ZONNEBEKE

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tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

tyne cot

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

polygon wood

railway wood

railway wood

The first image on this page started this project in 1995. The view shows the descent from the Passendale Ridge towards what were once the British lines of the Ypres Salient. While on the map this ridge seems of little significance it can be seen that in relatively flat terrain such as this even the slightest ridge can be of great strategic importance. The cross in the cemetery, behind the camera position, can be seen from Dunkirk lighthouse on a clear day, a distance of nearly fifty kilometres. The land here was once a shell cratered quagmire heavily polluted by dead bodies and unexploded ordnance. Undoubtedly some remains and explosives are yet to surface and the ground may have hidden hazards for generations to come but it is remarkable to see how the land was restored to productivity and but for the cemeteries one would never know what had happened.

The Cemetery. Containing nearly twelve thousand graves and with nearly thirty five thousand names of missing soldiers with no known grave this is the British Commonwealth's largest war cemetery. The grounds were designed by Sir Herbert Baker to resemble a huge English churchyard. The ranks of the dead young men impose a silence on the visitor, the space is large enough to never be crowded by visitors even when coaches of initially excitable English schoolchildren arrive. The cross at the focal point of the cemetery stands on top of a German bunker used in the battle as a first aid post by the British after its capture.

South along the ridge lies Zonnebeke and nearby Polygon Wood. Prior to 1914 it was home to the Belgian Army Cavalry School and in the centre of the wood was a long oval riding track, the polygon. During the early part of the fighting here in 1914 some foolhardy young British officers were seen racing round the track while the wood was under fire.

The small Reutelbeek flows out of the wood at the eastern edge and can be seen here in a long series made over several years. The sequence of images show the subtle changes in a landscape over time. March, at the end of winter shows the clearest view.

Although the wood was destroyed by the War with only a few stumps remaining at the end it has been regrown virtually to its original shape, though without the polygon. There are several broad tracks crossing the wood which are used regularly by walkers and joggers. It is now a quiet recreational park with several cafes and restaurants lining the small road at the northern edge.

At the northwestern end of the wood behind the Buttes Cemetery, once home to a Belgian Army firing range, the ground is frequently flooded forming a shallow pool reflecting the trees which survive the wetness. The pool recedes and advances with the rains.

At the southeastern end of the wood are the remains of a pair of German bunkers which were captured by Australian troops on 26th September 1917. The steel rail used to reinforce the construction still clearly bears the makers marks. While both now lack their roofs it is easy to study their construction and see the signs of damage. In the middle of the wood lies a large German bunker. Although close to a path, and large, it is surprisingly hard to see with the combination of mosses discolouring it and the fallen branches forming a natural camouflage. After the bunker was captured on 26th September 1917 it was named Scott Post after Lieut.-Col. Scott, commander of the 56th Battalion of the 5th Australian Division. He was killed not far away at the Buttes only three days later. The bunker became part of the British defence system in this area in the battles of 1918.

A couple of kilometres closer to Ypres lies Railway Wood and the grave of one officer and eleven men of the 177th Tunneling Co. Royal Engineers. The landscape in this area has changed considerably in recent years owing to the construction of the A19 Motorway. The railway of the name was the Ypres to Roeslaere railway which ran in front of it. The track was removed in the 1970s.

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