Messines Ridge

In 1965, Ferguson Hamilton annotated his wartime diary. The fiftieth anniversary and the great BBC series had sent him back to reconsider the past. Most of the annotations are one-word explanatory notes, but for June 7th 1917 he has stuck an extra page into the diary, recalling a significant day.

Re Thursday 7th June

This was the best planned attack in all my experience. For absolute correct timing our watches were synchronized at H.Q. My watch as being the most reliable in our battery was the one used. (I have it yet in my possession). Heretofore a time was fixed for the beginning of the offensive (say 3.10 a.m.) and our guns of every description fired our first shot at 3.10 am. But the Commanding Officer of our Artillery had a wonderful idea. It was “Calculate the time of flight of your shell reaching its target and start your attack that much of time before 3.10 am.)The result was that the first shell of every gun, from the smallest Field Gun behind our front line to the largest Long Range Gun miles behind us landed at the same moment (3.10.am.) The impact must have been terrific. Major Hare and I (my part done) stood near the BC Post when the order to open fire was given. The gunners went at it ding-dong as fast as they could load their guns. Then suddenly the earth shook and the gunners stopped as if thunderstruck. The O.C. called out “Carry on! That’s Messines Ridge up in the air!”

Our sappers had tunnelled & exploded tons of explosive under the ridge at 3.10 am.

 

2 Comments

  1. Posted August 6, 2006 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    The mere words cannot begin to convey the magnitude of the mines and barrage. Perhaps you could locate or link to some aerial photographs for to-days’ readers. Kipling wrote a story of a man and his batman who were in one of the tunnelling companies {echoed later in Viet Nam}–and his eventual cure through the love of Dina[?h], a terrier bitch.

  2. Posted August 7, 2006 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    It’s good to hear from a fellow Kipling fan. Ferguson Hamilton’s words in diary may not do full justice to the event – but they give a remarkable sense, I think, of how it struck a gunner a fair way away. There’s an implication that the aftershock didn’t reach his battery till a while after 3.10.


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