Battle Honour MESSINES 1914,'17,'18

Event
Thursday, 7 June, 1917
Battle Honour MESSINES 1914,'17,'18

'And if perchance we do advance
To Wytschaete and Messines
They'll know the guns that strafed the Huns
Were wearing 0' the green,
'

(Sung by troops of the Irish Division as they attacked round Petit Bois.)

The Battle Honour MESSINES 1914,'17,'18 is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment. The following is an account of the action in 1917.

As the Germans occupied the Messines Ridge, a vital feature which dominated the Ypres Salient and British trenches, it was essential that if the British were to break out from the Salient, they must first capture the Ridge. Throughout the spring of 1917, preparations were made for the attack. At 0310 hours on 7 June, as a prelude to the attack, sappers detonated some 500 tons of high explosive in 19 separate mines under German strong points on the Messines Ridge.

Our antecedent regiments were well represented in the 16th (Irish), 25th, 36th (Ulster), and the 47th (London) Division - included were the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and the 11th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers; the 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and the 15th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles; the 1st Battalion The London Irish Rifles; and the 7th/8th and the 9th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. The latter battalion's war diary entry on 6 June recorded:

Bombs etc. were issued out to all ranks and final preparations were made. At 10.0 p.m. our troops commenced moving to their assembly positions. Ladders were placed over trenches, positions prepared for climbing out of the trenches. Hot drinks were issued to the men. At midnight all ranks were reported ... in assembly positions.

IWM Q5460The detonation of the mines caused the complete destruction of some enemy strong points with the survivors dazed and in no position to fight. The attack in front of the 36th (Ulster) Division’s 107 Brigade was supported by mines at Kruisstraat and Spanbroekmolen. On the left, 109 Brigade was supported by the mine at Peckham House. The 16th (Irish) Division's attack was between Maedelstede Farm and the Vierstraat–Wytschaete road. The mines at Maedelstede and the two at Petit Bois again devastated the German defences. Closely following the creeping artillery barrage, the assault waves of infantry went forward. Where there was any enemy resistance, the infantry soon overcame it. Unfortunately, the mines at Petit Bois to the left were about 12 seconds late and caused casualties among the advancing infantry. Ontario Farm, 2 RIR's objective, was completely destroyed and when the attacking platoons arrived, all they found was a vast crater.

Above, village of Wytschaete captured on 7 June 1917 by the 16th (Irish) and the 36th (Ulster) Division. Photographed on 8 June 1917 (© IWM Q5460)

IWM Q6384The battle was a triumph of organisation in every form; the pack transport which brought forward food, ammunition and wire, arrived as planned - within a few hours of the advance, the men were able to drink hot tea brought up in containers. All initial objectives were taken within three hours and the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division cooperated in the capture of Wytschaete where the divisional boundary cut through the village. Casualties as always were heavy, but fortunately the number of those killed was by comparison small. Many prisoners were taken; 2 RIR captured 200 men, five machine guns, two trench mortars, and a large quantity of ammunition and stores.

Above and below, Inniskillings of the 36th (Ulster) Division displaying their captured trophies at Locre, after the capture of Wytschaete, 12 June 1917. (© IWM Q6384 and Q6385)

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