Langemarck 1917 – the context

Ypres was surrounded by a semi-circle of higher ground from Messines in the south to Pilckem further north. Part of the ridge from Messines to Hooge was captured during June.

The aim of the Third Ypres campaign was to take this higher ground and beyond. XIV Corps (of which 20th Division was a part) was initially challenged to take the Pilckem Ridge and the ground beyond as far as the Steenbeck. At the start, part of the British line lay along about a mile of the Yser Canal while south of the Ypres-Staden railway crossing the British occupied lines on the eastern side of the canal as far south as Wieltje. This area was the jumping off point for all units including 11th DLI on 31 July.

The 20th Division was based at Proven and 11th DLI was deployed at points south and west of Elverdinghe prior to moving into advance positions for 31 July. They would remain at these camps around Canada Farm for the first few days of the operations, travelling to and from their work places as much as 14 miles a day in appallingly wet and muddy conditions.

The first phase of the attacks on 31 July was led by the 38th (Welsh) Division and the Guards Division, supported by 20th Division Artillery and Machine Gun companies in laying down a moving barrage lifting at 100 yard intervals. The line of attack was in a north-easterly direction from the British trenches on the eastern side of the canal. 11th DLI was tasked with building artillery tracks to help the guns move forward as the battle progressed, with C Company constructing light railway tracks. 10th Rifle Brigade and 11th King’s Royal Rifle Corps did similar work with the 20th Division Engineers in support of 38th Division. The remainder of the 20th Division was in reserve until called forward to relieve the 38th Division on 6 August.

Once the Pilckem Ridge and the line of the Steenbeck was taken, the next objective would be Langemarck. The 20th Division HQ for that episode was at Dragon Camp, three miles east of Elverdinghe. This is not named on the contemporary maps, but was close to the bank of the Yser Canal, and 11th DLI were stationed on the western bank opposite Bard Cottage[1].

The front line at the end of operations extended for 1000 yards along the west bank of the Steenbeck, with the left flank where the stream was crossed by the Ypres-Staden railway.

[1] There is a CWGC Cemetery at this place, containing a number of 11 DLI burials. It was created behind a sheltering bank and includes burials from nearby Marengo Farm.

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