Wednesday 11 April 2007 by Craig Tibbitts. 24 comments
To Flanders Fields, 1917, Battles, Passchendaele (Ypres)

Overview

After mid-1917, and following mutinies in the over-strained French Army, the British Forces had to assume an even greater role in the war on the Western Front. For Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief, this provided an opportunity to launch an offensive that he had long wanted. Attacking from Ypres in Belgium, he planned to drive the Germans from the surrounding dominant ridges and even hoped to reach the Belgian coast. Following on the success at Messines in June, he unleashed his great attack on 31 July 1917. Fighting went on, often in appalling weather and despite crippling losses, until November. Finally, with the army stuck in muddy fields churned up by the artillery fire, the bloody offensive came to an untidy close. Many would afterwards call this offensive, actually a series of battles, after the name of the village that had become the last objective – 'Passchendaele'.

Basic Map: Ypres to Passchendaele

A group of Australian soldiers quartered at one of the old German reinforced concrete pillboxes, known as 'Kit and Kat', near Zonnebeke. It was used by English, Australian and Canadian troops on different occasions during the fighting in October 1917. These shelters were often built inside the ruins of village houses, which served to camouflage them. A group of Australian soldiers quartered at one of the old German reinforced concrete pillboxes, known as 'Kit and Kat', near Zonnebeke. It was used by English, Australian and Canadian troops on different occasions during the fighting in October 1917. These shelters were often built inside the ruins of village houses, which served to camouflage them. E01069

Menin Road and Polygon Wood

The Australian infantry divisions joined the Third Battle of Ypres which had been going on since 31 July when they took part in the battle of Menin Road on 20 September 1917. Fortunately a change in the weather brought for them better fighting conditions. The side-by-side advance of the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions took them up to the splintered remnants of Polygon Wood not far from Zonnebeke. The 4th and 5th Divisions then took over and, as part of the wider effort, they attacked on 26 September. In both cases the fighting was bloody. German concrete pillboxes often blocked the Australians' progress, and many men fell under shell and machine-gun fire. However with heavy artillery support the objectives were taken and enemy counter-attacks held off. These systematic step-by-step advances, staying within range of the supporting artillery, pushed the line forward by a few kilometres, but they were made at a heavy cost; in just over a week there were almost 11,000 Australian casualties.

Download Menin Road battle 1 map (PDF file)

Download Menin Road battle 2 map (PDF file)

Aerial and ground-level photographs taken of the Polygon Wood area. Note the difference in destruction between the first aerial photo (July) and the next two (September) when virtually every inch of the ground had been destroyed and badly cratered. The misery only increased as the landscape filled with water.

It was on the Menin Road that I first noticed the condition (of) our men coming back. A couple passed us, going very slow. They were white and drawn. C.E.W. Bean.

Broodseinde and Passchendaele

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Australian Divisions captured Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October 1917. It was a vital victory. But, then it began to rain. Five days later the 2nd Australian Division suffered heavily in a further attack in the mud. Finally, on 12 October, another attack, involving the 3rd Division assisted by the 4th, was made against the village of Passchendaele atop the main ridge. In the face of heavy fire, the men fought in the mire while struggling to keep up with their artillery barrages. Ground was taken but it could not be held. In wretched conditions, with casualties mounting at an appalling rate, the Australians had to fall back. The troops were finally exhausted and could do no more; by 15 November they handed over to the Canadians.

I have often thought that many a youngster when he was hit out there on the Passchendaele heights … and he knew that the end had come – must have thought to himself: "well at least they'll remember me in Australia". C.E.W. Bean

Download Battle of Broodseinde map, 4 October 1917, situation 6 pm. (PDF file)

Download Passchendaele II battle map, 12 Oct 1917 (PDF file)

Download map of ground gained during entire Third Ypres Offensive (PDF file)

Read more about the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres)

Anzac to Amiens by C. E. W. Bean, Chapter XXI (20 pages)

Official History by C. E. W. Bean, Vol. IV, Chapters XVII - XXII (270 pages)

Comments

Hard to believe that the men in this photo could be either my great-Grandfather or my great Uncle. They were both killed near Zonnebeke a day apart in October, 1917. One was on my Mother's side, Claude Dickins, and the other on my Father's side, Cecil Andrews. Claude's final resting place is not known, and never will be. Cecil was killed on Tokio Ridge with about 8 other Australians by an artillery shell. They were buried by their mates but their bodies were repeatedly exposed with further shelling. I visited Tokio Ridge in 2004 and they are all buried somewhere under a field of corn. LEST WE FORGET. I guess I'm just grateful that Claude got a girl pregnant before he went off to war or I wouldn't be here! One of his great- Grandsons, my brother, has carried on the ANZAC tradition by serving in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq. Completely different times now, same young Australians serving overseas!

I read the blog, fantastic stuff. You’re fortunate indeed to have access to such great primary source material – I’m very jealous. Our upcoming exhibition [at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne] is focused on the New Zealand and Australian assault on Passchendaele, 12 October 1917. If you or anyone else at the AWM has ever put together a similar blog relating to that battle I would dearly love to see it. You guys do some great work. Neil :) Shrine of Remembrance (Melbourne, Australia) Blog Editors Note: Thanks Neil. We are indeed fortunate to have such great collection materials close at hand. One of the major reasons for creating the blog was for the benefit of people who are unable to attend the exhibition in person, and to give wider exposure to the wealth of records we're making available online these days. This is an ongoing project and more and more is going online all the time. The blog is a great way to feature some of this material, show people what we've got, and provide some primary source material for those in more remote locations. As for the Passchendaele II battle (12 Oct), unfortunately there's nothing we've produced online about this battle separately. I would like to address each of the step battles between Ypres and Passchendaele separately and give them all equally good coverage and treatment, but I just haven't had the time to do this. I featured an article on the 56th Battalion at Polygon Wood simply because an interesting story came to hand and it just happened to involve the Polygon Wood battle. I suppose the written histories, and to a certain degree our own exhibition, do tend to feature the initial three step battles the Australians were involved in, i.e. Menin Rd, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde. Perhaps it's a natural tendency to gravitate towards these more successful events, and painfully shy away from the disastrous ones such as Passchendaele I and II. Good luck with your upcoming exhibition. Cheers, Craig Tibbitts

Hi My great uncle was killed on the 4th october (and buried with a grave which my other great uncle his younger brother went and visted four times in his life)

Editor's comment: Thanks for your comment Ambrose; what was your great uncle's name? I'd like to link it to our online Roll of Honour database. Cheers, Craig.

Hi! My great uncle Percy Armstrong 724 was wounded on the 12/10/1917(90 years ago today) and died on the 13/10/1917. He was my grandfathers brother. He left a wife and a son that he had never seen. I read this and other stories of the battle and still can't image being there. To all that fought so gallantly, your memory will live on.

LEST WE FORGET.

Hi, My grandfather Charles John Roy Steel M.M. #1695 was in the 36th Battalion 1st Reinforcement, I have been told that he fought at Passchendaele. If you have any information regarding himself or his battalion, It would be appreciated if you could contact me via E-mail. I am going to march on ANZAC day in his honour and be very proud to wear his medals that have finally come to me after many years. Thanking You, Darryl Steel. Editor's response: Hi Darryl, there's plenty to read about your grandfather and his unit, and much of it is available online. Just click on the links below: Embarkation nominal roll including C. J. R. Steel Personal service dossier of C. J. R. Steel Unit war diaries of the 36th Battalion Official histories of the Australian Imperial Force during the First World War Regards, Craig Tibbitts.

what a great tribute to our fallen you have compiled! well done fella. i'm off to europe in 2 weeks and will visit the battle fields of the western front. my great grandfather was killed on the 27th sept, 1917 in the battle of polygon wood. his name was percival james lyford 7277 he was a private. i'll be the first family member to visit the area and am trying to gather as much info as possible. all the best andrew j gibson Editor's response: Hi Andrew, thanks for your kind words and I'm glad you found the blog interesting. I'm sure you'll find visiting the old battlefields fascinating and inspiring. I see we don't have a photo of your great grandfather on our Roll of Honour database. If you can track one down, please contact the Australian War Memorial via this link on our website - we're trying to find photos of as many of our fallen soldiers as is possible. Regards, Craig Tibbitts

Hi Craig, Excellent site,you guys should be proud. I am looking for further information on Charles John Roy Steel #1695 M.M. The original citation for his Military Medal and the publication of the following Gazette. Commonwealth of Australia Gazette 27 June 1918, page 1394, position 51 Thanks again Darryl Steel Editor's response: Hi Darryl, Unfortunately try as I might, I cannot find the recommendation for Charles Steel's Military Medal. There is however evidence that he was awarded it in his service dossier which is available online. Othewise, I could only recommend trawling through the battalion or brigade war diaries as there should be mention of it there, although not often full details such as citations. The 36th Bn war diary is available online here. There is of course some difficulty in that he transferred to the 33rd Bn around this time, so perhaps checking that battalion's diary would help. Both battalions were in the 9th Brigade. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. Craig.

My grand mother's brother 3801 Private William Archibald Cochrane of 18th Battalion, D Coy., 13th Platoon was killed early on the 20th September 1917 at the Ypres Offensive in Polygon Wood, after being wounded in the arm, half way to the objective and he would not go back. Shortly after he was killed by concusion, when a shell burst near him. He was reported killed, but was not buried the next day and is still listed by the Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing in Action. He was just 19 years old.
Especially thinking of him this Anzac Day.

Pamela

Editor's response: Thank you Pamela, we well remember him. Any photos of him? If so, please contact our Photographs Section. Craig Tibbitts Curator Official Records Australian War Memorial

Today I forward an email about my Great Uncle William Archibald Cochrane #3801 and I forgot to say that I have a photograph of him when he enlisted in 1915. My husband has scanned it at 600x600 and I can have this forwarded to you if you do require it. I also discovered that he is named at the Cemetery/Memorial at Ypres in France according to http://www.cwgc.org/search/SearchResults.aspx?surname=Cochrane&initials=W+A&war=1&yearfrom=1917&yearto=2000&force=Army&nationality=1&send.x=45&send.y=9.

Enjoyed these sites and have gained valuable information for our family.

Pamela Roberts

Editor's response: Hello again Pamela, glad you've found these pages useful. Yes please do contact our Photographs Section here, regarding the photo of your great uncle. We are always looking for photos of those who made the ultimate sacrifice and are remembered on the Roll of Honour. Craig Tibbitts.

Hi Craig,

I am also related to a casualty of this battle, his name was 337 Sergeant Hugh Barr, MM, 44th Battalion AIF. He was killed in action on the 13th of October, 1917. The AWM and National Archives sites have been a great resource and I have been able to obtain copies of photographs, service records, Battalion diaries and personal letters but like the previous responder I have been unsuccessful in locating a copy of the MM citation. Using the Battalion diaries and a foot note on pge 851 Chapter XX (Broodseinde) I have identified an action that took place on the 4th of October, 1917 which involved him and others taking two pillboxes and machine guns on the "red line" which was located near the railway line just north of Zonnebeke & Broodseinde. I have a map that marks the location of these pillboxes known as Thames. In July my family and I will walk the ground when we visit Ypres and surrounding areas.

Regards,

Jeffery Barr

Editor's response: Hello Jeffery, thanks for your comment on this blog. I can see he has an entry on our database for his Military Medal pointing to it being published in both the London and Commonwealth Gazettes. But no, I couldn't find the recommendation for it on that part of our database either. Leave it with me and I'll see what I can find. I guess you're aware of the 44th Battalion war diaries, available online? Regards, Craig Tibbitts Curator Official Records Australian War Memorial

Craig,

Yes I am aware of the war diaries and have searched them looking for any related information. I have found a few entries which actually name my great, great uncle but nothing about the MM. He is named a few times as a member of patrols into no mans land, the first mention he has the rank of private.

Some of the material that I have obtained from the AWM collection contains personal letters sent from the front to his mother in Ireland as well as letters of condolence, particularly one dated the 13.10.17 from Captain Roy Skinner, Company Commander, 44th Battalion. I can see how that letter would have given some comfort to the family back in Ireland.

I do have a copy of a document "Graves Registration Unit (Exhumation)" which lists the cemetery as Tyne Cot. This document was one of several in the National Archives. Can you tell me if this document refers to a battle field exhumation and transfer to Tyne Cot or does it relate to an exhumation from Tyne Cot. Geographically, Tyne Cot is located close to where he fell on the 13th of October, 1917 as a direct result of shelling. This cemetery will be visited during our trip and I would like to know if he is buried there.

I will be visiting the AWM next week end with my family and we will be paying extra attention to exhibits that relate to this part of the war.

Many Thanks,

Jeffery Barr

Editor's response: Hi Jeffery, he's on the Menin Gate Memorial which lists those who died (or were missing presumed dead), and have no known grave. I'd have to have a look at the Graves Registration Unit document. I'll contact you offline about this and the Military Medal. Regards, Craig.

Thanks Craig, We will be visiting Menin Gate and I have the details of the panel which records his name. I will continue to watch this site with interest. Regards, Jeff Barr

Craig, Sending this email from Denmark. Spent three very interesting days based in in Zonnebeke, stayed at a great B & B across the road from Polygon Wood. Visited ANZAC Rest just down the road and met Johan Vandewalle, who as you may know has a great deal of knowledge about Flanders Field and has recovered a number of Australian Soldiers during excavations. I visited the "Thames" block house which my great uncle helped to capture and I walked along the old railway which is now a memorial foot path. Inside the cutting some of the original railway line has been uncovered. Saw my great uncle's name on the gate as well as other 44th Bn members and the 8.00pm ceremony by the Fire Brigade was quite moving. Tyne Cot cemetary was very impressive. The rock walls and their colour made the cemetary stand out well before you got to it. I spent many hours just walking around the graves, an emotional experience, to see the utter waste of young lives, some just boys. Although no marked grave for my great uncle exists I did get some comfort just walking the ground. I walked through Polygon Wood every afternoon and was amazed how quite it was, the occasional dove call being the only sound that I heard. I returned to the cemetary on my last day and it was raining. I spent another few hours and just as I was leaving I found another casualty named "Barr". I will visit again next year, I recommend the trip to everyone.

A great uncle, Lt W G Fisher, kept a detailed diary including the events of those days in October 1917. The barrage map enabled me to follow his diary when he talked of going from Abraham Heights to Augustus Woods and down the Ravebeck where he saw some terrible sights. A law tutor at UQ when he joined up, he wrote of those in charge of this battle guilty of criminal negligence and called the war correspondents liars! Obviously strong feelings. His last words in the diary 2 days after this were "I feel 80 years old". I can only feel some of that despair with the age to realise it - he was only 22 years old. He died 7 months later - blown up near Corbie in France in April 1918.

What an awesome collection of photos, maps and associated material. My Mother has 2 Uncles who were in Ypres at the time, both served within the same area and possibly the same Bn for a short period. One of them, 6161 PTE George Sealey, 26 Inf Bn, was killed on 4 October 1917. Using the "War Diaries" I have tracked down the scanned entry to show that on that date his Bn was approaching "Daisy Wood" outside of Zonnebeke. I have no other information so far about what actually happened to him, but that he was listed as KIA (one document listed place of death / wounding as FLANDERS), and his name is on the Commemorative Wall at Menin Gate. Thanks to your site and collections, I have even seen scanned copies of the letters between Dept of Defence and his Mother (Mrs Sarah Emma Frances Sealey) confirming his listing as KIA and requesting his personal belongings and medals, and copies of his hospitalisation in England prior to his arrival in Belgium. I found a large amount of documents (have to find them again..) including his enlistment papers, medical and dental records at enlistment, etc. Using the various tools and record searches through this site, I have found lots of invaluble information on assorted relatives in my Family Tree. My Mother's other Uncle (PTE George Young) survived the war (although he was gassed while detatched to 5th Canadian Light Railways, and retured to work). He returned to Australia, and after a short while he joined the QLD Water Police, and was Killed on Duty in 1938 in an air crash while searching for a missing woman near Beenleigh, QLD. There is a Water Police launch named after him, located in Townsville, QLD. My Mother also had a cousin who served in VietNam, and was Killed in Action (17071 CAPT Kenneth Wilfred Bade, 105 Fd Bty RAA). I have found entries in the War Diary detailing the date, time, location and cause of his death, and also found a photograph of his funeral procession in Brisbane. I am still chasing further information regarding another of her Uncles, who served in WW2 and returned safely, and one of her Great-Uncles who was reportedly in the Light-Horse and lived to his 90's. All information is greatly appreciated, once again good work on the site and collections. Thank you.

Very Interesting reading. My Great Uncle was wounded on the 31st July 1917 and died the next day from his wounds, his name Pt. G H Mason, with the 42nd Battalion. I have read some of the 42nds unit diaries on microfische but found there is not much info out there. Lest we forget

I visited the area of the Battle of Broodseinde last year. I had heard (and read) about an action during that battle at an area known as Celtic Wood/Copse. I was able to visit, and video, that area as it is now. There is very litte information about that action (only one book that I can determine). The information that I have indicates that the Australian soldiers that took part were all killed and have no known grave. Can you shed any light on,or indicate, any publication or source that I may access on this small action that was part of the larger battle.

Hi, I found this site while looking for info on my grandfather. I believe he was in the 44th batt and was a stretcher bearer. His name was Pt. Alfred Horwood. Any info would be great.

I'm a Belgian living in the Ypres region. My grandfather fought with the small Belgian Army near Boezinghe. Severely wounded in July 1916 he was brought to Rouen Bonsecours Hospital. He stayed in France and married a French nurse. My father was born French but got caught in the 2nd WW as partizan near St Omer. Brought to Braunsweig in a work camp he survived and stayed stuck in Belgium. So we are here today standing on a place where the youngsters fought in 14-18. Thx to films like Beneath Hill 60 we get a push in the back to continue our guiding . It's our task to inform, to instruck and never to forget.

Craig - your blog has been insightful. My Great Uncle Alphonsus Cahill was killed in the Passchendaele II battle on 12 Oct 1917. As a youngster I was fascinaetd by the huge bronze service meadallion on my Nan's mantlepiece - his Sister Therese Hughes nee. Cahill - and she spoke sadly about him. I knew that he had been killed in action on Passchendaele Ridge and his body never recovered. He is listed at the Menin Gate. He was commemorated in a full stained glass window in Saint Patricks Church in Singleton NSW (which I can only assume the family paid for). As a schoolboy I would point it out to my mates and proclaim "that's Uncle Ally's window". Unfortunately that window was totally destroyed during the hail storm that wreaked havoc on Singleton in 1996. I couldn't help thinking at the time there was some greater force trying to obliterate the poor bloke! Never found, never properly interred and now the memorial pane was gone with no record of it's design/detail. His military dossier and record of enlistment mentions that he was serving already in the 6th Australian Light Horse when he joined the 34th Battalion 2nd Reinforcements - this puzzles me as I can find no record of this prior service? It wouldn't surprise me as he would no doubt have been a horseman by nature. There are some embarkation detail contradicitons between the AWM and National Archive infromation also. What I need now I suppose is some anecdotal information. The stuff that comes from the diaries of his comrades - travel memoirs etc. I have no idea where to start searching?

I have drawing of the cross put on the grave of my uncle Frederick Alsop and the two boys killed with him Claude Dickensian and Donald Blackhall. 17 October 1917
also some photos

Great Blog Craig. My Great uncle Private A.H.Ockwell 4484 24th Battalion 11th reinforcement was KIA 09-10-1917 and buried in the field at a place known as Daisy Wood (and a wooden cross errected). In correspondence, the Battalion sign writer says the men killed during September, October and November were buried ob the YPRES front near polygon Wood. I understand men buried where they fell were later collected and located to various cemetarys in the area? and this was carried out for years after the wars end. I'm hoping to visit this area later in the year and am interested in knowing if there is some record or other that might give an indication about what war cemetary my Great Uncle would have been transported too (noting he has no known grave listed). The war diaries seem to be no help and his Red Cross Record only has the witness accounts with some mentioning he was buried in the field at a place known as Daisy Wood, another says near Polygon Wood, another says at Brodeinside Ridge ? Given yours and your readers wealth of knowledge, what places should I be visiting to at least feel I've walked somewhere near his last actions and resting place. Mant thanks, Frank

thanks for the records of 33 battalion ,I have found Charles William ryan ,Australian imperial forces,unit33rd batt.he came from keen street Lismore. he had 5 brothers & 1 sister ,roger,john,james,josoph,annie,&Edward who was my grandfather.these soldiers must NEVER be forgotten, regards Michael ryan.

Thank you so much, Craig, for your wonderful blog. My great-uncle, 6415 Pte William George Oborne of the 22nd Battalion was KIA on the 4th Oct. 1917 at Broodseinde. He has no known grave and his name appears on the Menin Gate, along with so many others.