Writer Historian Producer

After the success of the Battle of Menin Road and the capture of the Gheluvelt Plateau, the Australian attack pushed northeast towards Glencorse Wood and the swampy land at Nonne Bosschen.

Our tour of the salient begins at Ypres, travels through the Menin Gate to Hellfire Corner, through Birr Crossroads and up to the German frontline at Hooge crater. Here can be seen the water filled crater, the result of a mine fired by the British Royal Engineer tunnellers and the remains of old trenches and earthworks. Though these have been re-dug and repaired, they give the battlefield visitor an idea of their meandering lines and construction, complete with wooden duckboards, riveting and rusty corrugated iron for overhead cover. Around are also rusty shells, barbed wire, screw pickets and sections of light railway line.

German blockhouse, “Scott’s Post” in the woods

Behind, and now lost in the large amusement park is the remains of Chateau Wood and the lake, famously depicted in Frank Hurley’s iconic photograph. Behind the wood and again on private land is the duckboard route to the frontline, up to Idiot Corner and on to Westhoek. Our route takes us further along the Menin Road to Clapham Junction (the British had their own names for everything) where we turn left and run on up to Black Watch Corner.

The attack through Polygon Wood on the 26th September 1917, started at this point and went in at 5.50am after an intense artillery barrage. The Australians rose from their start line, simple tapes laid along the ground and followed the crashing barrage, dashing forward into the fog and dust. By this time in the war, the gunners were very proficient in laying down a protective line of shells, as Charles Bean said, rolled ahead of the troops “like a Gippsland bushfire” so intense was its accuracy and the wall of flame that rose up.

5th Division Memorial at Polygon Wood

On the right flank, the Australians were held up by the British not taking pillboxes whose fire was enfilading the Australian battalions until Private Patrick Bugden, silenced these guns. He was killed in fighting soon after, but was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his actions. By 6.45am, the Australians had taken their first objective, the high mound of the pre-war rifle range butts and it is here today that the 5th Division Memorial stares down along the line of the Australian advance through the once shattered wood.

Will Davies


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