Comines-Warneton & Plugstreet
Comines-Warneton is a Walloon enclave in Flanders belonging to the province of Hainaut, even though it’s separated from its motherland by a chunk of France. Plugstreet (real name Ploegsteert) is the most westerly settlement in Wallonia, just 2km north of the French border. Both found themselves on or near the front line in the early months of the Great War.
In Comines, the only relic of the German occupation is a blockhaus, or bunker, which has been well preserved and contains a small museum. Group visits can be arranged with the local tourist office.
Ploegsteert Wood was the site of especially fierce fighting, as the ranks of war graves in the area attest. A notable British connection with Ploegsteert is the fact that Winston Churchill was billeted there between January and May 1916 when he was commanding officer of the 6th Batallion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. There’s a commemorative plate on a wall of the house where he stayed.
In November 2013, Ploegsteert opened a new, pyramid-shaped museum – Plugstreet 14-18 Experience - with a cinema showing the background to the Great War, a three-dimensional map of the western front and a special presentation on the battle of Messines Ridge in June 1917, which was won by the Allies when thousands of tonnes of high explosive were detonated beneath the German line. It’s said that the shockwaves carried across the Channel and were felt in London.
For more information on the Plugstreet 14-18 Experience click here
Memorial to the Missing
Nearby can be found two important war cemeteries, facing each other on either side of the main road. The smaller of the two is known as Hyde Park Corner, one of many London place names dotted about this section of the front. Across the road, guarded by two majestic stone lions – one calm, the other aggressive – is the (Royal) Berkshire Cemetery Extension, which contains the Memorial to the Missing. This graceful circular structure, opened in 1931, is devoted to those who lost their lives in action between Warneton and Estines, but whose bodies have never been recovered. The marble is engraved with the names of the ‘11,447 officers and men of the forces of the British Empire whose names are here recorded but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.’ On the first Friday of every month the Last Post is sounded at 7pm.
To find out more about World War One in the Ploegsteert Battlefield sector and to be kept posted on the events taking place in the area, feel free to follow Remember Plugstreet on facebook.