Memorials to individuals as well as units
By Howard Chamberlain
When travelling in north western France and in Belgium one can see many memorials not only to units but also sub units and to individual soldiers.
Some who read my earlier articles, late last year, will remember the memorials to Sgt Charles Sciascia, MM and LCpl (later Brigadier) Leslie Wilton Andrew, VC, DSO. (See alongside.)
One place where there are numerous memorials is near the WW1 battle site called Hill 60.
This is in the Zwarteleen area of Zillebeke a short distance south east of Iepre (Ypres).
Caterpillar Crater and Hill 60
Our tour party stopped at this area to visit the Caterpillar Crater and view Hill 60 and have a late lunch at the nearby cafe. This area was captured by the Germans in November 1914 as it gave them good views across the British Lines into Ypres.
I did not know the reason for the railway line in this area until I started reading the signage in this location. The railway line was built and opened circa 1854 and the earth from a cutting was dumped on both sides of the line.
On the west side the irregular mound was called the “Caterpillar” and on the east of the line the spoil created a mound about 18 metres high which became known as “Hill 60” on the left of the picture below.
This area was captured by the Germans in November 1914 as it gave them good views right across the British Lines into Ypres. Hill 60 and the Caterpillar were fought over heavily for very many months. Both were recaptured and lost several times by the allies and the Germans with the Germans predominant.
Bitter fighting, tunnelling and gas
In 1915 an allied plan was made to recapture Hill 60 and to take the Caterpillar as well. There was much bitter fighting in this area both above and below ground where tunnelling companies were working.
The Germans released chlorine gas and phosgene gas during these battles. There is a memorial to Queen Victoria’s Rifles (9th Battalion the London Regiment) (QVR), in the Hill 60 Memorial Park. Queen Victoria’s Rifles arrived in France on 5 Nov 1914 and were one of the first Territorial battalions to serve in France. On 17 Apr 1915 an attack was mounted on Hill 60 and captured.
QVR occupied the hill with a company but on the night of 20-21 April this company was heavily attacked with machine-guns, artillery and grenades and when relieved on the morning of 21 April only 14 out of a company of 150 had survived.
2Lt G H Wooley the only surviving officer of the company and with just a handful of men kept the Germans at bay. For his gallantry, leadership and determination hewas awarded the Victoria Cross: the first Territorial to be awarded this most prestigious award. Five VCs were awarded for gallantry in this sector.
Hill 60 greatly reduced by explosions
At the end of the Great War the crown of Hill 60, after all the heavy artillery fire and the explosion of both German and allied mines, was reduced from 18 metres and is now only five to seven meters higher than the ground about the hill.
As mentioned earlier there are several individual memorials. Right beside the footpath as one crosses the railway bridge from where our bus was parked there is a memorial to two French WW2 Resistance fighters Pierre Marchant and Lucien Olivier who died in 1944.
They were driving a truck with ammunition for the resistance and were captured by the German SS and put on a train to Belgium. When the train stopped between Zillebeke and Hollebeke to wait for another engine they apparently tried to escape, were shot and their bodies were thrown off the train.
Their remains were found by locals about 200 metres from Hill 60. It is not certain whether they attempted to escape or whether they were executed.