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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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© Daria Valkenburg