Messines Ridge June 1917

collage painting on Stonehenge grey paper
44 x 30
WWI series / $3000

On May 21, 2,300 artillery pieces, arrayed along a nine-mile front, began pounding Messines Ridge. The shelling went on unbroken for sixteen days. On the evening of June 6, General Plumer told his staff, “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we will certainly change the geography.” At ten minutes before two the next morning, the guns suddenly went silent, leaving the eerie calm that usually presaged an attack. The German defenders climbed out of their bunkers along the ridge and began to man their guns. But no enemy troops appeared. A British general named Lambert stood in a dugout, watch in hand, and called out, “Three minutes to go, two to go – one to go – 20 seconds to go – 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.” At “1,” the sappers threw electrical switches and Messines Ridge appeared to lift from the earth. Columns of brilliant orange flames shot into the sky, chunks of the ridge the size of houses flew in every direction, and the crest appeared to vanish. The earth shuddered so violently that British infantrymen two miles away were flung to the ground and left gasping as oxygen was sucked from the air. “We saw what might have been doors thrown open in front of colossal blast furnaces,” a correspondent for the Daily Press reported. “They appeared in pairs, in threes, and in successive singles. With each blast the earth shook and shivered beneath our feet.” All but two of the twenty-two mines had detonated. This was the man-made quake that awoke Lloyd George,
some 130 miles away in London.
– Joseph E Persico