Partly Cloudy

Partly Cloudy

max temp: 8°C

min temp: 8°C


War history: Why nondescript Hill 60 matters so much

08:00 30 March 2014

Galloway historian Mike Peters bringing the Hill 60 story to life.

Galloway historian Mike Peters bringing the Hill 60 story to life.


Mike Peters, Galloway’s resident military historian, visits a Flanders landmark critical to the story of the First World War − a place where, sadly, many troops began their ‘last long sleep’

The pilgrimages that followed the armistice marked the beginning of modern battlefield tourism. Pilgrimages are as important today as they were then.The pilgrimages that followed the armistice marked the beginning of modern battlefield tourism. Pilgrimages are as important today as they were then.

I’m often asked where I especially like to take battlefield visitors, and why. I answer that a personal favourite is Hill 60 in the Ypres Salient.

You may wonder why a hill should have such an odd name. The origin of this, and many other hills in military history, is as with most things military born out of practicality. The hill in question sits outside Ypres and was created artificially when engineers dug out a nearby railway cutting. The excess soil, known as spoil, was dumped 100 metres away from the new railway line to create a new hill. When later measured, the peak had a height above sea level recorded on maps as 60 metres – hence Hill 60.

Further around the salient sits another Belgian peak, Hill 62, and this would also figure prominently in the fighting around Ypres. (A salient is part of the forward line that sticks out into enemy-held territory. (At first glance, these heights are hardly significant (even by East Anglian standards!), but they overlook and therefore dominate the low-lying, basin-like area that surrounds Ypres.

The ground over which visitors now walk was vital for both sides during the First World War. Whoever held Hill 60 had the advantage of height and unobstructed observation.

Hill 60 is surely one of the most evocative battlefields in the Ypres Salient.Hill 60 is surely one of the most evocative battlefields in the Ypres Salient.

When the German army held the hill, they could dominate the south-eastern side of Ypres and direct artillery fire onto the British defenders at will. This inescapable military fact made Hill 60 one of the most fiercely contested pieces of ground in the Ypres Salient. The ground still bears the scars of battle almost a century on; numerous shell holes and mine craters are evidence of repeated battles for possession of this nondescript hill in Belgian Flanders.

A guided walk over the hill soon reveals the physical evidence of ferocious fighting: desperate battles that are almost a microcosm of the war.

The French held the hill first; the Germans took it from them in December 1914. The British arrived and retook the hill at great cost in April 1915. They attacked using tunnellers, underground mines, artillery, bayonet and sheer guts.

The following month, in May 1915, the Germans successfully counter-attacked, retaking the hill using every weapon in their arsenal. It was here at Hill 60 that British troops were subjected to one of the first German gas attacks on the Western Front.

The two sides wrestled over possession of the hill for many more months. The British finally succeeded in blasting the Germans off the hill and occupied this vital ground in June 1917.

When walking across the broken ground that is Hill 60 for the first time, most visitors comment on the atmosphere. It is one of the few places that you can actually feel, or at least get a lingering sense of, the desperate fighting that took place in the Ypres Salient. The footprint of the hill occupies the area of no more than three football pitches and yet a total of five Victoria Crosses were awarded to men for their actions fighting on, and beneath, this almost claustrophobic battlefield.

There are a few memorials at Hill 60 but no war cemetery. However, we do know that many soldiers from both sides never left the hill. Sadly, many of the missing of Ypres remain buried underneath the ground they battled so hard for. A British officer who fought on the hill had this to say:

“The place was practically a cemetery, and several hundred must have been buried in the ground, it proving impossible, when digging trenches, not to disturb some poor fellow in his last long sleep.”

The men that fought over Hill 60 witnessed the full horrors of the First World War. This tiny piece of man-made terrain bore witness to close and vicious hand-to-hand fighting, grenades, gas, mortars and the unimaginable shock of underground mining that shattered the body of the hill and the men who defended its barbed wired slopes.

For me, the struggle for the hill still resonates today. Now, it is occupied by sheep and occasionally patrolled by harmless groups of battlefield tourists. If you want to visit a place that epitomises the battles fought in and around what Churchill later called the Immortal Salient, I can think of no better place to take you than the battered slopes of Hill 60.

Why not join me when I visit Hill 60 with Galloway this summer.



Woman conned by bogus caller (Stock photo)

A Hadleigh woman who lost £2,500 in a police scam has warned others to be alert to the crime.

Members of the nursing team at Ipswich Hospital.

Carers and visitors of people being looked after at Ipswich Hospital will next month be able to spend more time with patients as new extended visiting hours are introduced.

She was last seen in the area of Downside Close in Ipswich.

Concern is growing for a 49-year-old woman who has gone missing in Ipswich.

Part of Sue Brooks' photograph of pupils and staff at Fonnereau House School, Ipswich, in 1952. Are you in the picture?

I recently asked readers if they had memories of Fonnereau House School, Ipswich, which was in Fonnereau Road, close to High Street.

Essex police are investigating a robbery at Jaywick.

An 88-year-old Essex man suffered a broken hip when he was knocked to the ground by robbers who burst into his Jaywick home.

Doors reopen on the new look East of England Co-op Daily store in Woodbridge Thoroughfare. Staff members, left to right, Chloe Williams, James Buckles, Shirley Pierce.

Shoppers were greeted by the sight of a new-look Co-op on their high street yesterday, when a Suffolk branch of the store reopened following three weeks of refurbishment.

HGV drink-driver in court

A lorry driver carrying a trailer full of wine has admitted dangerous driving when weaving between lanes on the A14 while three times over the drink-drive limit.

Dan Poulter with Lord Robert Winston

ES 18.3.11

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet training day at Elstree film studios in Hertfordshire has come under fire from Conservative MP and former minister Dr Dan Poulter.

South East Suffolk Magistrates' Court

A teenager must pay nearly £300 in fines and court costs after admitting being drunk and disorderly in Kesgrave.

Ipswich Park and Ride. Martlesham.

The two remaining park and ride sites in Ipswich could close in three years’ time if there is not a substantial increase in the number of motorists using them.

Most read

Most commented

Topic pages

Local business directory

Suffolk's trusted business finder

Property search

e.g. Oxford or NW3
Powered by Zoopla

Digital Edition

Read the Ipswich Star e-edition today E-edition

Great British Life

Great British Life
MyDate24 MyPhotos24