Mesen-Wijschate (Messines-Wytschaete) ridge
commands panoramic views over the surrounding flat countryside and was
therefore a key military objective during the war. In 1914 the British
gallantly but unsuccessfully defended the area against the Germans, who
were sweeping towards the channel. The Germans soon fortified the ridge
and high ground to Passendale (Passchendaele).
A major offensive commenced on 7 June 1917. Along an 8 kilometre arch of
the Mesen Ridge, nineteen huge mine were detonated beneath the German
lines - the explosions were so loud that they could be heard in London.
The Germans were overwhelmed in their trenches as the New Zealanders,
Australians and British advanced up the rise from the West. But the
Germans counter-attacked and for the next two days, in a desperate but
futile attempt to recapture the ridge, poured thousands of artillery
shells on the allies. When the battle ended on 10 June, the southern end
of Ieper (Ypres) salient was firmly in allied hands.
The battle of Mesen was a great victory, particularly for the New
Zealanders, who were assigned to capture the most heavily defended
section of the ridge, including Mesen. The allied forces then moved on
to the dreadful battle of Passchendaele (Third Ieper), which commenced
on 31 July 1917.
In April 1918 the Germans launched their last offensive, reversing all
the gains the allies had made in the previous year and recapturing the
Mesen Ridge and beyond, to the village of Kemmel. Their victory was
short-lived, for within months the allies, led by the King of Belgium,
drove the Germans for the Ieper Salient.
Mesen has been rebuilt, but will always remember those terrible years,
and the men who grave their lives in Belgium's defence.