A fresh series of Allied offensives opened on 26th September 1918 when more than 700 tanks supported by infantry of the French 4th Army and US 1st Army struck on the Meuse-Argonne front. On the 27th, the Hindenburg Line near Cambrai was breached by the British 1st and 3rd Armies. Then at 5.30am on the 28th, the Belgian Army and British 2nd Army attacked at Ypres.
On the right of the main offensive at Ypres, the 11th East Lancashire Regt. (Accrington Pals) and the 10th East Yorkshire Regt. (Hull Commercials) were deployed for attack on Hill 63, north-west of Ploegsteert Wood.
On the East Lancashires' right, the East Yorkshires were attempting to work along the north-east edge of Ploegsteert Wood prior to pushing through the wood from north to south. In the event, all three company commanders became casualties in the first few minutes of the attack and, in the face of heavy machine-gun fire from the wood, the battalion made little headway.
At 3.34pm "X" and "Y" companies of the East Lancashires were seen nearing their first objective. "W" and "Z" companies then took over the attack.
By 4pm "W" Company, led by Capt. John Duff, was nearing the final objective despite being caught in heavy machine-gun fire from the left. Duff then ordered a further attack on La Douve Farm, which was taken and held against heavy counter-attacks. On the right, "Z" Company was still moving forward but more slowly. Two hours later, the exposed right flank of "Z" Company, though supported by artillery and machine-gun fire, was struggling to contain German counter-attacks. At 6.20pm the battalion was forced to form a defensive flank along the high ground 400yds north of Ploegsteert Wood facing south. The battalion front then stabilised on or ahead of the line of the final objective on the left, but 400yds short of it on the right. Overnight, Ploegsteert Wood was evacuated by the enemy.
The successful advance of the 11th East Lancashires - made in spite of both flanks being exposed - came at a heavy cost of 358 killed, wounded and missing. Some 50 prisoners were taken, along with a field gun, 17 machine-guns, 2 trench mortars and an anti-tank rifle.
By evening on the 28th, the Allied armies had taken 4,000 prisoners at Ypres, and were in control of the Passchendaele ridge. Ludendorff, Chief of the German General Staff, now saw no alternative but to seek an armistice. The following day, the British 4th Army smashed through the Hindenburg Line. The end of the war was in sight.
The Battlefield Today
Leaving Messines (Mesen) on the N365 towards Ploegsteert, the road passes the Island of Ireland Peace Park on the right. Over the next mile (1.6km) the road crosses the Douve valley before reaching a crossroads. Turn right here along the Rue du Rossignol (Nachtegaal Straat). Follow the narrow road for 1000 yards (1km) to where a dirt track meets the road at the tiny settlement of le Rossignol. Park the car close-by and walk along the track to the left which climbs gently to the top of Hill 63. The ground levels out at roughly the point from where "Z" Company began its advance, led by Capt. Bart Endean. If the fields are clear of crops, a good view of the ground over which the battalion advanced can be gained from the field to the left of the track. On returning to le Rossignol, there are excellent views across to the Messines Ridge. Underhill Farm Cemetery, where 16 men of the 11th East Lancashires are known to be buried, can be visited by turning right off the Messines to Ploegsteert road immediately before the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing. At 7pm on the first Friday of every month, a moving Last Post ceremony is held at the Memorial.
© Andrew C Jackson 2000-2001
Compiled from TNA documents WO95/2343, WO95/2356, WO95/2357, WO95/2358 and ZJ1/674 (page 9693), "The History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War" edited by Major General Sir N. Nicholson, and with the kind help of Peter Bell and Jane Maclean.