Writer Historian Producer

Menin Road at Birr Crossroads.
Hooge in distance.

To the southeast of Ypres, beginning at Hellfire Corner and joining the town of Menin is the historically significant Menin Road. In mid-1917, the Germans had a clear and uninterrupted view of the first two kilometres of this road, right through to the Menin Gate from the slightly higher points at Hill 63, Hooge chateau, around Westhoek ridge to Railway Wood on the Zonnebeke road. This allowed German observation of the length of the road and German artillery to quickly destroy both vehicle and troop movements in the area, particularly around Hellfire Corner, at that time the “most dangerous place on earth.”

Hellfire Corner looking down Menin Road

Today, Hellfire Corner is a rural roundabout, busy with cars, trucks and numerous tourist coaches as they spear off to Passchendaele, Menin or up the hill, past China Wall (Perth) Cemetery and on to Messines.  Photographs of the time show horse drawn wagons being galloped through this intersection, while the roadside is lined with dead, bloated horses, up-turned wagons and the detritus of war. Further on towards Hooge, were the bodies of dead men strewn about and unable to be removed, so dangerous was the position. Today, there is a wide black-top road with a parallel bike track that crosses the battlefield, on past Birr Crossroads, very familiar to the Australians, up the slight rise to Hooge, the re-built chateau hotel and past the Disneyland-like amusement park that includes the area of Chateau Wood.

Off to the left and about a kilometre away is Westhoek ridge where the duckboard tracks meandered off towards the frontline at Polygon Wood, Zonnebeke or Broodseinde then on to Passchendaele. Here, during early September 1917, General Plumer brought up over 1300 guns and 3.5 million shells to support his offensive which began on the 20th and quickly succeeded in taking its objectives.  The success of Menin Road and Plumer’s “bite and hold” was to open the way to Passchendaele and in the minds of the generals, the Channel Ports and victory. But it was not to be so.  For the Australians, their return home would be well over a year away and between, a lot of fighting and sadly, a lot of good men going west.
Lest we Forget

Will Davies


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