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Plugstreet Blog

This is the new blog of the Plugstreet Archaeological Project.

   A Great War themed project exploring sites around Comines-Warneton and Messines in Belgium.    The project is being led by members of No Man's Land - The European Group for Great War    Archaeology and the Comines-Warneton Historical Society.

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The 3rd Battle of Ypres

Monday, July 31st, 2017

100 Years ago today the 3rd Battle of Ypres was launched. Today we remember all those affected by the long desolate fight to the east of the city of Ypres. The successful outcome of the Battle of Messines had straightened the line south of the city in preparation for the major attack. Many of those who had fought on Messines Ridge would again see action in this next phase of the conflict in Flanders, including the men of the 3rd Australian Division who had attacked the area around Ultimo Crater in June.


Objectives Achieved

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

The attack had been an outstanding success, by mid day all the objectives had been achieved. The important towns of Whitesheets and Messines perched in their hilltop positions were in allied hands, or at least the remains of them were. From Hill 60 near Ypres to Plugstreet Wood the front lines had been pushed forward to the first objective, straightening the salient and preparing the way for the next big push, the Third Battle of Ypres.

Casualties on the Allied side were relatively light for this type of operation, those who had faced them were not so lucky. On this the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines, we pause to remember all those who fell in this action.


Looking Back

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Today National Geographic published an article on the Battle of Messines, featuring our project:
Read the Article.


Zero Hour

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

The minute hands of the synchronised watches were carefully watched as they ticked down to 3.10am. As each reached the appointed time the Officer or NCO of the Royal Engineers pressed the plunger, sending an electrical charge along the wires that led from his position in the trenches close to the tunnel entrance, down the dark shaft and along underground tunnels, through the sandbags of the tamping and into the cache of explosives.
The delay was minuscule, each of the nineteen mines bust through the surface, a huge column of fire and earth, taking with them all that was situated above them.

In front of Plugstreet Wood the square of red brick buildings named Factory Farm, vanished from existence, along with the concrete bunker which had been built in their midst. Opposite the farm gate the earth was sent skywards, taking with it another bunker which had commanded the slight rise. As the blue clay and concrete, bricks, timber, ironwork, weapons and victims began to fall back to earth, the 33rd Battalion rose to their feet and set out to capture their objective.


Before the Attack

Wednesday, June 7th, 2017

Through the darkness, men of the 9th Brigade, including 33rd Battalion AIF made their way towards the jumping off points. The artillery were very active and as the men moved through the last few yards of Plugstreet Wood, gas shells rained down. Respirators were hastily donned, but for some it was too late.

Those who lost their lives before they had even reached the front line lie side by side in Toronto Avenue Cemetery, a quiet cool place beneath the shady trees that have regrown around the small plot. The headstones close together display their names and some a brief inscription chosen by those back home.



Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

At 4pm the sealed orders for the detonation of the mines were handed to the officers in charge of each, these were accompanied by a pocket watch, the time already synchronized to time the count down. At Ontario Farm the situation was still critical, the engineers working through the night to lay replacement firing wires to ensure their charge would blow on command. Above them the New Zealanders slipped into position ready to make the assault up the steep slope, the town above already pounded almost to rubble by the artillery.

After a final review of the plans for the attack, 33rd Battalion AIF left their billets at Neippe and moved by companies up to the front line at St Yves, each took a different route, moving in silence through the darkness. They were on the right flank of the attack, right along the line, the attacking units moved forward to take up their places.

Far to the south, near Arras a diversionary attack was taking place, hoping to distract enemy attention from the build up of troops in front of Messines Ridge.


Trench Raids

Monday, June 5th, 2017

On the final day of preparation for the attack trench raids we carried out to assess the effectiveness of the artillery and the situation in the enemy trenches. In the Australian sector 33rd, 37th, 40th, 42nd and 43rd Battalions send parties out in the early hours of the morning.

The men from C Company, 33rd Battalion climbed silently out of the trenches by the road at St Yves, not far from the place where our team excavated the British Bunker. The short distance across No Man’s Land was successfully negotiated and they entered the enemy trenches just north of where the Ultimo Mine waited deep beneath the clay. The front line trenches were deserted, the party explored around 50 yards of the same trenches we have been exploring, but were unable to find their main objective. The party were tasked with locating the entrance to a suspected counter tunneling shaft, if the enemy tunnelers had also planted explosives beneath the Belgian blue clay, they were liable to trigger them in the opening of the battle and the results could have been devastating for the advancing Australians.

It would be over 90years before the presence of the suspected shaft was confirmed, the bulky notched timbers, knocked askew by the force of the explosion which created Ultimo Crater, next saw the light of day when our team uncovered them.

The Allied Artillery conducted a practice barrage at 3 p.m. and another at 8 p.m. In retaliation the enemy guns bombarded the rear areas, aiming to silence the guns. A enemy shell landed in Bailleul Station, blowing up a Ammunition train, bringing in much needed ammunition for the Allied guns.

The time for Zero hour was revealed to those who needed to know, 3.10am on the 7th of June.


Dress Rehearsal

Saturday, June 3rd, 2017

As the Sappers deep beneath The Caterpillar began the final tamping of the tunnel leading to the mine chamber, shells rained down on the ground above. The roar from over two thousand artillery pieces echoed across the plains of Flanders as the gunners worked furiously to keep up the allotted rate of fire. Above the ridge, aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps reported back to their operators the locations of enemy guns as they returned fire. Three miles behind the lines those manning the eight captive Balloons observed the artillery from 5,000 feet as the creeping barrage swept forward.

In the German lines, the men steeled themselves for an attack, but all fell silent once more.


100 Years Ago Today

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

100 years ago today on the 1st of June 1917 preparations for the planned attack were well underway. As the men of the infantry units rehearsed the action over practice trenches in the training areas, the artillery were already in action. Across the front line, the German artillery responded, shelling a wide area, reaching well behind allied lines.

33rd Battalion AIF were billeted at Nieppe, in addition to their intense training schedule, they supplied working parties to assist with preparations.


Operation Kiwi

Monday, October 13th, 2014

We are very pleased to announce that a DVD recording the work undertaken by the team during Operation Kiwi, the excavation of the Terrain Model of Messines on Cannock Chase is now available at at cost of £15 + £2 p&p for delivery to a UK address or £15 + £5 p&p for delivery outside the UK.
Told in three parts of 50 minutes each, experts, volunteers and locals reveal the story of the model from its construction, through its use as a tourist attraction to the 2013 excavations and the landscape over which the Battle of Messines was fought in 1917. Created as part of the process of recording the excavations and research, this is a non profit product and is only available in the PAL format. (Europe, New Zealand, Australia).

Operation Kiwi DVD


Copies can be ordered via: Great War archaeology on Cannock Chase



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