Living memorial to honour the fallen at Polygon Wood

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The Battle of Polygon Wood was fought on the 26 September 1917 by the Australian 4th and 5th Divisions in partnership with British and other dominion forces. As we near the 100 year anniversary of the battle a new living “peace wood” is being planned for the site by the municipality of Zonnebeke, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele and the Agency for Nature and Forest.

The name “Polygon Wood” is derived from a young forest plantation that lay wrecked along the Allied axis of advance, which began at 5.50 am on 26 September 1917. The infantry went forward behind a heavy artillery barrage and secured most of their objectives. The butte, a key hill in the area, was captured by the 4th Division and additional objectives to the south were secured by the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division. Despite several German counter-attacks the Australian infantry consolidated their position with the support of heavy defensive artillery barrages.

World War 1 stretcher bearers passing through a cemetery.

Stretcher bearers of the 57th Battalion, passing through the cemetery near the mound in Polygon Wood in the Ypres Sector, 28 September 1917.
Source: Australian War Memorial, collection E01912.
Attribution: Unknown official Australian war photographer. Australian War Memorial.

More than 5,700 Australian lives were lost in the battle. Two cemeteries were created at the site: Polygon Wood Cemetery and Buttes New British Cemetery. The former was made as an irregular front-line cemetery between August 1917 and April 1918 and again in September 1918. The latter was made after the armistice when a large number of graves were brought in from the battlefields of Zonnebeke. There are now 2,108 Commonwealth servicemen buried or commemorated in Buttes New British Cemetery.

The planned Peace Wood is part of the Taking Care of Flanders Fields project.  The concept is that each tree will be planted in memory of the fallen by a relative of each of the soldiers known to be buried in the cemeteries.  They will provide a living memorial to the fallen that rest in the shade of the Polygon Wood.

The planners of the Peace Wood hope to make contact with the relatives of known fallen soldiers who lie in each of the cemeteries and involve them in a planting ceremony to be held on ANZAC day 2017.