Hill 60, Zillebeke, near Ypres
Tour the scene of the First and Second Battle of Ypres
Although it's called a Hill, it isn't as such. Hill 60 is just a huge mound of earth which was dug out to form the railway cutting immediately running alongside in 1860
What it formed was a perfect position from which to view the surrounding flat areas, especially the view of Ypres.
The German forces captured the Hill in December 1914, but it immediately became a priority target for the British and her Allies
Plans were drawn up and in April 1915, after vicious, often hand to hand, fighting, the British held it, but within days the Germans had mustered themselves and made a devastating attack to regain the Hill, which they held until the summer of 1917.
In retaking Hill 60, the Germans made the first poisonous gas attack of WW1.
In 1917, diggers from the Australian Tunneling Company dug their way below the German lines and planted huge mines. Once blown, Infantry Men stormed the Hill and took it.
Hill 60 was a place where no one wanted to fight, the fatalities were shocking and it is known that many bodies still lay buried there. The names of these Servicemen are on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
When walking around the Hill, you soon notice how uneven the surface is. Although the battles were fought nearly 100 years ago and many people have walked there since, the craters, scars and bits of concrete still remain embedded into the ground.
For this reason, tread carefully, especially in the undergrowth where you'll suddenly come accross a hole seemingly going nowhere, but somewhere.
There are four Monuments on and around the Hill; On the very top is a large one for the Queen Victoria Riflemen, beside the road next to the railway bridge is one for the Australian Tunneling Company (the bullet holes on the plaque are from fighting during WW2), next to that one for the 14th. Light Division and a small stone remembering two Belgium Soldiers who lost their lives whilst in capture during WW2.
If you go over the railway bridge and take the footpath immediately left, you enter 'Battle Wood', where you will easily find the 'Caterpillar Crater' (picture above).
It's by sitting down and seeing the size of these craters (Hill 60 is full of them) that the reality of war and destruction becomes very real.
Imagine taking away the tops of the trees, the grass replaced with mud, the smell of whatever season you're in and replacing it with the smell of bodies, open toilets, rats and disease.
When I did, I knew straight away why my Grandfather never spoke about it - ever.
Where is Hill 60
Driving north eastwards on the N37 around Ypres, you'll come to a roundabout signposted to Zillebeke (the other exits on this Roundabout are to Menen, the Town Centre and onwards to the A19)
Upon entering the Village, turn left at the road junction and follow the road for about 3/4 mile where you turn right at the 'Hill 60' signpost. Drive along for about 300 meters and you're there.
If you are taking a day trip to France and Belgium, the drive from Calais to Ypres will take about 90 minutes. Beware the return trip if it's around rush hour though, the main Motorway gets very busy.
Most Battlefield Tour Companies take in Hill 60 and there are places where personal guided tours can be arranged.