Hill 60

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Will Dyson, In the Tunnell-Hill 60, c1918.
Will Dyson, Coming Out at Hill 60, c1918.
General Area of the British Offensive at Ypres, 1917 Courtesy Ballarat Heritage Services Picture Collection


Background

Hill 60 received its name from the Australian Troops. It signifies its height in metres above sea level. Hill 60 was located at Zwarteleen (Ypres Belgium), around five kilometres south-east of Ypres. It was not a natural feature but was some 60 metres high and 250 metres from end to end. It was made from spoil during the construction of the Co es-Ypres railway during the 19th century. [1]

Rich loamy clay lay on top of seven (7) metres of dry sand separated by a layer of blue clay and two (2) metres of quicksand. [2]

Whoever held Hill 60 could view the movements of enemy and when necessary bring to bear artillery and small arms fire. Whilst only 60 metres high it was the key to the entire Messines Ridge and gave an unhindered view if Ypres. Its importance was realised by the Germans when they captured it from the French on 10th December 1914. Soon after this the British began digging tunnels under the hill and the German positions on the hill.[3]

Under Major J. Douglas Henry the 1st Tunnelling Company took over the tunnels and mines at Hill 60 on 9 November 1916. The 1st Tunnelling Company took over mining operations and mine fighting from the Canadians on Hill 60, the Canadians having previously taken over from the British.[4] This was the first major offensive project entrusted to Australians s they were determined to make their mark.[5] For months the underground workings had been dug and re-dug, lost and recaptured, until finally with a tremendous charge of 123,500 pounds of explosive, the Australians blew the craters in the opening phase of the battle of Messines, on 7 June 1917. The result was particularly deadly, for the mine was stated by the Germans to have taken up with it a whole company of Wurtumbergers, and prepared the way for the advance of the British troops over this area. [6]

Hill 60 after the Blast, c1917

David Marriott writes:

The following is an extract from my grandad's memoirs, he was Arthur Marriott 3371 L/cpl 7th city of London Reg (attached to 47th division) The land mines in those days took weeks and sometimes months to prepare. Expert engineers trained in tunnelling – usually coal miners – were doing the job of digging out the bays or cellars for holding the high explosive Aminol. Many colonials from Australia & New Zealand were engaged in the work. I, with others, have had to “sand bag” for them all night. The sand bags as they were filled were passed along the tunnel in a chain system to the mouth of the tunnel and then the bags were emptied outside and before daylight the earth was camouflaged so that enemy aircraft would not spot it, although they knew we were very close at times. In the preparation work for blowing up Hill 60, which went on for several months, I was attached to the “diggers” as they were called. We slept most of the day, usually working all night, and we had to amuse ourselves the best we could. Our favourite pastime was a delousing competition. Perhaps a dozen of us would take part and at a given signal each man would see how many lice he could catch from his body by putting his hand inside his shirt or the flies of his trousers and feel for a louse and then crack it on his mess tin lid. The one who had the most spots of blood on his lid was the winner. The one who ran the competition divided the entrance fee usually half a franc and the time allowed was three to five minutes. Living under such conditions our morale began to get very low. We were gradually being transformed from human beings to animals, perhaps not so bad because a spirit of comradeship remained with us. At a certain time in the night while we were working, the listener would come along the tunnel and dig a steel rod in the ground and place the circular earpiece near his ear to listen for vibrations from the enemy diggers. While he could hear them working he assured us that we were safe for the time being, but when the Germans stopped digging then we all had the wind up, as we had visions of being blown up. Long spells of silence made us all very nervy, so much so that a crowd of anxious faces would gather around the listener hoping he would say: “You are all right.” One night in particular was a nightmare,. We knew the Germans had stopped working and we were all on edge and one of our boys just went completely mad when his nerves finally broke and could stand it no longer. He had to be tied down until morning and was taken to hospital. About two hours after this incident there was a lot of shouting – the Germans had started digging again. I was at the top of the mine gallery passing a sand bag to the next man when there was a fall of chalk and earth in the gallery and when the dust had cleared, our diggers below were in the act of strangling two Germans who had fallen through into the gallery. The diggers called for a rope and it was thrown down to them and then we had the unpleasant task of hauling up two dead Germans feet first. This meant that their gallery was being cut out a few feet above ours so we had to seal up the gallery and blow a “Camifleur” a small amount of high explosive sufficient to block any access to our tunnels. We had the jobs of carrying boxes of Aminol to our miniature railway to be taken along to the galleries and then the boxes were placed on a sort of thrawl all round the gallery and the engineers would connect each box with a length of fuse. When the whole operation was completed on June 6, 1917 thousands of men were assembled all specially trained for this massive attack which was to start early at 3.10am on 7th June 1917. [7]

Those Connected to the Ballarat Electorate Who Served at Hill 60

Wilfred P. Avery

Robert A. Clinton

Glyndwr David Evans

A. E. Tandy

Also See

1st Tunnelling Company

Battle Fields

Hill 60 Monument

Other Sites

Hill 60 crater - http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E00580/

Hill 60 crater - http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/E01911/

War Photographer Frank Hurley was present at Hill 60 - https://www.facebook.com/507577359374520/photos/a.549117625220493.1073741829.507577359374520/596334877165434/?type=1&theater

References

  1. http://www.amosa.org.au/schools/mhp/ww1/Hill%2060.pdf, accessed 25 April 2014.
  2. http://www.amosa.org.au/schools/mhp/ww1/Hill%2060.pdf, accessed 25 April 2014.
  3. http://www.amosa.org.au/schools/mhp/ww1/Hill%2060.pdf, accessed 25 April 2014.
  4. http://fffaif.org.au/?p=7495, Accessed 28 September 2014.
  5. Barton, Peter et el, Beneath Flanders Fields McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal & Kingston and Ithaca, 2004.
  6. http://fffaif.org.au/?p=7495, Accessed 28 September 2014.
  7. http://www.awm.gov.au/blog/2007/05/25/messines-tunnellers-and-mines/, accessed 30 April 2014.