Australian World War I Battlefields Tour – Polygon Wood

Polygon Wood – Now there is a name that brings an emotional lump to the throat.

This area is about eight kilometres east of Iepers, and is approached from a small road off the main Menin Road.

We could see the 5th Australian Divisional Memorial through the trees, as we got off the bus, but we visited the Polygon Wood Cemetery first.

The Polygon Wood Cemetery was irregularly used as a front line cemetery between August 1917 and April 1918, and then again towards the end of the war. It is now a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. Many of the identified burials were for those who served with the New Zealand Infantry Forces. There was also a lone German grave in this cemetery, which we thought was rather unusual. The Battle of Polygon Wood took place on 26 September 1917.

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There was a walled avenue, which led from this cemetery to the Buttes New British Cemetery, which is located below the Australian 5th Division Memorial.

This cemetery was made after the war when a large number of graves, mostly from 1917, were brought from the battlefields around Zonnebeke.

Also standing here is the Butte New British Cemetery (New Zealand) Memorial, which commemorates nearly 400 New Zealand soldiers, who lost their lives around Polygon Wood in 1917 and 1918, and who have no known grave.

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Overlooking this quiet sanctuary was the Australian 5th Division Memorial.

The Memorial was a grey stone obelisk, which stood upon a long elevated bank known as a ‘butte’, and is approached by a steep flight of stairs, which were extended some years after the Memorial was erected, in 1919. This is ‘Australian’ land acquired by the Division after the war.

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There were several story-boards located here, which we spent some time reading.

More information can be found at –

http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/zonnebeke/fifth-australian-division-memorial/battle-of-polygon-wood.php

The 5th Australian Division was formed in Egypt in February 1916 after the withdrawal of Australian troops from Gallipoli. When the first Australian troops were sent to France to serve in trenches along the Western Front, some battalions were left in Egypt for further extensive training.

However, by July 1916 all the Australian Infantry Forces had arrived in France, the 5th Division being the last to arrive, took their place as re-inforcements at Armentieres.

It was from here the 5th Division, the most inexperienced as far as battlefield action goes, found themselves at the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916. This attack was poorly planned and was not fully executed, or supported as it should have been, by the British forces, which resulted in the greatest loss of life of Australian soldiers, in one day, for the whole war . There were over 5,500 causalities, including 400 prisoners. The 5th Division was totally incapacitated for several months and were not ready for combat again until October 1916. We were to hear more about this horrendous battle from our Tour Guide, Pete Smith the following day, when we visited the new cemetery at Fromelles.

We then boarded the bus and took the short drive to the Hooge Crater cafe and museum, for a late lunch.

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