The Battle of Pilckem Ridge was the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres, which later became known as Passchendaele.
The battle began at 3.50am on 31 July 1917, when 2,000 Allied guns opened fire on German lines and 14 British and two French divisions attacked along 15 miles of the front. It became known as one of the bloodiest events of World War One, with 4,000 Welsh soldiers killed or injured on the first day.
The most significant success was achieved in the north, particularly across Pilckem Ridge. Welsh (38th Welsh Division) and Irish troops played an important role, capturing key positions on the ridge at Pilckem. Among their dead were two highly regarded poets, Welshman Ellis Evans (better known by his bardic name Hedd Wyn) and Irishman Francis Ledwidge. Both are buried at the Artillery Wood Cemetery.
French troops fought alongside British forces, regaining Bixschoote from German control.
The British Army captured St Julien, Frezenberg, Bellewaarde Ridge, Hooge, and Sanctuary Wood. Cemeteries mark many of these local landmarks, including Hooge Crater Cemetery, and Sanctuary Wood Cemetery.
On the afternoon of 31 July 2017, rain began to fall on the battlefield. Over the following days the shell-damaged ground became a quagmire, severely hampering the advancing troops, and making the movement of artillery, casualties and supplies very difficult.
After three days, the Allied advance was half of what had been planned. (only 5 miles in three months The British Army had suffered some 27,000 casualties wounded, killed and missing, with a total of half a million dead on both sides. Their graves can be found all around Ieper, in cemeteries such as New Irish Farm. Most of the dead, however, have no known grave. The names of some 4,500 servicemen who died on 31 July 1917 are recorded on the Ypres Menin Gate Memorial.