This page also covers sites located near to Hooge, including Railway Wood, the Princess Patricia's Candian Light Infantry Memorial and Birr Cross Roads Cemetery.
The site of Hooge in 1919. Photo from the Michelin Guide to Ypres
Hooge is a small village on the Menin Road (the N8), around two miles east of Ypres. The front line of the Salient was here in 1914 and there was fierce fighting in the area over the next three years, during which the village was totally destroyed. The road from Ypres to Hooge leads past the infamous Hellfire corner, once one of the most dangerous spots in the Salient. Today it is no longer a corner; it is now a roundabout.
Hooge today is a small village straddling the main road, with a large amusement park as perhaps the most prominent feature today. This can be found just to the north of the straight main road, and is actually located where the German lines were during part of the War.
Before reaching Hooge, on the right-hand side of the main N8 road is Birr Cross Roads Cemetery. Trained trees line the edges of the cemetery above the walls, with interlinked branches making a pleasing aspect to the cemetery. There are special memorials at the front right of the cemetery to men believed and known to be buried here, but the location of whose graves is now not known. Among the men so commemorated is a Victoria Cross winner, Captain Harold Ackroyd, and also a Belgian interprepter, Serjeant De Wattine Camille, killed in September 1918 shortly before the war ended.
Harold Ackroyd served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was attached to the 6th Royal Berkshires in 1915. At the start of the Third Battle of Ypres, Ackroyd worked throughout the 31st of July and the 1st of August 1917, tending to wounded soldiers in the front line. He carried a wounded officer to safety whilst under fire and went out in front of the lines under sniper fire to rescue another man. He had also performed with noted bravery on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the previous year, when the 6th Royal Berkshires were in action at Montauban and also later at Delville Wood. He was reccomended for the VC after Delville Wood, but was instead awarded the Military Cross.
After the start of Third Ypres, Ackroyd was aware he had again been reccomended for the VC, but was sadly killed only a few days later on the 10th of August at Glencorse Wood where he was shot in the head by a sniper. So the award of his VC was post-humous.
At the front left of the cemetery is a Duhallow block, in front of special memorial stones commemorating men buried in three other cemeteries: Birr Cross-roads Cemetery No. 2 and Union Street Graveyards Nos. 1 and 2.
The cemetery was started in August 1917 and by the Armistice consisted of just nine rows of graves which are now part of Plot I. Many graves were concentrated here after the Armistice; from other cemeteries and also isolated burials on the battlefields around. There are many Australian soldiers buried here, and one of those whose grave was moved here after the Armistice was Private Leslie Hogan of the 2nd Battalion. Hogan, from New South Wales, was an 18 year old postal assistant when he enlisted in January 1916. His service record demonstrates the discipline in the Armed Forces during the war: on the 3rd of January 1917 he committed the crime of "losing Government property" - he left his boots in the support trenches and was awarded seven days of Field Punishment No. 2 and ordered to "make good the loss". A month later he suffered from frost-bite, and had to be sent to England for treatment, only rejoining his battalion a month before his death. He was killed in action on the 17th of September 1917. A note in his file reports that his remains were exhumed from a spot about mid-way between the sites of Birr Cross Roads Cemetery and Hooge Crater Cemetery today - originally he was buried just behind the British lines on the north side of the road.
Overall, 833 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War are buried or commemorated here, with 336 being unidentified. As in so many of the CWGC cemeteries, the standard of care for the cemetery is exceptional; this is a fitting tribute to those who died in the Gerat War, and the floral displays here as in so many other cemeteries are magnificent.
A large crater was blown at Hooge in July 1915. This occurred during a time of relative quiet on the British part of the Western Front, when few major assaults were made. Nonetheless, the average casualty rate for the British and Commonwealth forces was around 300 per day. Hooge, having been earlier lost, had been retaken in May 1915. On the 2nd of June, Hooge Chateau was lost.
The officer in charge of tunneling and laying the mine at Hooge was Lieutenant Geoffrey Cassels, and the work was completed by 175 Tunnelling Company in only five and a half weeks. Compared to the months of preparation before the mines used in the Battle of Messines in 1917, this was quick work indeed. The first attempt at tunnelling for the mine, starting from within a stable, failed, because the earth encounterred was too sandy.
A second shaft was sunk from the ruins of a gardener's cottage nearby. The tunnellers reached blue clay, and could then make good progress. The main tunnel was in the end 190 feet long, with a branch off this after about 70 feet, this second tunnel running a further 100 feet on. The intention was to blow two charges under concrete fortifications which the Germans were constructing, although the smaller tunnel was found to be somewhat off course.
The mines were laid using, for the first time, the explosive ammonal - as well as gunpowder and guncotton. The largest mine of the war thus far was blown on the 19th of July at 7 p.m. - but not before a German shell had severed the detonator wires only a few minutes before. They had to be rapidly repaired. The crater made was estimated at 120 feet wide and 20 feet deep. The crater was taken by men from the 1/Gordon Highlanders and 4/Middlesex. Ten of the latter, however, had been killed by debris from the mine as they waited in advanced positions.
Lt. Cassels was almost arrested shortly afterwards because of this, although subsequently he was awarded the Military Cross, and praised for his efforts. The German losses from the mine were estimated to be several hundred.
The two photos below show craters at or near Hooge during the War. Both are German photographs, and the top one dates from 1915. The date of the lower one is unknown.
Hooge crater photographed in 1915 Photo Dr. Trenkler
Dugouts at Hooge crater
The crater is now in the grounds of a tearoom/hotel, but you can enter the site of the crater and walk part way around it. The charge per person for this is 0.5 Euro. The crater (now water-filled) is quite large, and there are also pillboxes around it, one of which you can enter if you wish, unless it is flooded which is often the case. One of the pillboxes is now partly submerged at the edge of the crater, and inaccesible.
There is a suggested route to follow in the grounds, and around the back of the crater are some shallow trenches; it's not clear if these are original or recreated. Using Linesman, a GPS trenchmap navigation system, they do seem to line up quite well with wartime trenches.
There are also a number of information boards positioned along the suggested walk, and these give background on the area and also show Hooge Chateau before the war, as well as the area just after the war, including a picture of the nearby Hooge Crater cemetery (se below). There are also some artefacts set along the walk, such as those shown below.
Just behind the crater, with the fence visible from the crater site, is a very large themepark which stands on the site where Hooge Chateau used to stand before it was shelled and destroyed in the War. The current building here housing the tearooms is more or less on the site of the stables which once stood here. Behind the building, sheep are kept.
Eleven days after the mine was blown, on the 30th of July at Hooge, the Germans first used the flame thrower in battle. At 3.15 a.m., jets of flame from these flammenwerfer devices swept across the trenches occupied by companies of the 8th Rifle Brigade. Not surprisingly, the Germans with the advantage of this new weapon (also known as liquid fire) made some gains where it was used. There was desperate fighting with the sides only separated by a few yards. This small area of the line is described even in the Official History as being an area of "evil reputation". A flammenwerfer can be seen in the museum at Zonnebeke (see the Passchendaele page for information). The crater and the Chateau were again retaken by the British in early August 1915, but changed hands again several times before the war ended. This ground was truly stained with the blood of many battles.
Hooge Crater Cemetery
Just a little way away, on the other side of the road is Hooge Crater Cemetery. In this large Cemetery there are 5,922 burials overall, plus special memorials to men known, or believed to be buried here, plus to some whose graves in other cemeteries were destroyed by shellfire. Over 3,500 of the burials are of unidentified soldiers. Below is an early picture of the cemetery, with a similar view today. Note in the early photograph the train or tram lines running in front of the Cemetery. A light railway ran here as well during the war.
Hooge Crater Cemetery, perhaps between the WarsPhoto: NELS
A similar view today
The cemetery slopes downhill for quite some distance away from the road, with the graves mainly in a regular layout. The circular depression at the front of the cemetery represents the crater from the mine blown here in 1915; the Stone of Remembrance is located in this depression.
The inscriptions on the graves are on the side facing away from the road, although the original Plot 1 is located at the top nearest the road. This was started late in 1917, and the Cemetery was greatly enlarged after the armistice by the concentration of graves from sites around. The picture below shows the Cemetery just after the War.
Photo from the Michelin Guide to Ypres
Not far from here in Gheluvelt church there is a plaque in commemoration of Lieutenant Wilfred E Littleboy of the 16/Royal Warwicks, who was killed on the 9th of October 1917. He is buried here in Plot 12, grave H.14.
Walking through this large cemetery, one is struck by the numbers buried here. And there are more burials than headstones. In Plot 6 for instance there are a number of headstones which each mark the resting places of three, four or five unknown soldiers. The picture below shows a few of these; if enlarged it can be seen that most of the headstones in the first two rows visible commemorate more than one soldier.
Hooge Crater Museum
Just across the road from the Cemetery is Hooge Crater Museum. This is housed in what was previously a chapel, built after the Great War in 1920. By the 1990s, this had fallen into disuse, but was saved by the De Smul-Ceuninck family, and today is an excellent museum. The sculpture which can be seen above the door was carved by John Bunting in memory of Private Joseph Bunting of the Royal Fusiliers who was killed on the 1st of July 1916 on the Somme.
The museum contains a number of good displays, including uniforms, armaments and relics from the Great War. Below is one of the displays of various armanents.
Outside, the entrance way has been lined with sandbags to give the appearance of a trench, and guns and a portion of twisted rusting railway track, presumably dating from the war, can also be seen.
There is also a cafe here, where many highly polished shell cases, often in the form of trench art, line the walls. This is a good place to stop for refreshments when visiting the battlefields.
Below is part of a trench map from 1916 showing Hooge and some of the area around. The craters (marked by red indented circles) can be seen clustered to the north of the buildings above the road.
Trench map of Hooge, 1916
As stated above, the main road running from Ypres to Menin passes through Hooge. This road, as an access route for troops passing through Ypres to the front lines was an almost constant enemy artillery target, and as such was badly damaged time and time again. Below is a contemporary image of the road during the Great War, and a modern counterpart.
The Menin Road during the Great War. Photo: Keystone
Kings Royal Rifle Corps Memorial
Walking along the side of the Menin road today, heading away from Ypres, there is the sound of children's excited voices as families park in the large car parks by the side of the road for the Bellewaerde theme park. Colourful flags line the road, and flutter in the breeze.
In between the flags, on the left hand side of the road and at the edge of the car park, is the memorial to the Kings Royal Rifle Corps.
The memorial is very similar to one which is located at Pozieres on the Somme, although the small columns which once stood around it are now long gone - they can be seen in an earlier picture, long before the themepark came to be.
KRRC memorial at Hooge perhaps between the wars. Photo: NELS
The inscription on the memorial commemorates officers and men from fifteen battalions of the KRRC who died in Flanders 'in the cause of liberty and justice'.
This is located a little north of Hooge, and is a very interesting site, as located here is the R.E. Grave, a memorial to a number of Tunnellers who were killed here between December 1915 and July 1917. These men were buried underground and their bodies not recovered, so there are no headstones, but there is a Cross of Sacrifice showing the site is under the control of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The site stands on a small ridge beside Railway Wood, located up a track off a minor road. A bar is in place across the track so it is not possible to drive up to it, but the walk is a short one.
On the octagonal base of the cross is inscribed: 'Beneath this spot lie the bodies of an Officer, three NCOs and eight men of or attached to the 177th Tunnelling Company Royal Engineers who were killed in action underground during the defence of Ypres between November 1915 and August 1917'.
The officer buried somewhere underground here is Second Lieutenant Charles Geoffrey Boothby, from near Birmingham. He was just short of his 20th birthday when he applied for a commission in December 1914, and only 21 when he was killed on the 28th April 1916. He had only recently been attached to the 177th Tunnelling Company from the South Staffordshires. The telegram announcing his death was sent to his parents, but they had moved. When it was sent on to them, his father telegraphed the War Office saying "I cannot think it true please confirm". Sadly, it was true, and in June 1916 a further communication added that his body had not been recovered.
The human tradegy that rippled out is clear in the letters remaining in his file. In June 1916 his mother wrote from Cornwall where her husband had been recuperating following illness. In February 1919, relating to delivery of Boothby's plaque and scroll, she wrote "my husband has died since my dear son was killed", and apologises for a delay in answering the letter as she has herself been ill.
The names of these men are inscribed on the sides of the base of the cross, and as well as the insignia of the Royal Engineers, there is also the insignia of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and The Kings Liverpool Regiment - these being regiments from which men had been attached to the 177th Tunneling Company.
The R.E. Grave is a CWGC war grave site, listed on their database, but the dates of death of the twelve men listed do not match those given on the inscription for reasons unknown (the actual dates were a from month later until a month earlier than the inscription). It is a lonely spot. The fencing around the memorial is relatively new, in comparison with an old postcard of the site shown below. The columns and iron bars inside this are the originals, now surrounded with pea gravel. A crater can be seen right next to the memorial.
R.E. Grave at Railway Wood between the wars. Photo: NELS
The path continues up past the memorial and the wood, and at the edge of the wood is a memorial to the Liverpool Scottish. There is a bench positioned in front of the memorial, and in spring daffodils bloom around it. Craters in the wood nearby can be seen.
Leaving Railway Wood, a little further north along the road which leads past it, this small road crosses the N37. Just on the right hand side after it crosses the N37 are two private memorials to officers killed nearby. These are memorials to Captains Geoffrey Bowlby and Henry Skrine.
Although these memorials today stand side by side, in fact the men they commemorate are from two different regiments (Skrine served with the 6th Somerset Light Infantry and Bowlby with the Royal Horse Guards). And although both died in 1915, their deaths were months apart, in September and May 1915 respectively. The memorials in fact used to stand about 100 yards apart, with Bowlby's memorial further into the field rdather than by the roadside as it is today.
The inscription at the base of Skrine's memorial (photo above) states that he was buried near this spot, and that the memorial is also to honour those of his company who lie with him.
Both Bowlby and Skrine have no known grave, and their names can be found on the Menin Gate in Ypres. Their names are also to be seen in St. Georges Memorial Church in the town, where they are two of the many who have their names inscribed on chairs within the church. There is a separate page on the website devoted to this very interesting building.
Returning to the main road and turning left along the N37, the next right turn leads to a memorial to Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. The memorial is actually located on a road named Prinses Patriciastraat. It is reached by very small roads, but is signposted.
The land for the memorial was donated in 1958 by Monsieur van Ackere de Wevelghem, and the memorial itself was unveiled on the 13th of August 1964, by Mrs. Hamilton Gault. She was the wife of the founder of the regiment, Major Hamilton Gault, and the date marked the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the regiment.
The PPCLI had trained on Salisbury Plain, based at one point at the Bustard Camp (there is still a pub nearby called The Bustard today). They landed in Le Havre just before Christmas, 1914, and were based in the Salient in early 1915, involved in fighting at St. Eloi in March 1915. At the beginning of May 1915 they were at Polygon Wood, but were ordered to withdraw. On the 8th of May they were involved in the action which is commemorated by the siting of the memorial here. At 4 a.m. that day the Germans started shelling their positions, and about 90 minutes later the Germans started an infantry attack. Two or three German machine guns swept the trenches, and the situation was so serious that even signallers, orderlies and servants were ordered to take up arms and man the support trenches. Major Gault himself was injured by shell fire in his left arm and left thigh at around 7 a.m.
Having been forced back the first time, the Germans attacked again at about 9 a.m., and the fierce fighting continued, with many casualties sustained. Among them was Lieutenant Norman Edwards, originally from Reading and educated at Pinner in England. Aged 23 when he died, Edwards has, like many of those who died that day, no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. The PPCLI were reinforced by men from other battalions in the line nearby, including the 4th Rifle Brigade. In the afternoon the Germans again tried to take their trenches, but the PPCLI hung on with grim tenacity, and were relieved at 11.30 p.m. that night by the 3rd Kings Royal Rifle Corps. The PPLI War Diary records that the KRRC men 'gave us assistance to bury our dead that were in support and communication trenches as it was impossible and imprudent to reach the fire trenches'.
As well as Lieutenant Edwards, Lieutenant Richard Crawford was killed, and Captain Harry Dennison was wounded and died; sadly his only brother Lieutenant Ralph Dennison, serving with the 5th Royal Sussex, was also killed the same day. Harry is commemorated on the Menin Gate, whilst Ralph (the older brother) also has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial to the Missing. The PPLI War Diary records that after May the 8th, 93 men were killed, with 79 missing and 203 wounded. The remnants of the battalion returned to Ypres, where there was no peace for them, as they were based in the ramparts by the Lille Gate which on the 10th of May were shelled, resulting in a further five men killed.
A plaque on the front of the memorial records that 'Here, 8th May 1915, the "Originals" of Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry...........held firm and counted not the cost'.
The memorial is in an extremely quiet and rural spot, very tranquil, but the modern world does intrude, as the tops of the rides at the nearby Bellewarde Theme Park can be seen somewhat incongruously in the distance.
Sources & Acknowledgements
Alexander Barrie: War Underground
Great War Forum
Library & Archives Canada for PPCLI War Diary
History of the Victoria Cross website
Major & Mrs Holt: Guide to the Ypres Salient
Michelin Guide to Ypres
National Archives : various files
Glyn Warwick for photograph of Hooge Crater Museum display