Sanctuary Wood / Hill 62
More background info:
The name Hill 62 is just one of many numbered locations from British trench maps of the time. But “Sanctuary Wood” derives from the fact that the British used the cover of a forest at this location to tend to their wounded during the First Battle of Ypres (see under Ypres
), so it was literally a ‘sanctuary’ of sorts for those casualties.
At the end of the battle the front line stabilized and would remain so until the Third Battle of Ypres (or Battle of Passchendaele
), when the Commonwealth troops managed to push the front line a few miles into formerly German-held territory. In the Spring Offensive of 1918, however, the Germans pushed the Allies back towards Ypres and Sanctuary Wood was occupied by the Germans until the final battle and the defeat of Germany
In 1919 the farmer who had owned the land of what became Sanctuary Wood returned to reclaim his property. He decided to preserve some of the British trench system he found there, after it had been cleared of bodies and battle debris. It is thus one of the very few original sets of trenches left as they were found at the end of the war. Well, some alterations have been made, in particular the stabilization of some trench parts with corrugated iron.
Sometime in the early 1980s part of the ground collapsed and revealed a previously unknown tunnel originally dug by British Army engineers. This was then cleared and integrated into the site.
Up until the early 1990s, the trench area was overgrown with grass and undergrowth in between the trenches and the trees, but since then visitor numbers have gone up so much that the many thousand pairs of feet walking over the land between the trenches have trampled the grass and undergrowth away, so that – unwittingly – they created a look much closer to what the trenches would have been like in 1919, with almost bare soil either side of them.
The indoor museum is basically just a collection of war relics, photos and mannequins in uniforms (see below
The road leading to Sanctuary Wood didn’t exist before the war but was purpose-built to lead to a large Canadian Memorial Monument at the end of what was aptly christened “Canadalaan” (Canada avenue) and it is lined with maple trees, the Canadian national tree, planted in tribute to the sacrifice made by Canada
. The monument particularly commemorates the Canadian forces that fought here and the surrounding area in the Battle of Mount Sorrel from April to August 1916.
About a hundred yards up Canadalaan from the museum is also a mid-sized Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery.
What there is to see: The museum car park is flanked by two large field guns, as the only freely accessible displays. To see the rest of the site and the trenches you have to go inside and pay. The first part of the museum exhibition is a jumble of amassed shells, pistols, rifles and machine guns as well as some fighter plane propellers, rusty old plane engines, mortars and sculptures of soldiers in action. There are also some mannequins in various uniforms. Some were clearly originally female mannequins but have been “turned into” men by means of crude fake beards, moustaches and bushy eyebrows, so some look really amateurishly made and almost laughable.
The most interesting bits in this first part are actually the countless photos from the front and of Ypres
in ruins. A pretty much unique asset here are also the viewing machines for 3D photos (some are rather disturbing, be warned).
There are also some objects fashioned from old shells and cartridges, e.g. an ornamental clock and a pinball machine. It’s all very eclectic and everything is almost totally unannotated, i.e. there is as good as no historical information. Only a few English-language documents provide scant reading material. Nor is there anything newfangled like videos or interactive stations. No, this is a seriously old-school “museum”. It has its charms that way, I admit, but do not expect to take any serious historical information away from here.
Through a door in the back you then step into the open where a few mortars and old cartwheels and other relics are scarcely protected by a shed roof. Then you can walk along the preserved/refurbished trenches. The fact that these are for the most part original trenches gives it a good deal of place authenticity. But walking in the trenches would only have been possible with Wellington boots, as most of the trenches were seriously muddy. The L-shaped tunnel was flooded and there was no light. So having come here with neither the prerequisite footwear nor a torch, I gave walking through the tunnel a miss. In between the trenches and the tunnel you can also still make out some shell craters, which, again, were mostly flooded when I was there.
The museum exhibition then continues back indoors, with further mannequins with (very) fake moustaches/beards, some lying on stretchers, so obviously representing casualties. And there is even a baby doll in a gas suit.
In addition there are glass cabinets full of all manner of trinkets, like ornamental plates, pipes, tankards, soldier figurines and whatnot … the jumble display continues. It’s quite idiosyncratic but not all that museum-like. You can also purchase items from the shop or buy snacks.
The Canadian Memorial at the end of Canadalaan is a sombre and stark affair, with steps leading up a low slope to a central circle with a single inscribed memorial stone in the middle.
The Sanctuary Wood Cemetery
is almost triangular in shape, is surrounded by a stone wall and includes the usual CWGC elements of a Cross of Sacrifice and a Stone of Remembrance (cf. Tyne Cot
). As so often, many of the graves have no name.
All in all
, this is really a cluster of sites only for the really dedicated WW1 tourists and pilgrims. The original trenches are certainly of interest for such visitors, while the museum is really just an unordered collection of all manner of WW1
-related objects (not everything is related to that period only, though, I also spotted a German steel helmet with a swastika on the front, so most likely from WWII
). If you want some historical information you’re better off visiting any of the other museums in the Ypres Salient
, especially the excellent In Flanders Fields Museum
. In other words: unless you’re into real trenches, amassed war relics and photos you can give this site a miss.
two thirds of a mile (1.1. km) south of Hooge
, and ca. three miles (4.5 km) east of Ypres
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: a bit secluded and off the public transport grid, but not too tricky to find; in part freely accessible but the museum/trench site charges an admission fee.
There is no public transport to this site so you’ll need your own vehicle or bicycle to get there, or walk it from Hooge
. When coming from Ypres
, take the main road east, the N8 (Meenenstraat/Meenseweg). Carry on straight across at the large roundabout that is the intersection with the N37 and N345 and then take the second road branching off to the right. This is Canadalaan. Drive to almost the end of this road and park at the Sanctuary Wood/Hill 62 museum. There are also a few parking spaces at the cemetery and the Canadian memorial, but you could just as well walk there from the museum.
The cemetery and the Canadian memorial are freely accessible at all times. The museum and the preserved trenches accessed through the museum are a private enterprise with restricted opening times and an entrance fee is charged.
Museum opening times: different sources state different times, some say daily, some say closed Mondays, others say closed Wednesdays; some say from 9 a.m., some say from 10.am.; stated closing times also vary from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., some sources also say that opening times vary seasonally, and the museum’s own website (copyrighted 2015!) says it’s closed for Christmas and the whole of January. So it should be safest to go in season (summer) and in between late morning and early afternoon, ideally Thursdays to Sundays.
Admission (in 2016): 8 EUR
Time required: depends on how much you get out of looking at amassed war relics and trenches. I only spent a little under 40 minutes in the museum and at the trenches and didn’t go to the Canadian memorial or the war cemetery at all; but more dedicated WW1 tourists may want to spend longer at all of these sites.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
the closest other WW1
-related place is the Hooge Crater Museum
and its adjacent sites. To get there from Sanctuary Wood/Hill 62 drive all the way back on Canadalaan to Menenstraat/Meenseweg and turn sharp right. The Hooge Crater museum is on your left after less than half a mile (650m).
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
nothing in the immediate vicinity; but see under Hooge
as well as under Belgium
- Sanctuary Wood 01 - gun outside the museum
- Sanctuary Wood 02 - museum exhibition
- Sanctuary Wood 03 - exhibits
- Sanctuary Wood 04 - made from recycled shells
- Sanctuary Wood 05 - plenty more to go
- Sanctuary Wood 06 - relics outside
- Sanctuary Wood 07 - old mortar
- Sanctuary Wood 08 - system of trenches
- Sanctuary Wood 09 - complete with mud
- Sanctuary Wood 10 - zig-zagging trenches
- Sanctuary Wood 11 - tunnel entrance
- Sanctuary Wood 12 - the museum exhibition continues
- Sanctuary Wood 13 - baby suit
- Sanctuary Wood 14 - misfit mannequins
- Sanctuary Wood 15 - it is a kind of masquerade