Gateway To Hell

As fighting in the Ypres Salient continued, Menin Road became an avenue and a symbol of sacrifice. Leading from the ancient Flemish town of Ypres, which was encircled by stout ramparts and a moat so that all movement in and out was through great gateways, the road traveled east to the fighting front where the town of Menin, 20 kilometers away, was in German hands.

The most famous of the gates was Menin Gate, where two great stone lions, scarred by the shellfire, stood guard. Behind the walls, Ypres itself was practically demolished, still it provided some cover. Once a soldier passed through Menin Gate he was vulnerable.

The road was the main artery linking the front line to the back areas from which it was supplied. It led to most of the places where the Diggers fought, including Broodseinde, Polygon Woods, Zonnebeke, Westhoek and Hill 60. Just one-and-a-half kilometers out of Ypres was a crossroads called Hell Fire Corner, regarded by troops as the “hottest place on earth”. German guns were permanently ranged onto this point and drivers whipped up their horses and men trotted past this notorious spot.

The road itself disappeared under almost incessant shell-fire. For a few months in summer Menin Road was, at best, a rutted track, but during wet and wintry weather it became a plank road. Three-metre-long planks of elm or beech were laid over filled shell holes, cross planks then were placed next and the road was firmly held by pine logs bolted to the edge.

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers marched up that road, many of them never to return. The names of 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were never recovered from the Ypres Salient were placed on a modern Menin Gate memorial. It was the loss of those men that etched the memory of Menin Gate in the minds of all Diggers fighting on the Western Front.