20,000 Canadian soldiers arrived in the midst of heavy rainfall and waist-deep mud, and no one seemed to have enough sense or authority to force a rethink to the plan to begin an assault at that time of year.  The only voice of sanity was Canadian-born Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur Currie, who took the time to inspect the battlefield and, after doing so, protested that the planned attack would cost 16,000 Canadian casualties.  No one listened to him.

So, on October 26, 1917, Canadian troops began a series of attacks in the area.  On October 30, 1917, with the help of two British divisions, they began the assault on the village of Passchendaele, inching their way from shell-crater to shell-crater, under heavy fire.  The landscape was already destroyed by shelling and heavy rain.  Roads, trees, and most buildings were gone.  It was in the midst of this that Vincent Carr from North Tryon died, instantly killed by a high explosive shell.

Troops reached the outskirts of Passchendaele during a terrible rainstorm, and held on for five days, waist-deep in mud and exposed to German shelling. Reinforcements arrived on November 6, and by November 10 Canadian troops occupied the village, thus ending the battle.  Almost 12,000 Canadians were wounded, and over 4,000 died.

CIMG8750 Sep 9 2017 Pieter at Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

Pieter at the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial in Zonnebeke. (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has the following inscription on one side, on a granite block, saying:

“The Canadian Corps in Oct-Nov 1917 advanced across this valley – then a treacherous morass – captured and held the Passchendaele ridge.”

IMG_20170909_141204168_HDR Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele Memorial in Zonnebeke

The Passchendaele Canadian Memorial has maple leaves carved in the form of a wreath on the front and back. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

The Battle of Passchendaele, which lasted 100 days, had more than Canadian casualties.  275,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers were killed and wounded, among them the Canadian casualties already mentioned.  220,000 German soldiers were also killed and wounded.

Beside the Passchendaele Canadian Memorial is the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 in Zonnebeke, which concentrates on the Battle of Passchendaele itself.  They have begun a Passchendaele Archives Project of trying to put faces and stories to those who died between July 12 and November 15, 1917 during the battle.  If you have a relative, and a photo, please consider supporting this project. You can email them at archives@passchendaele.be or visit their website at www.passchendaele.be for more information.  They will send you a form to fill out: Passchendaele Archives Questionnaire.

After these two visits, Pieter was finally persuaded to go for a snack before continuing on with the war memorial tour.  Across from the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 was a lovely restaurant, Brasserie De Volksbond, where Pieter and I shared Belgian bread and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8762 Sep 9 2017 Passendale cheese at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

How could we resist having Passendale cheese for lunch? (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

Yes, while we Canadians know Passchendaele for the battle, it’s better known for its Passchendaele beer and Passendale cheese.

CIMG8753 Sep 9 2017 Passchendaele beer sign at Brasserie de Volksbund in Zonnebeke

Pieter didn’t get a chance to sample the Passchendaele beer! (Photo credit: Daria Valkenburg)

If you are wondering about the spelling difference, the Belgians have a much simpler spelling of their village and region!

CIMG8747 Sep 9 2017 sign for Passchendaele

Passchendaele = Passendale. (Photo credit: Pieter Valkenburg)

Our next stop on the War Memorial Trail, after a much needed lunch break, was Tyne Cot British Cemetery, which was also in Zonnebeke.  Comments or stories?  You can share them by emailing us at dariadv@yahoo.ca or by commenting on this blog.

© Daria Valkenburg