Jeff McNeill

93 Victoria Ave

Palmerston North

New Zealand

New Zealanders and the Battle of Messines

7 June 1917


v    Background

v    Messines 90th Anniversary Commemorations, June 2007

[updated: 27 July 2007]


War Memorial, Leeston, Canterbury, NZ


As a part-time interest – and distraction from my doctoral research – I am researching the New Zealanders at the Battle of Messines.  This started with mild curiosity when we worked out my Grandfather, Rifleman Hugh McNeill, 3rd NZ Rifle Brigade, had got his ‘Blighty’ (a wound sufficiently serious to you get sent home, but not actually killing you) there.  A visit there in 2001 started a more thorough research, which has increased in scope and ambition. 


Messines, or Mesen as it is now known, is a small village some 10km south of Ypres, southwest Belgium.   New Zealand’s entire World War I Western Front military contribution from December 1916 to June 1917 was to hold about 2km of frontline below the village and advance it about the same distance to the rear of Messines on the 7th June 1917.  This attack was part of a larger battle, the Messines Offensive along the whole of the Messines Ridge.  Some 12,000 New Zealanders took part and resulted in about 3,000 casualties, including over 850 who were killed. 


While attending ANZAC Day commemorations there in 2004 with a coach-load of Kiwis, I realised that many New Zealanders know very little about the Battle.  As a result, with the help of friends and colleagues, I have prepared an interpretative Brochure (click here to download), designed by Lynn Peck, Central Media.  This is part of a larger project.


A special feature of the Brochure is our 3-D perspective map prepared by Rachel Summers, Massey University, which we are still adding to (click here for latest update [note that this is updated 26/7/07]).  It is based on a digital terrain model based on a Belgian topographic map, draped with a modern aerial photo.  We have then superimposed a digital copy of an original 1917 battle map obtained from Archives New Zealand, to display the German frontline and trench system.


Future work involves adding further detail of the German trenches, mapping the New Zealand trench system (their maps only showed German trenches – in case the maps were captured!).  And we want to obtain aerial photos of the battle to superimpose on the graphics.  Finally, we want to find out the German side of the story (4th Army Division (Saxons) and 6th Bavarian Army, 3rd Bavarian Division, 18 Infantry Regiment Prinz Ludwig Ferdinand).


This is an ongoing collaboration with John Howard and Petra Krenz (Belgium), Thomas Fischer (Germany) and Rachel Summers (Massey University, New Zealand).

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v     2007: 90th Anniversary Commemorations

Mesen commemorated the 90th Anniversary as part of the larger 3rd Passchendaele Offensive 1917.  Dad and I were there.  As were other kiwis and interested folk.  Some photos.


Moulin d’Hospice

Eugene McNeill at the Moulin memorial to missing NZers



Poppies mark the New Zealand graves



Unveiling plaque commemorating action of Saumuel Frickleton VC.




Hill 63

New Zealanders were encamped in the rear of Hill 63 – some in huts, others in tents and many in the ‘Catacombs’, large tunnels dug into the hillside.  The top was the main artillery and command observation point for the NZ Division.

Rear of Hill 63  Artillery were stationed up by the building, while a railway line ran down the middle of the corn field to the point the photo was taken from.

Red Lodge - A former headquarters next to Underhill Farm.  Close by was the entrance to the ‘Catacombs’ – tunnels housing troops and command.




Messines from top of Hill 63 - panorama

Ontario Farm and Wytschaete


La Rossignol in foreground


Messines Church

The New Zealand Division were in the valley between Hill 63 and the Messines Ridge.  Their job was to take this southern end of the Ridge.