Dakota Datebook

On Messines Ridge

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

 

By June 7, 1917, the British Second Army was prepared to attack the Germans at Messines Ridge in northern France.  The British had put a great deal of planning into the attack.  For eighteen months, soldiers dug tunnels under the German positions.  Some of the tunnels were 2,000 feet long.  The Germans had been entrenched in their positions for almost two years.  The British soldiers had to dig the tunnels as much as 100 feet below the surface.  Once the tunnels were completed, the soldiers packed them with nearly 1 million pounds of explosives.

Early on the morning of June 7, a series of enormous explosions rocked the French countryside.  A German observer said “nineteen enormous mushrooms rose up slowly and majestically out of the ground and then split into pieces with a mighty roar…sending a mass of earth and splinters high in the sky.”

On this date in 1918, the Wahpeton Times reported that a local boy had been at Messines Ridge.  W.S. Bendixin returned to Hankinson to spend time with his mother.  Bendixin had served for a year with Canadian forces in a Lewis machine gun platoon.

Prior to the explosion, Bendixin’s unit joined the famous Black Watch to attack the German position.  Out of 100 men in his unit, Bendixin and his captain were the only survivors.  Bendixin was wounded in three places. He pulled himself into a trench.  Red Cross stretcher bearers ventured out to recover the wounded, but the Germans killed them.  He lay in the trench until dark when stretcher bearers finally managed to reach him. He spent seven months in a hospital.  He recovered the use of his arms and legs, but had a serious injury in his back, meaning he would never fight again.

However, he did witness the explosion.  He reported that “after the hill was leveled, no one German could be found.” That was apparently an exaggeration, for while 10,000 men were killed instantly, another 7,000 were captured – stunned and disoriented from the blast.

The battle forced the Germans to retreat, marking the beginning of a gradual but continuous loss of territory. It would still be another seventeen months before the war was finally over.

 

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.

Sources:

The Wahpeton Times. “Richland County Lad at Messines Ridge.” 28 March, 1917.

The History Channel. “The Battle of Messines Ridge.” http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-messines-ridge Accessed 21 February, 2017.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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