POLYGON WOOD 1917
Named because of its shape, this large wood north-east of Ypres had been used by the Belgian army as a shooting range prior to 1914; a butte existed in the centre of the wood. Fought over during the First Battle of Ypres in October/November 1914, it thereafter remained in German hands until Third Ypres in 1917. Heavy fighting for the wood took place in September when men of the Australian Imperial Force finally captured it. Private P.J.Bugden of the 31st Bn AIF was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for attacking German strongpoints in Polygon Wood. His citation reads:
" For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when, on two occasions, our advance was temporarily held up by strongly held pillboxes. Private Budgen, in the face of devastating fire from machine-guns, gallantly led small parties to attack these strong points, and, successfully silencing the machine-guns with bombs, captured the garrison at the point of the bayonet. On another occasion, when a Corporal, who had become detached from his company, had been captured and was taken to the rear by the enemy, Private Bugden single-handed, rushed to the rescue of his comrade, shot one enemy and bayoneted the remaining two, thus releasing the Corporal. On five occasions he rescued wounded men under intense shell and machine-gun fire, showing an utter contempt and disregard for danger. Always foremost in volunteering for any dangerous mission, it was in the execution of one of these missions that this gallant soldier was killed."
Today the wood has re-grown, although there are signs of trenches and shell-holes among the trees. On the old butte is the memorial to 5th Australian Division. Below it is a large cemetery, with many graves from the 1917 fighting and a small memorial to the New Zealand missing from this period.
Polygon Wood from the air; a photograph taken in the 1980s by the late John Giles (ŠJohn Giles)
The two cemeteries and memorial to the missing at this site are:
POLYGON WOOD CEMETERY
Started during the closing phase of Third Ypres, it was begun by units from the New Zealand Division who then held the line beyond Polygon Wood. Casualties from their operations around Polderhoek Chateau were also buried here. A German cemetery made by 248th Reserve Infantry Regiment from the 1914/15 period with 347 burials once existed at the rear of this cemetery, but the graves were moved to Langemarck German Cemetery in the 1950s. In the 1920s, when this cemetery was made permanent, the walls were built in a Polygon shape to signify the connection with the wood.
Burials: UK - 32, NZ - 57, Unknown - 11, Un-named - 17, German - 1. There are Special Memorials to 17 UK and 13 NZ.
BUTTES NEW BRITISH CEMETERY
This is a post-war concentration cemetery made by re-grouping graves from the battlefield around Polygon Wood and Zonnebeke. Over eighty percent of the burials are unknown.
Burials: UK - 1,317, AIF - 564, NZ - 167, CEF - 5-, Unknown - 30, Un-named - 1,673. There are Special Memorials to 23 NZ and 12 UK.
BUTTES NEW BRITISH CEMETERY (NEW ZEALAND) MEMORIAL
The New Zealand Division left the Messines sector in August 1917, and took part in its most costly action of the war at Gravenstafel in October; the missing from this action are commemorated at Tyne Cot. In November the Kiwis took over the line from In de Ster Cabaret to the Reutelbeek. On 3rd December 1917, 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago Regiments attacked the spur of ground at Polderhoek Chateau and although some ground was taken, the chateau remained in German hands. However, the division remained in this sector until late February 1918.
The memorial commemorates 348 New Zealand soldiers who were killed between November 1917 and February 1918 and have no known grave. The largest number of names are from the Otago Regiment.
ŠPAUL REED 2001