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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Site of Messines Monastery


Mark Hone

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On my Autumn school battlefields tour I shall be using the first hand account of Bury Grammar old boy Boyce Minton (see earlier threads) of the fighting at Messines in October 1914. Part of it describes being in the courtyard of the monastery at Messines. Can Pals suggest the most suitable modern location to base my stand for this part of the story? I hope to do a recce of the village over the Summer.

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No probs Mark. The location is that of today's Messines church. Outside is a wonderful info board containing images of the original monastery. :thumbsup:

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Also inside the church is a large display of very old photos of the monastery and orphanage, including one showing a pile of rubble which was all that was left at the end of the war. The crypt is where (reputedly) Cpl. Adolph Hitler had his shoulder wound treated and it also contains the tomb of William The Conquerer's mother-in-law. It is worth entering Messines Church in Google as there are many entries which give you more information, especially about the chandelier and wall lights presented by a German veteran, Otto Meier, the history of the carillon and of the abbey itself and the black Madonna and Child.

Bob

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Thanks for this. I've visited Messines a few times over the years but don't ever recall going inside the church. Is it normally open? I shall be taking my group on a Saturday afternoon.

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The church has always been open when I have visited. You can take them down to the crypt (right hand side entrance) and seethe tomb of Wm the Conqueror's mother in law, IIRC; the large crucifix on the wall at the crossing is either the same as or practically identical to the one that was there before the war. Don't be tempted to climb the stairs to the top: it was (probably sensibly!) locked the last time I tried it.

The outline of the old church is set out in the grass to the right (Ploegsteert side) and in the paved area in front of the church entrance; the Institute Royale was 'the monastery' - supressed centuries earlier but turned by Maria Teresa into a school for the daughters of Belgian (in due course) army officers (I think originally for the orphans) - and ran along the approach road on the same side and included some of the then buildings on that side associated with the church/old monastery. There was a pleasure lake (possibly originally the monastic fish pond? Or had its origins as that), again on the Plugstreet, southern, side

Messines is officially the smallest town in Belgium (or is it city? - I am getting old!). The monastery mill was situated more or less where the NZ memorial wall, with the list of missing from the fighting in the area and surmounted by the Cross of Sacrifice is at Messines British cemetery (as opposed to the NZ Memorial, further to the south, on the other side of the town).

From the church site you get views over the British defensive line to the south in the last fortnight or so of October, held principally by the cavalry. If you go to the Irish Memorial and look across the road tyou will see a track, which formed, more or less, the British forward line as it ran along the southern edge of Messines. If you look across the road in a south south eastery direction - ie more or less parallel to the Plugstreet road, you are looking along the continuation of the Bristish defensive line as it ran down towards Plugstreet and then across to St Yves/St Yvon before Hill 63 (from which hill 4th Div artillery played a useful role in the defence of Messines on 30 and 31 October).

If you head out of Messines on the Gapard road, towards the edge of the town, beyond the cemetery and new buildings on teh right, you will drive through the Britsih outpost lines (well, defence lines really - but held in no great strength). From the edge of the buildings, more or less, the british line ran north - south, though to the north it curved westwards not far from the site of the brick yard (not the same one as in 1914) chimney is; and similarly, to the south, it also curved westwards around the forward edge of the vllage.

After all that, I am assuming that this is a 1914 casualty that you are talking about Mark?!

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I was on a tour once when we got taken up the church tower which obviously has fantastic views. Often wondered where one organised getting the key from.

Len

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Trooper Boyce Minton (see thread about him) of 11th Hussars was seriously wounded at Messines in 1914. His first hand account of the battle was published in the Bury Times a couple of weeks later and I am going to use this on our forthcoming tour. The censor's gaps have been expertly filled in by S. Broomfield Esq. He rejoined his unit later in the war. He died as mate of the cargo vessel S S Brier Rose which was lost on a run from Belfast to Cardiff in 1941. I discovered this by chance last year and have had his name added to our school war memorial.

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The German army produced a series of postcards of Messines, might just have some scans somewhere if you would be interested.

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  • 3 months later...

Just finalising arrangements for our tour. I am now planning to visit on Sunday, rather than Saturday. I am hoping that the church will be open (won't interrupt any services). Has the Messines Museum reopened? The last time I went there with a group there were a couple of cafés on the main square where the boys were able to supplement their packed lunches with chips etc.

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Mark - there is a cafe opposite the main square which is also a 'Frituur'. You should be able to supply your group with extra energy there.

Bob

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