Leaving Ieper on the second day of the visit to Flanders, the group headed to Wijtschaete a village a few kilometres away to learn about the role of the 16th Irish Division in the Battle of Messines Ridge on 7th June 1917.
MESSINES RIDGE, June 1917
The largely Catholic 16th (Irish) and mainly Protestant 36th (Ulster) Divisions went into battle together to take the Belgian village of Wijtschaete in the well-planned attack on the Messines Ridge. General Plumer had a scaled model of the Ridge made so troops could see what lay ahead. He had mines dug for explosives beneath German defences. About three million shells bombarded Messines for over a week.
The barrage eased just before Plumer detonated 9,500 tons of explosives under the Germans in nineteen mines. Willie Redmond MP and brother of John, leader of the Irish Party, died of wounds received in the attack.
There is a memorial depicting an injured Major Willie Redmond being carried away for treatment. At this spot on the morning of June 7th 1917 Major Redmond of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment (16th Irish Division) was wounded during the opening attack of the Battle of Messines. He was found by Private John Meeke, 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (36th Ulster Division) who tried to carry him to safety until he himself was wounded. He was awarded the Military Medal for his gallant action. Redmond was evacuated to a dressing station at Locre hospice, run by nuns, where he died of his wounds.
There is a statue in the centre of Mesen (Messiness), Belgium’s smallest town. It is a memorial to all soldiers of the New Zealand Division who fought at Messines Ridge.
The sculpture by Andrew Edwards outside the new visitor centre of Mesen consists of two fibreglass figures, a German and an British soldier, about to shake hands at the moment when the two armies stopped fighting and played football on Christmas Day 1914. It was unveiled in Liverpool in December 2014 to mark the centenary of the event. The sculpture was taken to (Messines) Belgium where the UK Ambassador and Mayor of Mesen attended a ceremony in December 2015.